A war at the far edge of the Balkans has had political consequences extending far beyond Kosovo. In Russia, an outraged sense of humiliation over NATO's actions has spread from the elites to the population at large and threatens to blight U.S.-Russian relations for years to come. In Beijing, the virulent reaction to the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade has vented frustrations with the roller-coaster nature of Sino-American relations that have accumulated for many months. And in Europe, the seeming unity of the Atlantic Alliance has grown brittle: key allies are eyeing the exits; domestic opposition is mounting; the newly admitted members in Central Europe are uncomfortable that their first allied activity is as part of a NATO-initiated war.
The causes in Russia and China are plain enough. Their leaders are products of societies that interpret decisions about war and peace according to whether they enhance a nation's security or other vital interests. If they can discern no such traditional rationale to U.S. behavior, they ascribe our motives not to altruism but to a hidden agenda for domination.
In Europe, the situation is more complex. The allies share our motives but are beginning to question our judgment. And they find themselves under increasing domestic pressure as the damage from the bombing of Serbia compounds the devastation of Kosovo.
A generation gap has exacerbated the crisis. The formative experiences of the Clinton administration's key personnel were either in the trenches of the Vietnam protest movement, or in presidential campaigns--or both. Suspicious of the role of power in foreign policy, they use it ineffectively and without conviction. They emphasize the so-called "soft" issues, like the environment, and have little concern with notions of the international equilibrium or of traditional U.S. interests, which they scorn as outdated. Obsessively driven by public-opinion polls, they are ever tempted to treat foreign policy as an extension of domestic politics. Their diplomacy is quite skillful in dealing with short-term tactical issues but obtuse with respect to strategy; adept at "spinning" public opinion but oblivious to a generation's worth of lessons about the limitations of air power and the futility of notions of "graduated escalation."
The rejection of long-range strategy explains how it was possible to slide into the Kosovo conflict without adequate consideration of all its implications--especially the visceral reaction of almost all nations of the world against the new NATO doctrine of humanitarian intervention. Before the start of the bombing, it was conventional wisdom in Washington that Serbia's historic attachment to Kosovo was exaggerated and that Slobodan Milosevic was looking for a pretext to get rid of the incubus it rep-resented--which a few days of bombing was supposed to supply. But what if Serbia, the country that fought the Turkish and Austrian empires and defied Hitler and Stalin at the height of their powers, did not yield? How far were we willing to go? Not to ground war, it was announced at the very beginning, tempting Milosevic to test his endurance to sustained bombing. No provision was made for a war of attrition or the flood of refugees it was bound to create--not to speak of the ethnic cleansing that the war has accelerated and intensified.
From the start, there has been a vast gap between the rhetoric and the means with which to back it up. Allied pronouncements have ritually compared Milosevic to Hitler. But the transparent reluctance to accept casualties signaled that the Alliance would not make the commitment necessary to overthrow the accused tyrant. Now, if the outcome is to be some kind of compromise, Milosevic will inevitably be legitimized and emerge as a valid interlocutor. By justifying the war in terms requiring total victory while conducting a strategy impelling compromise, NATO has maneuvered itself into a trap.
Several fateful decisions were taken in those now seemingly far-off days in February, when other options were still open. The first was the demand that 30,000 NATO troops enter Yugoslavia, a country with which NATO was not at war, and administer a province that had emotional significance as the origin of Serbia's independence. The second was to use the foreseeable Serb refusal as justification for starting the bombing.
Rambouillet was not a negotiation--as is often claimed--but an ultimatum. This marked an astounding departure for an administration that had entered office proclaiming its devotion to the U.N. Charter and multilateral procedures. The transformation of the Alliance from a defensive military grouping into an institution prepared to impose its values by force occurred in the same months that three former Soviet satellites joined NATO. It undercut repeated American and allied assurances that Russia had nothing to fear from NATO expansion, since the Alliance's own treaty proclaimed it to be a purely defensive institution.
Kosovo has thereby become a symbol of Russia's post-cold-war frustrations. The tribulations of Yugoslavia, Moscow's traditional friend (leaving aside the interruption of the Tito years), emphasized Russia's decline and have generated a hostility toward America and the West that may produce a nationalist and socialist Russia--akin to the European Fascism of the 1930s. This would be a sorry end for the administration's policy of supporting Russian reform and coaxing Russia closer to the West.
This is why the expectations attached to the Russian mediation in Kosovo seem excessive. Russian leaders would hardly be brokenhearted if the outcome in Kosovo weakens NATO. A Russian intermediary faces a double dilemma: if he is seen as supporting the NATO program, he will lose standing at home; if he induces us to reduce our demands, he will become a scapegoat in the American domestic debate over compromising our war aims. Russia's most constructive role in my view would be as full participant at a conference for political arrangements in the Balkans following a ceasefire.
To its credit, the administration from the beginning has recognized the importance of bringing Russia into the international community. But it has identified this effort primarily with democratic reform and market economics inside Russia and nonproliferation abroad. All this accentuates the Russian sense of having come under a kind of colonial tutelage. Russia, in turn, has clung to many aspects of its traditional diplomacy: seeking to reduce our influence, especially in the Middle East. Russia's image of itself as an historic player on the world stage must be taken seriously. This requires less lecturing and more dialogue; less sentimentality and more recognition that Russia's national interests are not always congruent with ours; less sociology and more foreign policy.
Before the attack on its Belgrade embassy, China's reaction to the air war was more muted than Russia's--but equally negative. Every nation views international events through the prism of its history. And to China, the new NATO doctrine of humanitarian intervention evokes Europe's unilaterally proclaimed civilizing mission in the 19th century, which led to the fragmentation of China and a series of Western interventions. These humiliations were followed in the 20th century by the so-called Brezhnev doctrine that proclaimed the Kremlin's right to punish by force of arms communist regimes that strayed from its ideological line. Indeed, it was to resist the Brezhnev doctrine that China moved to restore its relations with the United States in 1971.
That policy of close ties between the United States and China is now questioned in both capitals. President Clinton's policy has built on the conviction of all his predecessors since Richard Nixon that both China and the United States have much to gain from cooperation and risk exhausting themselves by confrontation. For China, a breakdown in relations would deal a severe blow to its economic program and modernization. For America, it would ensure turmoil throughout Asia, leaving China's neighbors torn by the need to choose between the world's most populous country, whose 5,000 years of history give it a special place in Asia, and America, the world's only superpower.
That cooperative policy is losing momentum on our side largely because of a stalemate between the administration and opponents who see China as our principal strategic threat. The stalemate arises from the administration's tendency to present its policy of engagement with China less in terms of common objectives than as a better method of achieving its critics' objectives. A "strategic partnership" has been proclaimed, but real strategic discussions on the highest level have been rare amid disputes over issues ranging from Taiwan to human rights to nonproliferation. And the administration has felt obliged to balance its China policy with periodic bows to its critics.
A good example was the visit to Washington in early April of Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji--generally considered among the most reformist and market-oriented of the Chinese leaders. That visit was bracketed by the announcement--just before Zhu's arrival--that the United States would support a U.N. resolution condemning China's human-rights practices, and immediately afterward by the sale of long-range radars to Taiwan. And during the visit, the administration declined to sign an agreement on China's entry into the World Trade Organization, for which the Chinese had made major concessions and which they had reason to believe would be the centerpiece of Zhu's visit. (To compound Zhu's embarrassment, the administration published all the concessions he had made.)
Whatever one's view of the substance of these decisions, their timing conveyed an impression of a government driven by its critics into subordinating to domestic politics a policy that should be based on mutual national interests.
The bombing of the Belgrade embassy was the match that set off the explosion. Mutual suspicions fed on each other. The Chinese viewed the president's original apology--made as a response to a question at a press conference during a visit to Oklahoma and linked to a justification of NATO bombing--as inadequate. Americans considered the Chinese violence against the American Embassy in Beijing unacceptable. But if the Sino-American relationship is not to spiral toward a confrontation, it is essential to call a halt to mutual recrimination and seek to restore a dialogue.
The leaders of both countries seem aware that a confrontation would be catastrophic for both sides as well as for the peace of the world. But both are under pressure from ideological opponents at home. However, there is no way to dodge this debate. In the United States, the critics are serious and so must be the administration.
The critics of a cooperative China policy fall into two camps. The first group holds that the emergence of China as a major power automatically threatens American vital interests, especially under communist leadership. A second group is concerned about specific Chinese policies from human rights to proliferation. To be sure, China's actions on many fronts reflect the unsentimental policy of an emerging power. Nevertheless, Sino-American disagreements can be kept short of confrontation by patient and firm diplomacy. And there are many areas of congruent interests. If, in the absence of a direct challenge, the emergence of China as a major power and its political system are turned into the occasion for American hostility, we will be embarked on a lonely course without support from any major nation in either Europe or Asia. I would warn against such an adventure that will distort our Asian policy for decades. There is no more important task for American foreign policy than to design a strategy recognizing and managing adversarial elements in our relations with China, yet drawing Beijing further into the international system. We must not repeat in Asia the emotional and un-thought-out policies that brought us such grief in the Balkans. The law of unintended consequences still operates.
Despite the seeming unity of the NATO summit, Kosovo has made a debate about the Alliance's future inevitable. It is being delayed by horror at Milosevic's barbarities and by the paradox that Europe's new left-wing governments--especially in Germany and Italy--are afraid of being accused of undermining their conservative predecessors' legacy of pro-American and pro-NATO foreign policy. But these new governments are likely to consider that they have now paid enough homage to the traditions of allied solidarity. They can be expected to be influenced by the mounting indignation of their rank and file, who would be protesting in the streets of Germany in the tens of thousands had former chancellor Helmut Kohl won the election and carried out a similar policy. Once the Kosovo crisis is over--or if the war drags on--these constituencies will become more dominant. And their influence has already been shown in the unprecedentedly abrupt refusal of the German chancellor to consider ground troops for Kosovo.
The issues ducked at the NATO summit brook no further delay. Specifically, what is the proper mission of NATO in so-called "out of area" conflicts? What are the relative roles of Europe and America? Does the Alliance have a serious political or military strategy for stabilizing parts of Europe or adjacent strategic regions? Europe (the U.K. included) has already begun to draw the conclusion from Kosovo that it needs to accelerate the elaboration of its own institutions in order to enhance its autonomy from the United States--hardly a vote of confidence in the middle of a war. But if Europe will not supply the resources for this task--as is likely--the Alliance will be left with the worst of all scenarios: a Europe asserting greater freedom of action from the United States but with little actual ability to act alone; and an America estranged from Europe.
No issue is more in need of rethinking than the concept of humanitarian intervention put forward as the administration's contribution to a new approach to foreign policy. The air war in Kosovo is justified as establishing the principle that the international community--or at least NATO--will henceforth punish the transgressions of governments against their own people. But we did not do so in Algeria, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Croatia, Rwanda, the Caucasus, the Kurdish areas and many other regions. And what will be our attitude to emerging ethnic conflicts in Asia, for example in Indonesia and the Philippines? The answer often given is that we act where we are able to without undue risk, not elsewhere. But what are the criteria for this distinction? And what kind of humanism expresses its reluctance to suffer military casualties by devastating the civilian economy of its adversary for decades to come?
Moral principles are expressed in absolutes. But foreign policy must forever be concerned with reconciling ends and means. The fact that ethnic cleansing is repugnant does not obviate the need to devise the most appropriate response. At every stage of the Kosovo tragedy, other mixes of diplomacy and force were available, though it is not clear they were ever seriously considered. A strategy that vindicates its moral convictions only from altitudes above 15,000 feet--and in the process devastates Serbia and makes Kosovo unlivable--has already produced more refugees and casualties than any conceivable alternative mix of force and diplomacy would have. It deserves to be questioned on both political and moral grounds.
The United States can take pride in elevating human rights to an integral part of foreign policy. But when one observes the progression from the call for moral pressure of the 1970s, to economic sanctions in the 1980s, to military intervention in the 1990s, the time has come to call for a definition of purposes and a dialogue on the relationship between objectives and methods. But this is for the future. Now that the credibility of the Atlantic Alliance has been staked, we must persist--with ground troops if necessary--until Serb military forces leave Kosovo and the refugees are allowed to return.