Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MAY 1999

If the Kosovo crisis is resolved through negotiations that permit Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to remain in power, will this be a defeat for NATO and hasten its demise?

Some senators, such as John McCain, and some pundits, for example George Will, argue that unless NATO imposes harsh terms on an outlaw Serb government, the United States and its NATO partners will suffer a huge loss of credibility. To these hard-liners, "winning" means the surrender of Milosevic even if this requires sending large combat forces to invade Yugoslavia.

President Clinton and majorities in both houses of Congress think that a settlement which permits an international force to enter Kosovo as peace enforcers will satisfy two basic NATO requirements: ensure the repatriation of tens of thousands of Kosovars who wish to return home, and guarantee that Serb police and troops will not exercise political control over that province.

The White House appears willing to accept Milosevic as leader of Yugoslavia so long as he is no threat to neighboring Macedonia, Albania, and Bosnia, withdraws all his forces from Kosovo, and grants that province real autonomy.

Can NATO live with that outcome of its painful experience in Kosovo?

As in most foreign policy crises, American opinion leaders need to ask themselves what important U.S. interests are at stake in Kosovo. Here are three candidates:

Half a century after the end of World War II, the supply of Marshall Plan aid to help Europe recover, and formation of NATO to guard western European security during the long Cold War, U.S. interests and policy in Europe should now be less dominant, not more so.

Unless Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin conclude that security in eastern Europe requires that the Milosevic government must be removed by force, which does not appear to be the case, it is logical to visualize a compromise that halts the bombing campaign in exchange for withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the introduction of peace enforcing troops. Serbia would be defeated, but not crushed, for its ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

The mood in Congress is toward a negotiated settlement to the Kosovo tragedy.

The House of Representatives refused to support a White House appeal for a bipartisan vote of confidence for its conduct of the war. The Senate voted by 76 to 22 to scuttle a bipartisan proposal by Senators John McCain and Joseph Biden to give the president all necessary support, including combat troops, to win the war against Yugoslavia. Realizing that the measure would not get a majority, the White House withdrew its support.

Washington is not the only NATO capital where support for a negotiated settlement is growing. Reports from Germany show that a majority there now favors a halt to the bombing, whereas a month ago sixty percent of Germans favored it. Reports from Italy, where most of the NATO planes are based, show a similar trend.

The crucial question for American policy makers and opinion leaders to decide is this: Does the future of the alliance really depend on NATO intervening anywhere in Europe, including in ex-Soviet republics, when local stability is threatened by internal or external actions of a government?

Those who say yes believe a settlement permitting Slobodan Milosevic to remain in power is tantamount to "appeasement," as The Washington Post suggested editorially on May 5.

Those who believe in "containment" of the Milosevic extremist government by placing an armed international force in Kosovo calculate that escalation of the current conflict could draw in Turkey, Greece, and Russia. They are convinced that ground combat forces will mean significant casualties, which U.S. and European opinion will not accept.

If a negotiated settlement in Kosovo is arranged through the participation of Moscow, NATO surely will not crumble and become irrelevant, as some predict. But it may draw back the global reach that Secretary of State Albright had aspired to six months ago.

The reality is that this Cold War alliance, dominated until now by American military power and diplomacy, will gradually find Europeans, particularly the British, Germans, and French, taking greater responsibility for security on the continent.

This development should not embolden isolationists to proclaim that "we should pack up and come home," as pundit Pat Buchanan and others suggest. Instead it implies that a new relationship is emerging within the alliance in which American power, particularly air power and logistics, remains a significant part of the NATO arsenal. But U.S. ground troops stationed in Europe will be reduced.

Americans who have a globalist vision of American power are not well disposed to this prospect. They seem convinced that without American leadership, European unity will crumble and instability on the continent will result.

I don't share their pessimism. Europe at the turn of a new century is economically strong, politically closer than at anytime in history, and gaining in modern military strength. It is therefore prudent for the United States to push the British, Germans, French, and Italians to forge a unified foreign policy, and forge a different security partnership with North America.

File last modified on Sunday, 22-AUG-2004 05:30 PM EST

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