The Case Against Intervention in Kosovo
American policy-makers notoriously misread the psychology, the history and the nationalism of other nations. For all Clinton's talk about vital interests, the struggle in Kosovo is only of the remotest geopolitical consequence to the United States. For Serbia, however, it involves the highest stakes for which a nation can fight: the defense of its sovereign territory. In conflicts like those in Vietnam or Kosovo, the interests of US adversaries clearly outweigh US interests--which means that an opponent's resolve is likely to outlast America's. Indeed, far from turning against the popularly elected Serbian president, Serbs of all political stripes have united against NATO. And should US troops ever be deployed in Kosovo as peacekeepers, they would almost certainly be targets of revenge-seeking Serb terrorists (US troops in neighboring Bosnia will similarly be at risk).
Clinton's policy is likely to have other, even more important and unfortunate, strategic consequences. Intended or not, US actions--including NATO expansion, and now the intervention in Kosovo--have gravely offended and alarmed Russia. American policy-makers suggest that NATO's military intervention troubles only "extremist" Russians. But Washington should have no illusions: Opposition to NATO's attacks and its expansion is probably the one major foreign policy issue on which virtually the entire Russian political class is united. NATO, after all, was supposedly designed as a defensive alliance to repel a military attack on its member states, but in Kosovo it has radically extended its writ by intervening in a state unconnected to it. Furthermore, from Moscow's perspective, the United States, by bringing its powerful military alliance to Russia's borders, has reneged on a bargain it struck with Russia at the end of the cold war.
At that time Moscow agreed to quit Eastern Europe and to allow German unification. Moreover, Russia acceded to the continued existence of an alliance that had been hostile to it and even agreed to the inclusion of newly unified Germany in that alliance. In return, Moscow received assurances from the United States and its allies that they would not take advantage of this situation to tip the geopolitical balance in a way that would potentially threaten Russia's security.
Russians have good reasons to worry about NATO expansion, which, as Clinton has acknowledged, is a means to consolidate and extend America's military and political leadership in Europe. Great powers have always been more concerned about competitors' capabilities than about their intentions--because intentions can change quickly. In the post-cold war era, NATO remains the most powerful military alliance the world has ever seen. Even those Russians who are not closet aggressors are anxious about having such an impressive military association poised on their frontier. NATO's expansion, coupled with its intervention in cases in which the alliance's security is not threatened, could lead to a nationalist backlash.
Russia may be down now, but because its history as a great power is cyclical, there is every reason to assume that it will recover. American actions make it more likely that a resurgent Russia will harbor deep and justifiable resentment toward the United States. A hostile Russia not only could create trouble in Europe but could also undermine the US strategic position globally by aligning with China. At a time when many American strategists are concerned about a future great-power threat from China, a wise long-term US strategy would aim to insure Russian partnership with Washington. It is the height of folly to follow a policy in the Balkans that can only have the effect of pushing Russia more closely into Beijing's embrace.
In his address to the nation Clinton also briefly invoked another, particularly disturbing argument for intervention. In a speech the previous day, he had discussed this rationale at greater length, declaring that "if we're going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key.... That's what this Kosovo thing is all about." He thus seems to argue that the United States is fighting a war in Kosovo to make the world safe for capitalism. In fact, the President and other policy-makers have long been making similar arguments. In explaining its global strategy, for instance, the Pentagon declared in 1993 that "a prosperous, largely democratic, market-oriented zone of peace and prosperity that encompasses more than two-thirds of the world's economy" requires the "stability" that only American "leadership" can provide. In the debate over US intervention in Bosnia, leading foreign policy figures, including the former head of the National Security Agency and Senator Richard Lugar, asserted that, left unchecked, the war there could lead to "national parochialism" in Europe, threatening global economic interdependence and US prosperity.
The air war against Serbia is just the latest installment in what appears to be Washington's quest to make the world safe for America's investors and exporters. Last year, speaking to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Defense Secretary William Cohen justified NATO expansion as a way of "spreading the kind of security and stability that Western Europe has enjoyed since after World War II to Central and Eastern Europe." And, in an observation certain to resonate with his audience, he noted: "And with that spread of stability, there is a prospect to attract investment." No doubt the Administration is moved by the human tragedy of Kosovo. Clearly, however, its perception that US economic interests are indirectly at stake is at least as important. As Cohen has said, the Administration's strategy seeks to "discourage violence and instability--instability which destroys lives and markets." Clinton recently exhorted Americans to accept the "inevitable logic" of globalism and free trade. But the Administration's Balkan policy shows that globalization is not inevitable--it depends on America's overseas military commitments and its willingness to wage war if necessary.