July 29, 1999
Jim Bullington did an excellent job summarizing all the standard arguments of why NATO should not have intervened militarily in Kosovo and Bosnia before it [American Interests, American Values, and War in the Balkans, SUMMER 1999]. I am surprised, however, that such an “old pro” did not provide American Diplomacy subscribers with suggestions for alternative courses of action to deal with ethnic strife in ex-Yugoslavia. I was left with the impression that he advocated doing nothing.
The writer completed a thirty year career in the US foreign service in 1986. He served as an election monitor in Bosnia in 1997 and recounted his experiences there for American Diplomacy readers in the Spring 1998 issue.
September 23, 1999
Since the debate is now open, I would like to respond to Mr. Bullington .
First of all, I do basically question his perception of American national interest involved in the issue. There is a clear American national interest in a Europe which is stable, free, and united. Letting Milosevic perpetrate his atrocities and continue with the ethnic cleansing would have destabilized the region and Europe as a whole by forcing them to deal with huge masses of refugees. Furthermore, intervention was needed to restore the balance of power between the two parties involved in the conflict (although balance of power arguments do not sound honourable in American ears, one cannot ignore the facts), which is a precondition for solving it. The preservation of this balance is now the duty of the KFOR. The international community is now in a better position to solve the Yugoslav conflict than it was before the war. In addition, there are clear strategic advantages to be drawn from a strong political, economic and military presence in South-Eastern Europe, which lie with geopolitical considerations. In particular, the containment of the differences existing between Greece and Turkey, the establishment of an effective political, military and economic framework aimed at providing effective support for the integration of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro into the European structures as well as the establishment of friendly governments and of political systems sharing the US values in these countries are of crucial importance to vital American political and economic interests in the Middle East and in Central Asia.
As far as the relations with Russia and China are concerned, I completely agree with Ambassador Bullington ‘s views with regard to the necessity of cultivating a well-functioning strategic relationship with these nations. However, I think that giving in to their pressure with regard to Kosovo would have sent the wrong signals. It suffices to mention the Russian talk about World War III and the threats to freeze the relationships with NATO or the obstructionist policy of both countries in the Security Council to show that their approach to the issue was one of confrontation, not of cooperation. To show to these nations that threat pays off would have been a very dangerous step, capable of jeopardizing the US strategic position in the whole world. In addition, I think that Russia is applying double standards when it comes to her stressing of national sovereignty. Everybody remembers the massive Russian attempt to interfere in the policy making of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic when the accession of these countries to the NATO was at stake, let alone the general Russian approach to the former Soviet republics. The same is true about China which feels threatened by the concept of humanitarian intervention because of the human rights abuses carried out by its own government. I am not saying that the US should adopt a policy of confrontation towards these powers. I just want to say that these countries design and carry out their foreign policy as well as their views on international law matters on the basis of their national interest, as they perceive it. The United States does the same. Therefore, the optimal approach to the US relationship with these countries should address a precise balancing of national intersts. Somewhere in the world interests might coincide, somewhere not. In this case progress in the fields where interests coincide must be “linked” to progress in the fields they diverge. However, this must be done bearing in mind the significance of the interests at stake. This cool-headed approach is more appropriate than speculations about the psychological mood of certain leaders or the significance of opinion polls.
American values are crucial to American national interest. Common values promote peace, economic cooperation and social progress. The question is what kind of price is America prepared to pay for the spreading and protection of her values across the world. My answer is: A price which is compatible with the American interests at stake?