Preventive Diplomacy

Preventive Diplomacy

The US/NATO war in Kosovo marks a dramatic shift in the contours of global politics and domestic foreign policy discussions that is likely to have ramifications for years to come.


The US/NATO war in Kosovo marks a dramatic shift in the contours of global politics and domestic foreign policy discussions that is likely to have ramifications for years to come. The failure of NATO airstrikes either to protect the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo or to weaken Slobodan Milosevic’s grip on power in Belgrade has prompted widespread demands for a more muscular (and largely unilateral) military strategy. One of the more egregious examples of this new interventionism was Robert Kaplan’s recent call for a revival of “Western imperialism” to save the Balkans and prevent a new East/West divide. But Kaplan is not alone. Many of the most vocal supporters of “finishing the job” by sending in NATO ground forces are progressives who support military action against Milosevic on humanitarian grounds, as the only way to stop his despicable campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

While the desire to do something–anything–to stop Milosevic is understandable, bombing Kosovo in order to save it is both immoral and ineffectual. Not only is bombing the wrong tactic for achieving humanitarian ends but NATO is the wrong institution for the task at hand.

The Clinton Administration never really gave diplomacy a chance in Kosovo. Last August US ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow was pressing a proposal that would have engaged Russia in the development of a plan for a settlement that would have been brought to the UN Security Council jointly by the United States and Russia, but the Clinton foreign policy team ignored his advice. Instead, according to Robert Hayden, a Balkans expert at the University of Pittsburgh, the Administration’s proposal at Rambouillet would have given NATO forces free rein to roam unmolested throughout the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia, a concession that no sovereign nation would ever accept.

The Administration’s tendency to go to war with narrow coalitions–from the US/British airstrikes in Iraq to the NATO-led attacks on Serbia and Kosovo, which are being pursued without a UN mandate–has undermined the basis for the kind of collective diplomacy that is urgently needed to resolve regional conflicts. And the treatment of Russia as a second-rate power–as evidenced by the decisions to proceed with NATO expansion, to revive Star Wars and to bomb Iraq and Kosovo–will short-circuit efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and spark a sort of postmodern cold war, in which Russia seeks ways to act against US interests to assert its independence on the world stage and to assuage nationalist resentments at home.

The United States doesn’t need a “tougher” policy but a smarter one that involves cooperating with key international and regional players to reduce threats to peace and investing in multilateral institutions that can shoulder part of the burden of heading off ethnic conflicts before they escalate into war. It would not be a pacifist policy, but it would attempt to create a range of tools that can be employed before resorting to force. And if the use of force becomes necessary to head off genocidal attacks on defenseless populations, it should not be employed unilaterally, but lawfully, in consultation with the UN and relevant regional bodies.

Needed: A Preventive Strategy

This new strategy should be based on preventive diplomacy. The first step toward implementing a workable preventive strategy is to abandon the notion that the United States and its closest allies can go it alone. Last December’s US/British air raids on Iraq and the current NATO policy in Kosovo were both firmly grounded in this dangerous delusion. Avoiding consultations with the UN Security Council on the use of force is not only questionable as a matter of international law but it often leads to hastily crafted, ill-conceived policies.

In the long term the best option for dealing with ethnic conflict and civil strife is to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities and come up with clearer ground rules for delegating peacekeeping and conflict prevention to broad-based regional organizations like the Organization of African Unity and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a fifty-five-member body that includes Russia. This will entail spending some money, but the sums involved are a small fraction of the costs of going to war.

For example, the United States could pay its outstanding UN dues for the price of just one B-2 bomber, which, at $2.1 billion per plane, is the most expensive aircraft ever built. And the OSCE, which had human rights monitors on the ground in Kosovo prior to the current NATO air campaign, has a budget of $112 million per year, roughly the cost of a few days of airstrikes on Belgrade. Daniel Plesch and Julianne Smith of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) have suggested that a bulked-up OSCE could sponsor Civilian Intervention Units that could “intervene before military action is necessary.” In their view, sending in NATO to deal with Kosovo is like sending in a police SWAT team after a riot has broken out, while an OSCE-based monitoring and peacekeeping force would be the foreign policy equivalent of community policing–which has a far higher rate of success in curbing crime.

Ultimately, the international community needs to find a way to advance the long-neglected calls of analysts like Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary General of the UN, for the development of a standing UN peacekeeping force, which would replace the current ad hoc system that requires the Secretary General to seek commitments on a case-by-case basis. A number of innovative mechanisms have been proposed for financing such a system, ranging from Sherle Schwenninger’s call to fund this through a modest tax on international financial transactions [see “How to Save the World: The Case for a Global Flat Tax,” May 13, 1996] to Nobel laureate Oscar Arias’s suggestion for a global demilitarization fund that would be built up by taking a small percentage of the military budgets of UN member states. As for the widespread concern that the UN or other multilateral agencies “don’t act rapidly enough” in a crisis or lack the political will to act forcefully when needed, former US ambassador to Germany Jonathan Dean is crafting a proposal that would give the UN Secretary General the authority to deploy peacekeeping units of limited size immediately when the situation calls for it, with a proviso that the Security Council vote on the continuation of the operation within a few weeks of the initial deployment.

Meanwhile, over at the Pentagon, the admirals and generals should abandon the outmoded strategy of developing the capability to fight two major regional conflicts at once, in favor of preparing for one major conflict plus peacekeeping. Training and weapons systems could thus be tailored to the kinds of conflicts US forces are most likely to be involved in, rather than adapting cumbersome cold war weapons and warfighting tactics to the more difficult and delicate art of keeping the peace.

Another essential tool of a cooperative strategy for reducing global violence is an International Criminal Court with the authority to prosecute individuals for genocide and other crimes against humanity. Given the appropriate support from the major powers, a functioning criminal court could act as a deterrent to acts of genocide. It would also provide an alternative means of punishing wrongdoers such as Slobodan Milosevic. The Clinton Administration has opposed the establishment of a strong international court because of resistance from the Pentagon, which is afraid that some of its personnel might be dragged before such a tribunal in the wake of some future conflict.

A preventive strategy must also involve stopping the spread of deadly weaponry, from M-16 rifles to F-16 fighters to weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the US policy of arming virtually every dictator and thug who claims to be a friend has fueled the “boomerang effect”–putting US weaponry in the hands of US adversaries in Panama, Iraq, Somalia and Haiti. The $6 billion in arms that went to the Afghan rebels under the Reagan Doctrine has been used to arm and train everyone from the World Trade Center bombers to the network of Osama bin Laden, which has been implicated in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The energy and funds now devoted to grabbing a bigger share of the global arms market for US firms should be redirected toward stopping the flow of conventional weaponry to dictators and human rights abusers. High on the list should be a Code of Conduct on arms transfers, as embodied in legislation that Cynthia McKinney and Dana Rohrabacher are promoting in the House of Representatives. The European Union has already adopted its own voluntary Code of Conduct on arms sales, and Oscar Arias has recruited eighteen Nobel Peace Prize winners to press for a Global Code of Conduct at the UN.

Moreover, the Clinton/Gore Administration should reverse its opposition to the most important arms-limitation treaty of the post-cold war era, the Oslo accord banning the production, use and export of antipersonnel landmines. Supporting the landmine treaty would put the United States in a stronger position to pursue stronger international restrictions on other kinds of armaments. The Administration should likewise embrace the nascent campaign to restrict the flow of small arms–the hand grenades, assault rifles, shoulder-fired missiles and other light armaments that have become the weapons of choice on the world’s most brutal killing fields. In mid-May at the Hague Appeal for Peace–an international peace conference sponsored by a broad coalition of peace, human rights and humanitarian organizations–a campaign to slow the spread of small arms will be launched by the International Action Network on Small Arms.

The deadliest weapons of all are still nuclear weapons, and far more needs to be done to insure that these instruments of destruction are never used again. The unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to press for deep reductions in nuclear weapons has given nascent nuclear powers like India and Pakistan a rationale for developing their own programs. Instead, the United States should be leading the way toward elimination. Ex-military men like Gen. George Lee Butler, the former head of the Strategic Air Command, have concluded that nuclear weapons serve no useful military purpose. To make any serious progress on this front, the Clinton Administration will have to move swiftly to repair our badly damaged relations with Russia, which are at their lowest point since the cold war. The expansion of NATO and the recent decision to move forward with a national missile defense system has undermined pro-Western political figures in Russia and has united Russia’s fractious political class.

Finally, for those of us who like to plan way ahead, the Institute for Defense & Disarmament Studies has joined with the World Order Models Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists and several other organizations to promote a long-term project called Global Action to Prevent War. The project proposes a series of four linked treaties to be phased in over a twenty- to forty-year period with the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, radically reducing conventional arms production and sales, and establishing regional and international mechanisms for conflict prevention and peacekeeping that would be internationally financed and universally recognized. Skeptics have questioned the feasibility of pursuing such an ambitious proposal at a time when disarmament advocates can’t even convince Congress to cut back on programs that are demonstrably unworkable (like the Star Wars missile defense scheme), but Global Action to Prevent War has one obvious strength: It provides a vision of long-term peace and security that can respond to the dire worst-case scenarios that the Pentagon and the weapons industry have been using to pump up military spending and fuel regional arms races.

Taken together, these initiatives would provide the United States with other tools for dealing with future conflicts like those in Rwanda and Kosovo besides sitting on our hands in the face of ethnic slaughter or dropping bombs on the parties to a civil war. The alternative–sticking with the mix of ad hoc militarism and episodic airstrikes that fostered the current fiasco in Kosovo–has already proven itself to be disastrously ineffective.

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