Europe after the war

June 24, 1999|By William Pfaff

FLORENCE, Italy -- The full consequences of NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia have yet to be felt. It has changed NATO and the European Union, and has made them rivals for influence over Europe's future.

NATO has made an unprecedented political investment by acquiring a Balkan protectorate -- confided to it, on its own urging, by the U.N. Security Council. So long as Serbia presses its sovereign claim to Kosovo, the province will not be secure -- not even as a Kosovo largely emptied of its Serbs. The clash between Serbian irredentism and the Kosovar Albanians' demand for independence will continue, and NATO now is the military arbiter.

The success of the Kosovo Liberation Army in assuming civil power in much of the province -- with KFOR troops reluctant to intervene, and international community administrators yet to arrive -- is a foretaste of troubles to come.

The European Union wants to assume responsibility for civil reconstruction in Kosovo and, eventually, for Serbia's reintegration into Europe. The E.U. foreign ministers decided Monday to ask the United Nations to appoint someone from the EU to head the international civil mission.

Taking charge of Kosovo will change the European Union. By acting on the (justified) assumption that Balkan stability and reconciliation are essential to European stability, the E.U. puts itself in the Balkans for the long term. More important, this changes the direction and significance, as well as the nature, of EU expansion.

The choice implicitly promotes the Balkan states to the head of the list of those waiting to join the European Union. They will acquire a new status, possibly designated as "autonomous states" or "autonomous regions" of the EU (a proposal under informal discussion in Brussels).

The Central and Eastern European applicants for EU membership thus lose their priority. They already have found their wait irksome, even unreasonable. While the EU has ostensibly been assessing their qualifications and awaiting internal changes to conform to EU norms, the real reason for the delay has been that the West Europeans have not decided what Europe they want.

If they want an integrated, or "federal," Europe they cannot, in the foreseeable future, take in the Central and East European candidates. The cost of reducing existing economic and social differences would be too great for a Western Europe suffering high unemployment and sluggish economic performance.

Less than a decade ago, the plan had been that an expanding European Union would absorb the former Communist countries, which would find their security in becoming integral members of the Western community. At the time, NATO was expected to remain Europe's military guardian, but only that.

Then Washington took up the idea of NATO expansion. A new peacekeeping mission was proposed to rationalize an enlargement that otherwise seemed without much military value, or even as reducing NATO's efficiency.

NATO expansion required the alliance to sponsor the democratization of Central and East European armies and westernize military norms and production in the newly allied countries.

All this put Washington into competition with the European Union over the shape of a new European geopolitical order. Washington wanted NATO to integrate all of Europe, and even expand beyond Europe to some former Soviet states. The plan envisaged the EU as a subordinate regional grouping of West European members of an expanded, Washington-led NATO.

This was displeasing to many West Europeans, who nonetheless offered no coherent alternative.

Misfortune offers opportunities, in that Balkan responsibility requires resolution of the conflict between "deepening" and "widening" the EU. Possibly, new forms of membership can be created for countries that lack the qualifications for full membership.

Possibly, the EU could finally make a choice between full political integration and consolidation of a flexible and expanded non-federal Europe of autonomous nations.

Europe's risk is to find itself politically outflanked by NATO in Central and Eastern Europe, at a moment when the Kosovo war has revealed its military dependence on the United States. Such a loss of independence may be the price of indecision.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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