WASHINGTON. — The Yugoslav crisis is to Western Europe what the Gulf crisis was to the U.S. President Bush claimed that the Gulf crisis was a test of the future of the New World Order; the West Europeans see the Yugoslav crisis as a test of the future of a new European order.
The Yugoslav crisis is a result of conflicting ethnic rivalries in a country where populations and historic roots overlap. The conflict between the federation and republics seeking independence has now been complicated by Slobodan Milosevic's drive for Greater Serbia.
A horror scenario can be imagined in which Albanians intervene to defend Albanians within Yugoslavia, that Hungary does the same for ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina, that Bulgaria and Greece become involved because of the Macedonian connection. In short, the seeds of another Balkan War are there.
Crisis in Yugoslavia does not, however, constitute a threat to world peace as it did in 1914 because no major power considers Yugoslavia or the Balkans a ''prize'' -- far from it. The violence in Yugoslavia does constitute a challenge to the kind of peaceful, democratic and cooperative Europe the West Europeans have been working to create for four decades. It seems anachronistic and inappropriate.
Western Europeans want to include Eastern Europe eventually in a pan-European entity. Just as they see Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary as eventual members of the Common Market, so too the Balkans should have their place. The obstacles in the former nations are primarily economic, but great strides have been made toward a market economy. In the Balkans, economic backwardness is exacerbated by ethnic problems.
After World War II, Western Europe resolved its national conflictspTC The Franco-German ''hereditary enemies'' became the Franco-German ''couple,'' the ''locomotive'' of European integration. To be able to join with Western Europe, the nations of the East must undertake a similar process of national reconciliation. The Yugoslav case proves how much must be accomplished.
If the latent civil war in Yugoslavia was slow in erupting, it was because many Yugoslavs recognize that such a civil war would make them pariahs to Western Europe, with all the attendant political and economic consequences.
The European Community, which hopes eventually to embrace the Balkans along with Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, has taken an active diplomatic interest in Yugoslavia's crisis. It is not promoting any particular territorial or constitutional structure, but a process of peaceful negotiation, self-determination and the rule of law. The Community has been trying to marshal support from the U.N. Security Council and other international bodies to increase pressure on Yugoslavia in general and the Serbs in particular to negotiate.
But there is no obvious way to force a resolution of the Yugoslav crisis from the outside. This fact, rather than differences between member states (the Germans stress self-determination for Slovenia and Croatia, the French a military force to separate Serbs and Croats) has been the real obstacle to the
Community's diplomacy. It sent observers to Croatia, but fighting continued. A peace conference chaired by Lord Carrington has produced no results. Cease-fire agreements were broken as soon as they were signed.
One striking thing about the Yugoslav crisis is the conspicuous absence of the U.S. Despite all talk about being the only superpower left, the U.S. is obviously restricting its international involvements. Europe is being left with responsibility for defining a new European order.
The possibility that military intervention might be necessary adds strength to the French thesis that the future European Community must be endowed with its own security and defense capabilities. But there is a big difference between policing a cease-fire and occupying a country in the midst of civil war. Britain, burned by its experience in Northern Ireland and traditionally wary of commitments in Eastern Europe, has vetoed, for now, the creation of a peace-keeping force.
But as the Yugoslav crisis moves toward full-scale civil war, the European Community will be forced to act more decisively. A U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a cease-fire, economic sanctions against the aggressor, Serbia, and ultimately military action may follow. The Yugoslav crisis is like a ghost out of Europe's violent and tribalistic past. By one means ++ or another, Europe must exorcise it.
Steven Philip Kramer is a fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.