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NATO: Defense Ministers Discuss Kosovo, Eurocorps

Defense ministers from NATO and other countries met in Munich on the weekend to evaluate the lessons of last year's offensive in Kosovo. Correspondent Roland Eggleston reports that the conference also considered Russia's role in a European security system and the plans to create a pan-European military force in the next three years.

Munich, 7 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General George Robertson began two days of talks at a security policy conference in Munich this past weekend with a firm declaration that NATO won the war in Kosovo.

"It is crystal clear," he said. "We won." That view was echoed by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and many of the other defense ministers.

But then it was the turn of the less-than-convinced, led by German opposition leader Wolfgang Schaeuble, to present their views on the conflict in Kosovo. Schaeuble agreed that NATO won the military operation. But he asked whether it could have been won more easily and far more quickly if NATO's management of the crisis had been more effective. And, he said, considering the recent violence in Mitrovica and other parts of Kosovo, could it be said that NATO won the peace?

Schaeuble's answer was that NATO made political and military mistakes that allowed the military offensive to continue longer than it should have done.

Among those who supported some of his arguments was British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon. Hoon said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic simply did not believe that NATO would carry out its threat of military action because NATO had failed to carry out many previous threats. There was also too much public discussion on the dangers of using ground forces, Hoon said, which gave Milosevic reason to believe that NATO was divided.

The British defense minister said that, in future, if NATO threatens to use force, it must make clear that it will really do so. "Bullies like Milosevic are always encouraged by signs of weakness." He said he believes Milosevic would have stopped his aggression if NATO had really convinced him it meant to act. NATO's supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, also argued that when NATO decides to act, it should do so quickly and decisively.

The U.S. defense secretary, William Cohen, sharply criticized the European members of NATO for not fulfilling commitments to create a civil society in postwar Kosovo. In particular, he said that only half of the civilian police officers pledged by European countries have arrived, so the international peacekeeping force has been compelled to do police work for which it is not trained.

A Russian delegate, General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Russian army's department for international relations, argued that the Kosovo conflict had negative consequences that were more important for the world community than those mentioned by NATO. Ivashov argued that the resort to arms had led to the political defeat of those institutions seeking to ensure European security through peaceful means. He said that NATO's support for what he called separatism in Kosovo had encouraged separatist movements in other regions of Europe.

The NATO secretary-general responded by stressing that NATO had never called for the separation of Kosovo. The alliance had resorted to arms, Robertson said, only to save the victims of persecution and terror.

Other delegates, however, said Russia's views were important. German opposition leader Schaeuble devoted a substantial part of his speech to arguing that security in Europe can be safeguarded only with the full participation of Russia. Schaeuble said NATO wanted better relations with Russia but it had to balance this with the need to emphasize democracy and human rights. He said that, at times, that can mean using frank language and telling Russia uncomfortable truths, such as the criticism of Russia's conduct in Chechnya.

The other main issue at the two-day meeting of defense ministers and military experts was the European Union's plan to create a pan-European military force of 60,000 men by 2003. The force, called the Eurocorps, is intended to engage in certain operations without the direct participation of the United States.

Robertson rejected as "nonsense" the speculation by some commentators that creation of the force could lead to damaging divisions within NATO.

The German defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, said he believed nations that are not yet members of the European Union should be able to participate in Eurocorps operations. He specifically mentioned Turkey, Norway, Iceland, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

U.S. Defense Secretary Cohen also welcomed the creation of a pan-European force. But in strongly worded comments he said he regrets that European countries are not fulfilling existing military obligations to modernize their forces. He listed five areas where European governments had not met their commitments, and he urged them to do so.

Cohen was also critical of individual European governments that have cut their military budgets. He said defense cuts are incompatible with the goal of modernizing forces. Other speakers agreed. Some noted that Germany's defense budget is just 1.3 percent of its GNP. Of the EU countries, only Luxembourg allocates less.