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(E) NATO in the Balkans Time for a Rethink By Vitomir M. Raguz
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/6/2002 | Politics | Unrated
(E) NATO in the Balkans Time for a Rethink By Vitomir M. Raguz 
December 27, 2001 
International Commentary 
NATO in the Balkans: Time for a Rethink? 
By Vitomir Miles Raguz. 
The next round of North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion is due next 
fall at the Prague summit of the NATO members' heads of state. Not 
surprisingly, the debate over candidates is already in full swing. Yet almost 
all of the debate has focused on the so-called Vilnius Nine -- Albania, 
Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and 
Slovenia -- named after the Lithuanian capital where their leaders met last 
year to begin lobbying their cases. 
Three European states -- Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia -- 
were not invited to Vilnius. At the time, they had not met the internal 
stability requirements to participate and so are generally overlooked in the 
present discussions. Since then, however, all three have voted into office 
new Western-leaning governments, some for the first time, and Croatia was 
recently included in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, the antechamber 
for eventual NATO candidacy. This is a significant boost for the region's 
basic security. Yet the advance of Western security policy in the region 
should not stop there. With a bit of deft handling, NATO now has the 
opportunity to reshape the region for decades to come. Let's take this 
* Croatia. Since we often speak of NATO membership as a reward, the delay 
in bringing Croatia into the Partnership for Peace was curious, as perhaps no 
new state better deserved membership. 
For starters, Croatia saved Bosnia. In the summer of 1995 its military 
operations ended a humanitarian catastrophe for which the West could not 
muster an appropriate response. Four years later, during the Kosovo crisis, 
Croatia opened its airspace to the NATO alliance, no questions asked, though 
it could have demanded political favors in return. And the smooth 
transformation of Zagreb politics in January 2000 from one-party monolith to 
multiparty government turned out to be a harbinger for further 
democratization in the region. 
Yet Croatia's positive role has been overshadowed by long held prejudices. 
There's the (mistaken) view that Croats joined the Axis en masse in World War 
II while the Serbs were the sole members of the Allied partisan movement. 
More recently, two decisions in the International Criminal Tribunal for the 
former Yugoslavia -- Blaskic and Kordic -- found Croatia to have been 
involved as an aggressor in Bosnia in 1993, although the court's reasoning 
left much to be desired. 
For all that, Croatia's stabilizing role in the region cannot be ignored. 
Croatia is Bosnia's principal security partner. Two-thirds of Bosnia's border 
is with Croatia. It is the primary transit country for international forces 
and supplies to this landlocked country, and Croatia's many ports and roads 
along the Adriatic are Bosnia's lifelines to the outside world. Bringing NATO 
to its borders will enhance Bosnia's attractiveness to investors and 
stabilize its trade routes. From this perspective, the long-term security of 
Bosnia and the region would be best served if NATO leaders took the next 
logical step and included Croatia among the next round of new members. 
* Bosnia. Bosnia remains handicapped even for the Partnership for Peace, 
primarily because it has two armies: one Serb, the other Muslim-Croat. Since 
NATO cannot accept a country with multiple armies, it has encouraged the 
three sides in Bosnia to form a unified force. But the Serb side is not ready 
to accept this, and the withdrawal of the Croat component from the 
Muslim-Croat army further complicates the situation. 
The Croat walkout points to the problems caused by back-door revisions of 
Dayton that are intended to centralize the state. The Western powers now 
favor such a policy in general, although the history of Bosnia tells us that 
centralization is likely to fail. Ordinary Bosnian citizens, unlike the 
governing elites, dismiss outright the thought of a unified army, arguing 
that if it came to war, local Serbs and Croats would abandon ship either to 
fight alongside one of the two, or sit idly by until their own homesteads 
became endangered. 
A better alternative would be to restructure the country's security needs 
along Costa Rican lines: that is, near-total demilitarization, with a beefed 
up police and border force and nonagression agreements with neighbors. This 
would certainly benefit Bosnian taxpayers, already overburdened by military 
expenditures that take up 40% of the budget. 
NATO would be wise to consider how it can use its resources and moral force 
to move Bosnia in this direction. It's unlikely that Bosnia will ever join 
NATO, since the Serb side has not expressed interests beyond the Partnership 
for Peace. But NATO can provide Bosnia with a future, thus enhancing the 
region's stability without having to remain stationed in the region for 
* Yugoslavia. After facing the might of NATO over Kosovo, it seems 
improbable that Yugoslavia would want to join the Western alliance at all. 
The new president, Vojislav Kostunica, has never addressed this issue 
directly, except to suggest that he would want to sue NATO for damages and 
war crimes before considering a partnership. On the military side, the 
Belgrade elite will most likely prefer to keep an open-door policy to Moscow 
for historical and religious reasons. 
However, a group of Yugoslav army officers, led by wartime general Momcilo 
Perisic, have called not only for Yugoslavia's membership in the Partnership 
for Peace, but also for early NATO membership. This may be a window of 
opportunity for the West, if it is willing to offer carrots and exercise 
One of the carrots would be the upgrade of the ICTY. Belgrade is not very 
happy with the ICTY's work so far, but neither is anyone else in the region. 
This regional discontent may make it easier for the Western powers to reform 
the ICTY to the pre-1995 standards of international law. Another carrot would 
be early EU candidacy, something that Belgrade dearly desires. 
* * * 
With the expansion of the European Union and NATO to Eastern Europe as far as 
the Baltics and the Black Sea, the new Balkan states will no longer play the 
strategic role for the Western powers that the former Yugoslavia enjoyed 
during the Cold War. And yet the risk that they may fall prey to regressive 
political and economic forces is real. With 20,000 troops in Bosnia alone, 
NATO now has the opportunity to play an important leadership role in making 
sure that doesn't happen. It should seize it. 
-- From The Wall Street Journal Europe 
Mr. Raguz was ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union and 
NATO from 1998 to 2000. This article is adapted from the Harvard 
International Review. 
Copyright © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 
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