ROME. — Rome -- The past week has been a bad one for the new world order, revealing the Western nations' lack of coherent thought about their future security as well as their incapacity to do anything serious about the crisis in Yugoslavia.
Talk of a common foreign and security policy for Europe, part of a new dividing up of security responsibilities with the United States, sounds hollow when the European powers have proved themselves unable to do anything useful about the war between Serbia and Croatia. While the NATO chiefs of government met in Rome last week, the latest and last of the European Community's ineffectual calls for a cease-fire failed.
Neither side in Yugoslavia is prepared to accept armistice terms that do not give it victory. Serbia will stop -- President Slobodan Milosevic has said -- if it can keep the territories it has taken from Croatia. The Croatians will stop if an international force re-establishes the borders which existed before the war started.
This intransigence was apparent from the beginning. Action to separate the two sides had to come at the start. The Europeans ruled out military intervention, for plausible although arguable reasons.
Recognition of Croatia's and Slovenia's declarations of independence when these were made, as Germany and Austria wanted, might have pre-empted Serbia's attack. Most European Community members and the United States wanted, however, to preserve Yugoslavia's unity, so the intervention option was abandoned.
A forceful diplomatic intervention by all the Western powers before the war, condemning Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's nationalist rhetoric and implicit threats to the Serbian minority in Croatia, as well as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's ''greater Serbia'' ambitions (made plain in his earlier takeover of Albanian-populated Kosovo) might have made a difference. It was not done.
Now Mr. Tudjman is locked in struggle with an even more intransigent and extremist Croatian force, the Croatian Party of Rights, or HOS, which has its own paramilitary ''Black Legion,'' and Mr. Milosevic may find himself with a new war front opened against him by Albanian insurrection in Kosovo. Things are getting much worse.
With these options out, only Western economic sanctions were left as a way to influence events in Yugoslavia. These now have been imposed by the European Community, with Washington shortly to follow, but they cannot make a serious difference until hundreds if not thousands more are dead.
Sanctions might have made a difference if they were imposed the moment Serbian forces invaded Slovenia and Croatia. Now the fighting has become so bitter, and emotional commitments so fanatical, that rational reactions can no longer be expected either in Belgrade or Zagreb.
This war is going to end only when one side or another collapses from a combination of military, economic, and social pressures -- the last a particular factor in Serbia, where Mr. Milosevic's militancy is by no means universally shared. Meanwhile Bosnia-Herzegovina is being swept nearer the cataract.
The contrast between the European Community's conduct and the determination and decisiveness shown by the United States in getting Palestinians, Syrians and Israelis to the conference table in Madrid a week earlier is very striking. It casts further doubt on Europe's capacity for collective political and diplomatic action, to say nothing of common military initiatives.
Yugoslavia is (was) a European nation and a European responsibility. Washington left the leadership to Brussels, and promised its backing. The result was failure.
Despite what was happening across the Adriatic, President George Bush and the other NATO leaders in Rome last week endorsed a new European security role. NATO's chief function now is as a mechanism involving the U.S. and Canada in Europe's security, seen on all sides as a good thing, even though there no longer is a direct Soviet threat. Indeed, in an irony to make the casualties of the Cold War restless in their graves, the Soviet government itself wants the U.S. to stay in NATO.
The French have pretended to see NATO as the vehicle of potentially improper American influence in Europe, but at the same time they fear being left alone with Germany. Washington obviously sees NATO as serving U.S. interests, but it also wants the Europeans to take more responsibility for their own security. Thus the controversy over whether there should be an autonomous European ''pillar'' in NATO has never been a very serious one. It's now resolved.
But that leaves the question of what NATO actually does, other than connect the two sides of the Atlantic. The security problem for which it was created now is solved. Without an enemy, and incapable of dealing with problems like Yugoslavia -- legally still a Yugoslav internal affair -- NATO now is an answer without a question.
The sounds of impending storm in what was the Soviet Union suggest dangers NATO is not now configured to meet. The crisis of nationalities that has erupted in Yugoslavia, and is threatened elsewhere, demands political intervention first of all, and creation of a system of European-wide human and minority rights guarantees that can be enforced.
Possibly NATO could find a role as the enforcer, given a legal framework in which to act. One would think the European Community and its military counterpart, Western European Union, more suited to the task. However, their failure in Yugoslavia suggests that other candidates may have to be considered.
William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.