in The Kosovo crisis and the evolution of post-Cold War European security

When the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) undertook military action without an explicit mandate from the United Nations Security Council, it entered a kind of international no-man's land between upholding the sanctity of state sovereignty and that of human life. While NATO members asserted that the humanitarian and strategic imperatives of saving Kosovar Albanian lives and preventing destabilisation in South East Europe drove the action, states such as Russia and China saw the Kosovo conflict as an unacceptable violation of the former Yugoslavia's state sovereignty. NATO's military action best met the description of being an intervention, but this descriptor itself was full of variations, including the one that has been subject to the widest debate: humanitarian intervention. This book has argued that the Kosovo crisis played a smaller and more indirect role in helping initiate the development of the European Union's European Security and Defence Policy than many have assumed. It has also discussed the Atlantic Community, the Euro-Atlantic Area, and Russia's role and place in European security affairs.

The discussions here will briefly revisit the main issues and debates that have been examined in the substantive chapters of this volume in order to assess the ways in which the Kosovo crisis, relative to other factors, has had an impact in shaping them since the late 1990s. Following this, overall conclusions will be drawn as to the extent to which the crisis can be said to have significantly affected the post-Cold War European security landscape.

A ‘Kosovo precedent’: new wars, new interventions?

When NATO undertook armed action without an explicit mandate from the UNSC, it entered a kind of international no-man’s land between upholding the sanctity of state sovereignty and that of human life. While NATO members asserted that the humanitarian and strategic imperatives of saving Kosovar Albanian lives and preventing destabilisation in South East Europe drove the action, states such as Russia and China saw the Kosovo conflict as an unacceptable violation of the FRY’s state sovereignty. The result was controversy and debates that simmer on today. These debates raised important issues about how the armed conflict should best be viewed. Was Kosovo a war, a limited war or something else? NATO’s military action best met the description of being an intervention, but this descriptor itself was full of variations, including the one that has been subject to the widest debate; i.e. humanitarian intervention.

As discussed in Chapter 1, the idea of humanitarian intervention can be broadly defined as being forced outside intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state to uphold human rights or save the lives of people threatened by the violent oppression of a regime.1 This presents the international community with a paradox. Bruce Cronin highlighted the difficulties of humanitarian intervention when he wrote:

On one hand, international law and diplomatic practice are clearly biased in favor of state autonomy in matters that are considered to be domestic … On the other hand, multilateral treaties and international institutions have long provided for collective action in situations where governments violate generally accepted norms of behaviour.2

This paradox brings into sharp focus the potential for conflict between the long-standing doctrine of non-intervention that buttresses state sovereignty and the increasingly universal norms of the international system on human rights that challenge the sacrosanct view of the sovereignty of the state. The crux of this paradox is the problem of establishing criteria for intervention, and humanitarian intervention in particular.

Determining the ethical basis of intervention and establishing its legitimacy is a core challenge. Kosovo brought into focus this twin problem. As the discussions in Chapter 1 indicate, the ethics of humanitarian intervention are far from being a simple and clear-cut matter. Although some governments, such as in the UK, have made valuable contributions to articulating a set of criteria, there remains no consensus on this matter in the international community as a whole.3 With the events of 11 September 2001 prompting an international intervention in Afghanistan, albeit for reasons other than humanitarian imperatives, the problem of establishing agreed criteria for any kind of international intervention is unlikely to go away.

On the related issue of legitimacy, Kosovo seemingly saw the UNSC being increasingly sidelined. Closer analysis suggests, however, that far from marking the end of the UN role in conferring legitimacy on international intervention, Kosovo reinforced the need for this global security organisation, as demonstrated by the key role that NATO members have conceded to the UN in overseeing the post-conflict reconstruction of Kosovo. What was confirmed by the Kosovo crisis is that the UN Charter and the security role that derives from it makes the UN an international body that is optimised for dealing with inter-state conflict better than the intra-state kind.

The long-term impact of the Kosovo crisis on debates about intervention in Europe specifically is not likely to be very large. Intervention in Europe, given the strong institutional basis of the security order in this part of the world, is likely to be a case-by-case phenomenon and one undertaken only in extreme circumstances, when all diplomatic options have been exhausted. Kosovo, however, has more general importance when viewed as part of a wider pattern of post-Cold War interventions that seem likely to increase rather than decrease in the wake of the events of 11 September.

The future of NATO: Kosovo and after

The first part of Chapter 2 focused on controversies surrounding the workings of NATO’s multilateral political decision-making and military command and control structures during Operation Allied Force. The allegedly negative lessons which the US, in particular, had drawn from the Kosovo experience in this respect made headlines once again in the autumn of 2001. This happened as a consequence of the military operations in Afghanistan.

Much of the analysis and commentary surrounding the conduct of these operations focused on the extent to which the Americans ran them on a unilateral basis, with no direct reference to NATO or any other multilateral structures or processes. The Kosovo experience was often cited as a key reason for this approach. As one British commentator put it, ‘the frustrations of American commanders with the cumbersome (and, at times, leaky) nature of Nato’s collective decision-making during the Kosovo conflict [have] made them wary of too much military involvement now by other countries’.4 Another argued that, after Kosovo, ‘it is unlikely that they [the Americans] will ever again wish to use NATO to manage a serious shooting war’.5 Extrapolating from this, some drew the conclusion that, in the post-11 September security environment, NATO was becoming obsolete.

Such arguments seem overdone. To begin with, the ‘cumbersome nature’ of allied decision-making during Operation Allied Force should not be overestimated. As discussed in Chapter 2, at a very early stage in the operation, NATO members in effect decided that most of their number would cede day-to-day supervisory authority to a subgroup of the most powerful – the Quints. Within this caucus, the key decisions about target approval were often made by an even smaller grouping of three – the US, UK and France.

What really counted during Operation Allied Force were not the formal structures of NATO, which reportedly were soon substantially cast aside when confronted by an actual military crisis. The important thing was the existence of an informal network of links, ties and shared habits of co-operation amongst member states. These had been built up over a fifty-year period in the case of many of the states concerned. They represented the main contribution of ‘NATO’ to the prosecution of the Kosovo campaign and, incidentally, in the 2001–02 Afghan war also. In this latter case, the value of shared habits of co-operation and working together was acknowledged even by the US Department of Defense,6 popularly assumed to be the chief proponent of a unilateral approach. In reality, the US was far from being the only NATO member engaged in the war on terror in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, there were discernible differences in the conduct of the Kosovo and Afghan operations. During the former the US had, for all the frustrations, operated throughout substantially within an international chain of command. Afghan operations were run through a US national command chain, with bilateral arrangements being made with other contributing countries.

What accounts for the differences in the US approach to the Kosovo and Afghan campaigns? The key difference is that Kosovo was counted as being within the NATO area of responsibility. Afghanistan, on the other hand, was not. As discussed in Chapter 6, the NATO area today is different to that which existed during the Cold War. Then, it was clearly defined to include only the territory of the member states in Europe and North America and the waters surrounding them. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has officially adopted the notion that it has an interest in security and stability in the wider Euro-Atlantic Area.7

Despite American interest in a potential ‘global NATO’, the contemporary EAA does not extend to countries and regions beyond Europe. Even within its own area, its reach is not as broad and expansive as some at first assume. Officially, Kazakhstan, the Kyrghyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are all included within the EAA, on the basis of their participation in PfP. However, as NATO officials have privately admitted, these Central Asian countries have been little more than nominal participants.8 They have developed no real substantive relationship with NATO – although this may change as a consequence of renewed US interest in Central Asia following 11 September and the campaign in Afghanistan.

South East Europe has become the central region of the new NATO area; a development both reflected and reinforced by NATO’s response to the Kosovo crisis. As noted in Chapters 2 and 6 here, NATO members believe that a large amount of the institution’s post-Cold War credibility is invested in the region, particularly in making sure that the peace agreements currently in place in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia continue to hold. As Gilles Andréani et al. have put it:

If the Kosovo crisis found [NATO members] united, it was not because events in the region affected both sides of the Atlantic in the same way, or because of any intrinsic strategic value of Balkan territory, but because the governments elevated the crisis into a test for the credibility of an Alliance which they could not allow to collapse. There are not many instances when this is likely to be the case.9

There was no serious expectation amongst its member states that NATO would be formally involved in the post-11 September operations in Afghanistan. Its non-involvement should not, therefore, be taken as an indication that it is an institution in decline.

If, on the other hand, NATO members were beginning to disengage from South East Europe then this would be a significant indicator that the institution had had its day, given the credibility that it has invested in the region. However, there is currently no real evidence to suggest that such a process of disengagement is underway, even on the part of the United States, as discussed in Chapter 2. By the middle of 2002, the international military presence in Bosnia and Kosovo looked set to continue into the foreseeable future.

A ‘Europeanised’ future?

In Chapter 5, it was argued that the Kosovo crisis played a smaller and more indirect role in helping initiate the development of the European Union’s ESDP than many have assumed. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that, since 1999, Kosovo has played a less significant role in shaping its evolution than have other factors.

The events of 11 September seemed to some to have set back the evolution of the ESDP. Marta Dassù and Nicholas Whyte have, for example, written that, since then, ‘the idea of a ‘common’ European defence policy has almost instantly receded and given way to a renewed bilateralism in transatlantic relationships’.10 There was increased friction within the EU in the period immediately following 11 September, when the major powers (France, the FRG and the UK) began meeting as a threesome to discuss the ‘European’ response to international terrorism. This caucusing took place to the growing chagrin of the other members. An intended three-power dinner discussion convened by Tony Blair in November 2001 degenerated into near-farce. There was an outcry amongst the smaller EU members, which led Blair to backtrack and invite a number of their leaders along too.11

Overall, the impression conveyed was one of disunity, drift and consequent impotence on the part of the European Union collectively. Individual member states – chiefly France and the UK – did make significant military contributions in Afghanistan. These were on the basis of national agreements with the US, however, and there was no role as such for the EU’s emerging military dimension. Indeed, in another embarrassing public disagreement, the Belgian government, as the then EU presidency state, had been rebuffed in December 2001 for suggesting that the impending deployment of an international peacekeeping force to Kabul might become the first ESDP operation.12 In common with other military activities in Afghanistan, the Kabul force was subsequently made up of an ad hoc ‘coalition of the willing’ under the command of a British General.

Despite these reversals, it would be premature, at best, to assume that the ESDP initiative has completely run out of steam. As the discussions in Chapter 5 made clear, leading EU members – the British and French – have had powerful reasons for supporting it and ensuring that it does not die.

The most likely arena for an actual EU military operation is South East Europe. By 2002 the region was coming increasingly to be seen as the key litmus test for the EU’s aspirations to be able to act more coherently and effectively on the international stage. EU officials noted that what they called the ‘Western Balkans’ were absorbing between 50 and 60 per cent of the time and effort of Javier Solana, now the EU’s foreign policy supremo.13

The EU has the biggest stake and role in Macedonia, rather than in Bosnia or Kosovo. In both of these places, the senior international representative is an appointee of the UN. In Macedonia, meanwhile, an EU Special Representative fills the position. This official’s task is to offer ‘advice’ to the Macedonian authorities across a range of areas.14 In the spring of 2002, the European Commission published a report setting out a comprehensive range of ‘suggestions’ to ensure continued stability in Macedonia. It included proposals for reform of the economy and the political and legal systems.15 Underpinning this was an informal pledge of eventual EU membership providing that the country avoided instability and conflict and maintained its ‘European orientation’.16

The military forces in Macedonia since August 2001 had, it is true, been organised and commanded within a NATO framework. On the other hand, the personnel were almost exclusively European. In the first such force – ‘Task Force Harvest’ in August and September 2001 – it was reported that there was ‘only one American … a press officer’, although US support assets such as airlift and intelligence gathering were being utilised extensively.17 By the summer of 2002 there was growing discussion about whether EU members might soon be able and willing to take over the command and control of the military forces in Macedonia from NATO. They had signalled willingness in principle to do so at their Barcelona summit meeting in March.18

An expanding Atlantic Community?

The NATO response to the Kosovo crisis confirmed that South East Europe, a geographically adjacent region, is now regarded as being a place in which the basic values of the Atlantic Community are expected to be observed and upheld. The relatively prompt NATO response – just over a year elapsed between the first official expression of concern and the launch of Operation Allied Force – contrasted with the division and hesitation which characterised the first three years of the response to the civil war in Bosnia. In the case of Macedonia, the reaction by both NATO and the EU to the threat of civil war was even quicker, and more effectively pre-emptive, during 2001.

It would be premature to argue that the boundaries of either the security or civic communities have yet been extended into much of South East Europe. The states and peoples in the region still tend to be regarded as objects for remedial treatment or action, rather than as full participants in the communities. Nevertheless, there does now exist the prospect that some of them will, ultimately, be fully integrated. This will be done through membership of one or both of the two core community institutions, i.e. NATO and the EU.

At present, South East Europe enjoys a unique status with both NATO and the EU. It is not yet a full part of the western-based communities, and parts of the region may not become so for some considerable time, if ever. It is, on the other hand, considered to be a region of special interest and importance. Both NATO and the EU now regard South East Europe as being within their areas of responsibility. Both also have a greater institutional stake in the future peace, stability and prosperity of this region than of any other in the world.

Russia’s role and place in European security affairs

Post-Kosovo relations between Russia and NATO remain dogged by two things – the ambivalence of NATO policy towards Russia and the decline of Russia as both a regional and global power. The former may in fact be a product of the latter. With Russia’s ultimate post-Cold War position in European and global security affairs uncertain and changing, NATO has found it difficult to pursue a consistent policy other than vaguely assuming that it is a given that Russia cannot be ignored. Yet, on a number of vital issues, Russian views have not seemed to carry much weight in NATO’s decision-making. For example, Russia’s objections to enlargement did not ultimately divert NATO from taking in new members between 1997 and 1999, and pledging to do so again from 2002.

As for Russia’s economic and military decline, this was clearly evident in the last decade of the twentieth century and the prospects for future Russian recovery remain ultimately uncertain. The scale of Russian decline during the 1990s can be illustrated by the fact that Russia’s Gross Domestic Product in 1998 was only 55 per cent of the level registered by the Soviet Union in 1989,19 although in recent years the Russian economy has shown some signs of revival. The decline in Russia’s international influence is undoubtedly linked to its internal problems. The economic decline of Russia underpins the erosion of its military power in terms of both conventional and nuclear forces.

With this decline come inevitable questions regarding Russia’s place in the international order. Can Russia be considered a regional power – let alone a superpower – given its palpable inability to prevent NATO from launching Operation Allied Force and exert military pressure of its own during the Kosovo crisis? Although Russia’s nuclear arsenal, together with its permanent seats on the UNSC and in the G8, still afford it an importance in international affairs, this is a status that is likely to fade unless the domestic problems which have eviscerated Russian power since the late 1980s are overcome.

What the Kosovo crisis appears to have done for Russian leaders is similar to the impact of the Suez crisis of 1956 on the UK’s political establishment. The significance of Kosovo is that it drove home to the Russian political and military establishment the limitations on Russian power and influence and persuaded key leaders to pursue policies matching Russia’s means rather than memories of its previous status as a great or superpower.

The rise in the perceived threat of international terrorism has provided a common set of interests upon which to build a new Russia–NATO relationship. For NATO, Russia still matters in security terms, but in ways that are different and related to the changes in the international security environment since 11 September. The rapid emergence of the NRC during 2001–02 has provided a new opportunity for Russia and NATO to work together on security matters, both in Europe and further afield. In remains to be seen, however, how far this potential will be realised.

South East European futures: unachievable goals?

The normative bases of the Dayton agreements, UNSC Resolution 1244 and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe all promote democracy in conjunction with a civic model of nationalism that is distant, if not alien to, ethnic national identities in South East Europe. On this crucial issue of nationalism, the gulf in understanding between the recipients and givers of norms lies at the crux of the problem of norm transmission and inculcation in the region. With nationalist tension and conflict still existing in parts of Europe, this gulf remains an important issue for European security.

Moreover, with the majority of conflicts around the world being intra-state, with an ethnic or nationalist dimension present in a large number of them, the issue of what concept of nationalism should underpin norms and values is scarcely an irrelevant one. ‘Failed states’ are a major source of instability and potential base for international terrorists.20 Thus, how the international community imparts norms in the context of post-conflict peace-building makes an understanding of the problems of nationalism in the post-11 September security environment an important normative element in the war on terror.

As the discussions in Chapter 3 made clear, post-crisis efforts at peace-building in South East Europe have been premised on the belief that the states and societies in the region should base their political, social and legal systems on ‘internationally accepted’ norms. These are largely modelled on the experiences of the democratic states of North America and Western Europe. To this end, the international community, led by NATO and EU member states, has set up intrusive supervisory apparatus, in Kosovo in particular. According to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, UNSC Resolution 1244 provides for ‘an unprecedented constitutional role for the UN … to take the place of a government which has abused its own citizens in the way the Milosevic government did in respect of the majority population of Kosovo’.21 In similar vein, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo has argued that ‘Resolution 1244 created a unique institutional hybrid, a UN protectorate with unlimited power’ and of potentially unlimited duration.22 In Bosnia the situation is somewhat different, but the international community nevertheless is able to exercise considerable influence in shaping the normative development of the state. More widely in South East Europe, NATO and the EU, by political influence and economic leverage, have considerable power in shaping the region’s development in all aspects.

In Chapter 3, however, it was argued that attempts to impose ‘western’ norms and values on other states and societies without adapting them to local conditions can potentially have counterproductive consequences. This does not mean that the norms themselves are either flawed or irrelevant. Rather, the international approach might not take sufficiently into account the consequences of a strong sense of ethnic identity amongst peoples in South East Europe. This raises the issue of whether the policy prescriptions chosen are ones that will lead to lasting stability and a winding down of the major commitments of the international community in the region. A better tailoring of international norms to conditions in South East Europe may hold out the prospect of greater and lasting progress towards stability.

Conclusions: lessons of Kosovo?

The immediate aftermath of the Kosovo crisis in 1999 saw considerable debate and discussion about what its ‘lessons’ might be. This was followed again fairly predictably, by a number of ‘revisionist’ views suggesting that, perhaps, the impact of the crisis was less significant and profound than many had first believed.

Debates over the vexing issues associated with international intervention were not new. A string of post-Cold War interventions of various kinds, from the Persian Gulf to Somalia, had already generated a series of conundrums and dilemmas that defied the articulation of clear lessons. Kosovo was no exception.

For NATO, the military operations over Kosovo provided confirmation of the Alliance’s post-Cold War redefinition of its main area of interest and responsibility. In this respect Kosovo was a key step in a process that had begun with the initial NATO involvement in Bosnia from the summer of 1992.

With the European Union’s ESDP, the Kosovo crisis did no more than accelerate trends that were already apparent. Its foreign and security policy wing was not brought into being by the crisis. Nevertheless, Kosovo was important in accelerating a trend towards making South East Europe its principal focal point. The region has since become the main testing ground for the EU’s aspirations to be a significant international security actor.

If there are any lessons to be gained from the pattern of Russia-NATO relations during and after the crisis, they warn of the dangers of attempting to draw long-term conclusions about such an unpredictable relationship. It might be argued that the response to the crisis in Kosovo provides lessons about the importance of international efforts at norm transmission, in the face of indigenous nationalism, being enacted with great care and delicacy. Even so, this challenge is not limited to Kosovo or, indeed, to South East Europe.

Judah has offered the opinion that ‘there were no particular lessons’ to be drawn from the Kosovo crisis.23 Daalder and O’Hanlon, meanwhile, have argued that ‘the overall verdict on Kosovo is less likely to offer new lessons than to affirm old truths’.24 Overall, it does seem that the Kosovo crisis and the international response reinforced and reflected trends and developments that were already emerging or apparent, rather than giving rise to anything dramatically new. The crisis, therefore, offers us few simple lessons to be learned. On the other hand, the way in which it was tackled tells us much about the nature and evolution of post-Cold War European security.


1 Conversely, such intervention might also be considered when human suffering is threatened as a consequence of state disintegration and/or civil war.
2 B. Cronin, ‘Multilateral intervention and the international community’, in M. Keren and D. Sylvan (eds), International Intervention: Sovereignty versus Responsibility (London, Frank Cass, 2002), p. 147.
3 See D. Sylvan and J. Pevehouse, ‘Deciding whether to intervene’, in ibid., pp. 56–74.
4 P. Riddell, ‘Britain keeps its walk-on part on the world stage’, The Times (22 October 2001).
5 C. Grant, ‘A more political NATO, a more European Russia’, in E. Bannerman et al., Europe After September 11th (London, Centre for European Reform, 2001), p. 49.
6 ‘Special report: The future of NATO’, The Economist (4 May 2002), 26.
7 See I. Daalder and J. Goldgeier, ‘Putting Europe first’, Survival, 43:1 (2001), 81.
8 Authors’ interviews with NATO officials, November 2001.
9 G. Andréani et al., Europe’s Military Revolution (London, Centre for European Reform, 2001), p. 74.
10 M. Dassù and N. Whyte, ‘America’s Balkan disengagement?’, Survival, 43:4 (2001), 133.
11 See Bannerman et al., Europe After September 11th, pp. 39–41 and ‘Guess who wasn’t coming to dinner?’, The Economist (10 November 2001), 45–6.
12 See M. Fletcher and M. Evans, ‘No 10 fury as EU claims Afghan role’, The Times (15 December 2001).
13 Authors’ interviews with EU officials, July 2002.
14 Strategic Survey 2001/2002 (London, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2002), p. 154.
15 Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Stabilisation and Association Report (Com(2002)163). Website reference
16 Authors’ interviews with EU officials, July 2002.
17 ‘Wake up, Europe!’, The Economist (15 September 2001), 41.
18 Presidency Conclusions: Barcelona European Council 15 and 16 March 2002 (Brussels, Council of the European Union, 2002), p. 26.
19 The Russian Economy in June 1999: Net Assessment of the Russian Economy. Website reference
20 See J. Record, ‘Collapsed countries, casualty dread, and the new American way of war’, Parameters, 32:2 (2002), 4–23 and R. Takeyh and N. Gvosdev, ‘Do terrorist networks need a home?’, Washington Quarterly, 25:3 (2002), 98–108.
21 Kosovo Volume I: Report and Proceedings of the Committee, House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Fourth Report, Session 1999–2000 (London, The Stationery Office, 2000), p. lxi.
22 Independent International Commission on Kosovo, Kosovo Report (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 9.
23 T. Judah, Kosovo: War and Revenge (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 307–8.
24 I. Daalder and M. O’Hanlon, ‘Unlearning the lessons of Kosovo’, Foreign Policy, 116 (1999), 129.

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