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NATO: Alliance Undergoing Radical Transformation, Experts Say

Washington, 31 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The NATO alliance is undergoing a dramatic transformation from a collective defense organization to a group interested more in selective international peacekeeping and crisis management.

That is the opinion of David Yost, an American professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California and author of the recent book "NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security."

Yost said at a conference in Washington Tuesday on NATO and the Kosovo crisis that NATO's intervention in Kosovo underscores how thoroughly the alliance has been transformed since the end of the Cold War. The conference was sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace, a private research organization focused on promoting peace and conflict resolution.

Yost said NATO originated as, and officially remains, a group of nations committed to collective defense. But he added that after the Cold War, support for international security beyond the immediate defense of the allies themselves has become increasingly prominent in the alliance's words and actions.

Yost explained: "These words and actions mean that even if NATO remains an instrument of collective defense, it has been transformed into a vehicle for use on a selective basis for intervention in support of what the allies judge to be broader international security interests."

Yost said by intervening in Kosovo on the grounds of humanitarian necessity and the potential threat to international peace and security, NATO is expanding its mission to "general security interests" as opposed to specific threats or attacks against alliance members.

Yost said it is dangerous for NATO to undertake this unclear policy of what he calls "crisis-response actions" or "actions in support of collective security." He says interventions, such as the one in Kosovo, are likely only to cause serious cohesion problems for the alliance and raise complex issues about the legality of such future maneuvers.

Hans Binnendijk, director of the Institute of National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, told the conference that he believes there are six reasons why Kosovo presents the first real challenge to NATO and its existence:

-- First, Binnendijk said Kosovo is the first time ever that NATO troops are engaging in actual armed combat against a sovereign nation. He said in1995 when NATO troops entered Bosnia, the war was largely over and NATO forces were asked primarily to separate people, a move largely supported by the government and general population in Bosnia, and also backed by a U.N. mandate.

-- Second, Binnendijk said coercion is a more difficult goal to achieve than deterrence.

-- Third, he said NATO is essentially attacking a sovereign state by intervening in Kosovo and is on shaky ground as far as international law is concerned, despite the general international consensus that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is clearly committing humanitarian atrocities.

-- Fourth, he said NATO is operating without a clear mandate in Kosovo.

-- Fifth, NATO air power, he said, has its limits and can only inflict a certain kind of damage which may not be effective in the long-run in Kosovo.

-- Sixth, Milosevic is at a distinct advantage over the alliance because he can quickly and decisively make decisions on what to do in Kosovo, unlike NATO which must deal with 19 different and opinionated democracies.

But James Pardew, U.S. Ambassador and Special Representative for Kosovo Implementation and Military Stabilization, told reporters at a separate press conference in Washington on Tuesday that NATO cohesion remains strong and its mission in Kosovo is, and has always been, clear and focused. Pardew said that NATO's primary objective is to stop the killing of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces which has occurred since the eruption of the conflict in February of 1998. He added that NATO's second objective is to achieve a durable peace that "prevents further repression of the population and provides for democratic self-government for the Kosovar people."

Pardew said NATO intervention is necessary because alliance members have important security interests in Kosovo and that NATO's credibility is at stake.

Pardew said that from the start of the crisis, NATO has clearly elaborated two military objectives in the region. The first, he said, is to demonstrate NATO's seriousness of purpose in order to "make clear to Milosevic the imperative of reversing course." Secondly, said Pardew, is to severely damage Belgrade's military capability to take repressive actions against the Kosovars.

Pardew explained further: "NATO's military action can be halted but only if Milosevic makes a sharp and immediate turn and chooses to stop the fighting and withdraw his forces sufficient to permit a settlement based on the Rambouillet Accords."