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Yugoslavia: Analysis From Washington--From Kosovo To Karabakh?

Washington, D.C.; 18 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - Even before the Kosovo settlement has been fully implemented, some governments are calling for NATO to live up to its newly proclaimed role and intervene elsewhere to prevent what they believe are analogous incidents of ethnic cleansing and violations of territorial integrity.

But many other governments -- including some in the Western alliance itself -- and even more commentators on national security issues around the world look on such appeals with alarm, even to the point of questioning the basis of NATO's actions in Kosovo. And those holding this view are likely to see two events this week as justifying their view.

Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Safar Abiyev said on Thursday that Baku "would like NATO to get involved in the resolution process of the Armenian-Azeri conflict" over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Abiyev's statement, made to the Italian ambassador there, comes during a week when Azerbaijani troops and Armenian forces who occupy a significant portion of Azerbaijani territory have again exchanged fire.

A senior Azerbaijani official had suggested earlier this year that his country would welcome the establishment of NATO bases on its territory. But this is the first time that Baku has indicated it would like the alliance to intervene directly to help solve the dispute over an ethnically Armenian region inside Azerbaijan which has been occupied by Armenian forces for the last decade.

Baku's decision to issue such an appeal appears to reflect a widespread belief there that a clear analogy exists between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh and a growing conviction that NATO is perhaps the only international organization that could provide Baku with help against the Armenians who have received significant military and diplomatic support from Moscow.

Moreover, Azerbaijanis may believe that their involvement with the Western alliance gives them a right to expect such treatment. They have already offered to send peacekeepers to Kosovo and this week a platoon of Azerbaijani soldiers went to Canada to participate in a NATO-organized Partnership for Peace exercise.

But if Baku sees such a possibility in a positive light, many other governments and analysts do not. Russian anger about NATO's role in Kosovo continues to grow. On the one hand, President Boris Yeltsin this week suggested that the alliance must agree to give Russia its own military-administrative zone in Kosovo, a demand Moscow had laid the ground for by its stealthy introduction of troops into Kosovo a week ago.

And on the other, the Russian Duma on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution accusing NATO Secretary General Javier Solana of being a war criminal and demanding that he be punished for his role in initiating the alliance's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

This Duma action is non-binding, but it reflects mounting Russian unhappiness about NATO's role in Kosovo, about the marginalization of Moscow in international affairs, and about possibilities that NATO might intervene elsewhere -- including in the Caucasus or Central Asia, regions which most Russians believe are properly part of their sphere of influence.

The Azerbaijani request for NATO's assistance will only exacerbate these fears, even though NATO is unlikely to get involved there or elsewhere on the territories of the 12 countries that once formed part of the Soviet Union.

Most if not all NATO governments appear likely to be opposed to any further expansion of NATO's new role in the near future. Moreover, all of them appear committed to avoiding any steps that would further alienate the Russian government from the West and redivide Europe.

During the course of the Kosovo conflict, alliance leaders have begun to refine the meaning of NATO's Washington Declaration by underscoring that NATO is not committed to becoming involved in all conflicts -- even in Europe or around its borders -- and that the alliance will decide when and where to act on a case by case basis.

Nonetheless, NATO's willingness to act in Kosovo is clearly generating expectations -- as in Azerbaijan -- and concerns -- as in Russia -- that the alliance appears likely to find very difficult if not impossible to manage. Regardless of what choices it now makes, the alliance is likely to offend some and disappoint others, a pattern that may corrode the loyalty of its current members and its effectiveness more broadly as an international security organization.