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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO's Show of Unity Papers Over Cracks




WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton rang down the curtain on NATO's 50th anniversary summit exulting that on the military campaign in Yugoslavia "the alliance leaves Washington more united even than it was when we came here.''


Sandy Berger, his assistant for national security affairs, echoed the president's summation. The 19 NATO allies and even the seven so-called front-line states from the perilous region who attended the summit, too, "stand as one in the conviction that we must prevail in this conflict,'' Berger said.


But neither Clinton, Berger, nor anyone else at the war-council summit can predict the impact on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


And even among united allies, there were cracks in the front.


So far, Milosevic has resisted a month-long NATO bombardment as well as condemnation for his treatment of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo. Threats of war-crime inquiries, coupled with rhetorical flourishes from Washington, London and elsewhere, have had no noticeable impact.


In advance of the summit, Berger said Sunday, administration officials had anticipated "cracks here, or cracks there,'' but "there were no fault lines when it came to whether the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo needed to be reversed.''


The allies vowed to intensify the NATO air campaign, ordered an assessment of the ground troop option and authorized General Wesley Clark, the NATO commander, to devise a plan to block oil deliveries to Yugoslavia.


In response to threats, bombs and missiles, all Milosevic has done is float a cease-fire and other proposals dismissed as inadequate by the Clinton administration.


And now Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is in Moscow to urge Russian mediators to push the Yugoslav leader to accept the alliance's demands for a pullout and acceptance of a NATO-led peacekeeping force. One senior administration official expressed skepticism about Talbott's chances of success, given that Russia has positioned itself between the West and Milosevic.


At the summit, the allies' show of unity did not disguise the diversity of views that 19 nations inevitably hold on how to achieve the common goal of ending the war on Western terms."Military interventions must be legalized by a UN mandate as a rule,'' German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der said, reflecting a widespread view that NATO lacks the authority to stop merchant vessels carrying oil to Yugoslavia and to send armed peacekeeping troops to Kosovo without at least the approval of the United Nations.


And even the airtight bonds between the United States and Britain were loosened on the use of combat troops to try to deliver a knockout punch.


France and Britain had signaled before the summit that they favored using ground troops, but Clinton much prefers depending for now on an air campaign; so the contentious issue was shelved.


Nor was there any way to cover up the fissures over the American initiative to mount a blockade. Stopping neutral vessels normally is an act of war, and French President Jacques Chirac registered his reservations.


Insisting also on specific approval of the UN Security Council for peacekeeping operations, Chirac said: "NATO cannot and will not be able to act without the authorization of this international organization.''


Asked at a news conference whether NATO would need a new resolution to intervene outside the territory of its members, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said simply: "No.''


In a little-noticed ripple of discord, Turkey demanded and got a guarantee that it and other non European Union allies would be consulted before NATO troops were sent into emergency action.


Greece, which had detected a promising opening from Belgrade before the summit, agreed with the no-compromise NATO stance on Kosovo. But the Greek government remains unhappy with the air campaign. Hungary, one of the three new members of the alliance, is also among the most anxious about the clash with Milosevic.


"It's extremely complicated for Hungary,'' said Prime Minister Viktor Orban, clearly referring to 300,000 ethnic Hungarians who live in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. There is concern they could be put in jeopardy by Hungary's active support for the military offensive.


And a frustrated Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov sharply criticized NATO for not inviting his country to become an alliance member. He also complained that outside aid for Kosovo refugees in Macedonia has fallen far short of needs.


"Macedonia has been circumvented,'' he grumbled, "and has again been put in last place.''