NATO Upholds Values

It is extremely important, especially regarding the present situation, that members of the North Atlantic alliance and Russia continue their dialogue, despite all differences concerning ways to solve the crisis in Kosovo.

The crisis in Kosovo - the "ethnic cleansing" conducted by Yugoslav authorities - has been going on for more than a year. Even before the beginning of the airstrikes against Yugoslavia, this crisis had worsened dramatically.

We say that NATO is an alliance based on the values which its member countries hold in common. Is this only rhetorical flourish or do these words carry real meaning? Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic forced the countries of the alliance to give an unequivocal answer. We decided that values do not only have to be preached, but upheld. That is why we supported the effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Kosovo. Indeed, the Rambouillet talks were largely the result of the patient and persistent diplomacy of allied nations. But it is also why the alliance opted to use military force once these negotiations failed.

It was a decision we did not enter into lightly. The humanitarian tragedy was not likely to be stopped within a few days. The military risks to our soldiers would be significant. Civilian casualties might occur. NATO would be charged by some with taking international law into its own hands. And, last but not least, our important relationship with Russia was likely to suffer.

Yet despite these potential risks and drawbacks we had to go ahead. We did so for three reasons.

-First and foremost, we acted to stop the humanitarian tragedy. To stand idly by while a brutal campaign of forced deportation, torture and murder is going on in the heart of Europe would have meant declaring moral bankruptcy. The entire logic of turning Europe into a common political, economic and security space would have been revealed as empty rhetoric had we tolerated the barbaric ethnic cleansing on our doorstep. One of the lessons of Bosnia was that acting earlier might have been less costly in the end. We learned this lesson.

-Secondly, all other means had been exhausted before we resorted to military action. President Milosevic's refusal to sign the Rambouillet agreement made it clear that he had no interest in a political solution. He has tried instead to create a new ethnic reality on the ground. Any honest observer realizes that military force was the only option left to stop him and, hopefully, make him reconsider.

-Finally, we acted to prevent a further destabilization in the Balkans. As the UN Security Council already confirmed months ago, the destabilization caused by the onslaught of Milosevic's brutal security forces constitutes a threat to the region. It was to stop Milosevic from writing the final chapter in his campaign for the systematic depopulation of Kosovo that NATO decided it could no longer postpone military action. With several hundreds of thousands of refugees being driven into neighboring countries by Milosevic's brutal actions, the entire region faces a serious threat of general conflict. Those neighboring countries have long reached the limits of their ability to cope with this exceptional burden. In short, if Belgrade's policy of deliberate displacement of the Kosovo Albanians were not energetically opposed, even more instability and bloodshed would have been the result.

NATO's military actions will be pursued until President Milosevic accedes to the demands of the international community:

-A verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of the killing;

-The withdrawal of Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces;

-The deployment of an international security presence;

-The return of all refugees;

-Putting into place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the countries of the European Union and NATO agree: Without the completion of all of these steps there can be no peaceful multi-ethnic democratic Kosovo. NATO is ready to help implement an agreement. It is not too late. Milosevic knows what he has to do.

The bulk of our military efforts are concentrated on bringing about a lasting political solution in Kosovo. But we are also doing our best to alleviate the suffering of the victims of Belgrade's policies - the Kosovo Albanians. NATO is supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees by providing and transporting food and supplies. The alliance is also providing medical support and is helping to set up refugee centers in neighboring countries. We will sustain and intensify our humanitarian relief operations as necessary.

The disagreement between Russia and NATO on the use of force in the Kosovo crisis has led Russia to suspend some of its cooperation with the alliance. This is regrettable, as this is a critical moment in Europe's evolution, and as our cooperation was gathering considerable momentum. It is also regrettable because it is precisely during crises that the need for close contacts is most urgent. I have no doubt, however, that this suspension will be a temporary one. Russia and NATO have too many interests in common to ignore each other - including a common interest in peace and stability in the Balkans, as we have demonstrated in Bosnia.

As a member of the Contact Group and the UN Security Council, Russia can play a constructive role commensurate with its political weight. This is a role all allies would welcome and appreciate. Not only would this contribute to a speedy political solution for Kosovo - it would also pave the way for a resumption of our NATO-Russia cooperation across the entire spectrum of security issues. NATO is ready to resume cooperation at any time. I encourage Russia to do so.

Javier Solana is secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times. A Russian-language version ran earlier in the newspaper Kommersant.