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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: West Losing Zero-Sum War




War is always a zero-sum game, and the current conflict over Kosovo is no exception. Post-war development and reconstruction is a different story, but in war per se, one side wins and the other loses. It also may be a draw. But there cannot be any "win-win" outcome.


Of course, zero-sum games are not very popular nowadays. In the West, they are almost officially illegal. In recent years, Western political leaders insisted that zero-sum games are a thing of the past, that head-on, uncompromising confrontations between nations are possible no more, that economic globalization makes genuine international cooperation unavoidable and so on.


Most likely such delusions were one of the main causes of Western political and military unpreparedness at the start of the conflict over Kosovo. Western leaders and diplomats apparently believed that the threat of force and the actual use of military force are more or less the same thing - just a bargaining tactic. Three days of highly symbolic bombings of selected targets in Yugoslavia, and a negotiated agreement to solve the Kosovo problem will be at hand.


Western leaders today are obviously frustrated by the intransigence of the Serbs, of their willingness to sustain a barrage of bombs, to sacrifice thousands of their own lives and, of course, thousands of Albanians, just to keep Kosovo. At the same time, public opinion in the West is no less frustrated by the inability of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's war machine to win a clear, clean victory and quickly end the fighting.


Poll results published last week show that 82 percent of Americans want a pause in the bombing of Yugoslavia, so that serious peace negotiations can start.


The frustration of leaders and public alike is straining Western nations. Last week at a seminar on the future of NATO in Toledo, Spain, the Spanish Defense Minister Eduardo Serra said "not purely military problems in the Balkans, but public opinion problems at home are the main danger."


NATO's operation in the Balkans is not only ineffective, but also illegal. The absence of any UN legitimization is an additional cause for protests. The seminar in Toledo was actually interrupted by angry Spanish anti-NATO protestors, who suddenly filed into the room shouting "Assassins!" and "Terrorists!" at U.S. and European generals, diplomats, politicians and distinguished journalists.


NATO's new strategic concept, approved at the summit in Washington, envisages possible future military interventions into non-NATO sovereign countries to defend human rights and other Western values. But under international law such actions should be legitimized by the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have a veto. Such constraints are increasingly seen by Western leaders as a menace that should be removed.


In Toledo, Serra announced "there is a conflict between Western values and formal international legalities.


"The peace in Europe can be undermined," added Serra, if international law is not revised.


"International law was always rewritten after great wars, because the world changed," he said. "The Cold War was a bloodless war, but still after its end the world changed profoundly, so international law should change accordingly. It is hard to explain to young people why some countries have a veto in the UN. A country that has lost its capability to act as a superpower because it became too weak, is abusing its veto power in the UN to show it is still a superpower of sorts."


The Spanish defense minister did not mention Russia by name, but obviously had it in mind. Serra was speaking in an official capacity and his position was clear: Russia should be stripped of its veto power in the UN Security Council to stop "veto abuse."


This view is most likely supported tacitly by other Western governments. If Russia does not soon start fully supporting NATO against the Serbs, Western nations may begin procedures to rewrite the UN Charter. Through aid distribution to poor countries, the West today has a firm majority in the UN, making such a revision possible. The personal political future of an entire generation of Western leaders is today at stake in the Balkans. Not many will survive a debacle and may go to any extreme to win.


In Moscow, many see NATO's action against Yugoslavia as a terrifying forecast of what could happened to Russia - a Western invasion as in 1941. Of course, the war in the Balkans has not yet actually spread to other countries, as predicted, but the zero-sum game is already engulfing Europe.


Pavel Felgenhauer is chief defense correspondent of Segodnya.