NATO in Kosovo
United We Stand?
by Tasha Vincent
This article was posted on April 16, 1999.
The crisis in Kosovo has galvanized NATO more than any other conflict since the end of the Cold War. But NATO is an alliance composed of individual nations, each with its own history and perspective on the intervention of NATO troops in Kosovo.
Site of NATO headquarters, Belgium has supplemented its diplomatic support for the mission with military might, sending 14 F16 fighter planes and some 600 ground troops. The war could become an issue in the June 13 national elections.
As one of NATO's newest members, the Czech Republic is somewhat divided in its support for the NATO effort in Kosovo. Publicly, President Vaclav Havel advocates for NATO action, while the armaments industry allegedly profits by supplying both the Serbs and the KLA.
Despite some domestic opposition, and an occasional anti-U.S. bias in its foreign policy, France has taken part in the NATO air strikes in Kosovo. The French hope to end Serbian "barbarism" and bring stability to the region.
Before the Kosovo crisis, the Germans had not participated in an armed conflict since World War II. Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder and his colleagues from coalition partner the Green Party seem eager to assume Germany's responsibilities as a NATO member, agreeing to take 40,000 refugees, the most of any NATO country.
Geographical proximity to the conflict make Greece a likely destination for refugees. Wary of the economic and political instability that accompany a large influx of people, and reluctant to ignore an Eastern Orthodox religious history shared with the Serbs, the Greeks have been the most vocal dissenters within the NATO alliance. Still, they agreed to take in 5,000 refugees.
Only weeks after officially joining NATO in April 1999, Hungary was forced to stand up to its former ally, Russia, blocking a shipment of Russian fuel and food destined for Yugoslavia. Hungary has a lot at stake in the Kosovo crisis. It shares a border with Serbia and many ethnic Hungarians live in Serbia and have been drafted into the Yugoslav army.
While Hungary is wary of fighting fellow Hungarians in the Kosovo conflict, the country is the site of an important base for American peacekeeping troops in Bosnia.
The Aviano air base in northern Italy has been crucial to launching air strikes into Kosovo and Yugoslavia, but Italy's proximity to the fighting also poses problems. As refugees seek a safe haven, and Serbian threats escalate, Italy is wary that the conflict could spread.
The Dutch have been staunch supporters of NATO in the Balkans, sending both troops and planes to Bosnia, and committing fighter jets to the Kosovo action. Dutch pilots shot down a Serbian MiG in one of the early sorties into Kosovo, and the Dutch remain committed to returning peace to the region.
Spain's international reputation and credibility have been enhanced through its admission to NATO in 1982. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana is a former Spanish foreign minister is eager to demonstrate his country's willingness to participate in and support NATO actions. Spain has provided planes for the Kosovo air strikes and peacekeeping troops in Bosnia.
The Turks and Serbs have a history of conflict dating back to the 14th century. Because of this, and because the Turks share a Muslim religious heritage with the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Turks have been strong supporters of NATO. Turkey has welcomed refugees fleeing the crisis, and agreed to take as many as 20,000.
The British government has been a strong supporter of the NATO action, both diplomatically and militarily. Opposition within the U.K., however, fears that military action is a mistake and could lead to the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.
RAF Harriers have been active in NATO air strikes, and British soldiers are supporting the humanitarian efforts by building infrastructure for refugee camps and distributing food.
The U.S. has led the charge in seeking NATO air strikes against Serbia in the wake of failed diplomatic efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis. Though the Americans have little vested interest in Kosovo per se, Washington has been careful to paint the picture in terms of a moral obligation to the people who are the targets of Serb ethnic cleansing.
This tactic has ensured growing support within the U.S. for air strikes, though Americans are wary of becoming embroiled in an endless conflict. The incident in Somalia in which an American soldier's body was dragged through the streets has made Americans reluctant to commit ground troops to any conflict in which American interests are not clearly defined.
American troops are still on the ground in Bosnia as part of its peacekeeping force, and the U.S. will take in 20,000 refugees from Kosovo. The refugees will be housed with families in the U.S. until the conflict is over, then returned to Kosovo.
Other NATO Countries
Other members of the coalition are either using the crisis as a rallying cry for political agendas or are actively participating by agreeing to take in refugees. In Denmark the conservative party is using the Kosovo crisis to justify defense spending, which has recently been cut by Social Democrats.
Luxembourg is a financial center in Europe, and concern over instability in the euro as a result of the conflict make it difficult for this tiny country to lend its unqualified support to the campaign. Norway wants the crisis resolved and is thought likely to support a U.N. force if the NATO effort is unsuccessful. Norway will take 6,000 refugees.
Portugal and Canada are ambivalent in their support for the campaign; while Portugal lives under the shadow of colonial wars in Africa, Canada bemoans the loss of its status as a peacekeeper but will take in 5,000 refugees.
Poland is also somewhat divided. One of NATO's newest members and a former member of the Eastern Bloc, Poland is wary of alienating its large eastern neighbor, Russia, though Poles tend to support the air campaign.
Until 1918, most of the former Yugoslavian territory was part of Austria-Hungary, which makes it difficult for Austria to take sides in the current crisis. In an ongoing attempt to remain neutral in the conflicts raging around it, Austria has chosen not to become a member of NATO, and has announced it will not allow NATO forces to use Austrian soil or airspace.
A traditional ally of the Yugoslavs, particularly the Serbs, Russia has condemned the NATO air strikes, which have taken place largely without Russian consultation. The snub has become a big political issue in the crisis. Yeltsin's government is having to balance the public demand that Russia be included in deliberations regarding military action against one of its foreign allies with Russia's dependence on western governments for trade and economic support.