NATO still stands, divergent views and all

Summit: Resolve is displayed on bombing to reverse Serbia's ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

April 27, 1999

THE NORTH Atlantic Treaty Organization remains a viable alliance. Its three-day summit in Washington, not the celebration of a half-century bloodless triumph in the Cold War that had been planned, showed unity and resolve.

What NATO countries agree on is that Serbia will be bombed until its rulers agree to reverse ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. The allies picked up support from small Eastern European nations near the conflict, many of which seek NATO membership.

Hungary, the new member geographically most useful and most at risk, agrees to use of its soil for air operations, not for ground troops. NATO offers security and aid to countries jeopardized or economically harmed by the struggle, which both the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are examining.

What NATO did not do was approve an invasion of Serbia or a sea blockade of its oil supplies. For people who wanted those things immediately, the meeting was a failure. But that was always a false expectation. NATO moved a little toward making an invasion thinkable, and will think about it a little more openly. All along, NATO has been committed to an armed force for peacekeeping after the conflict has ended. The allied navy in the Adriatic will try to persuade ships not to land military supplies at Montenegro's sole port but will not interfere.

While Russia still criticizes NATO, Moscow is seeing itself isolated as former Soviet-bloc nations endorse and lend air space to NATO's actions. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin have maintained contact. A Russian role as eventual mediator remains in the plan.

Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's ruler, may have counted on driving wedges through the alliance. It did not happen.

The most perceptive postmortem on NATO's meeting came from Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, a former opponent who joined the Milosevic machine and espoused its crimes against Albanians.

He told Serbian compatriots on Belgrade television: "The people should be told that NATO is not facing a breakdown, that Russia will not help Yugoslavia militarily and that world public opinion is against us."

If the somber NATO summit in Washington induced Serbia's leadership to grapple with that reality, it accomplished all that could have been expected.

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