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THIS meeting took place as Slobodan Milosevic prepared to surrender to NATO. Given these auspicious circumstances, the mood in the meeting was surprisingly subdued. Some participants declared the war a success. Some even called it the first "post-nationalist war" -- one that has solidified the European Union and reconfigured foreign policy on the basis of universal values rather than national interests. But most of the speakers concentrated on the downside of the conflict. Kosovo has left the Balkans devastated; it has strained relations with both Russia and China; and it has raised the possibility that Milosevic will be succeeded by somebody who is even worse.


The fundamental fact about Kosovo is that we won and Milosevic lost. The victory was far from ideal, however. We went in the right direction for the right reason but with the wrong means. And it raises a troubling question: are there causes that are worth killing for but not worth dying for?

The war marks our entry into a new world in which national sovereignty is not the ultimate ratio of political life. It is highly significant that the war broke out on the same day in March that the House of Lords passed its verdict on General Pinochet. The war also gave a new meaning to the term Europe: much more so than the Euro which was launched three months before the conflict was started. Part of what it means to be a European is to refuse to accept ethnic cleansing.

The war raises questions about both the United States and Russia. What price is the United States willing to pay to remain the world's only hyper-power? The answer given by Kosovo is far from clear, with America willing to deploy its "soft power" but

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much more reluctant about its "hard power". America is strong in spite of what happens in Washington, not because of it. As for Russia, it is coming out of an age of interventionist imperialism at precisely the time when the rest of the world is entering a new age of interest in humanitarian causes. Russia is being told to exercise restraint at exactly the same time that the rest of the world is embracing intervention.


Kosovo is a long-standing legacy of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires and their failure to install a proper political system in the region. It will thus last for many years to come. In the nineteenth century the Great Powers devised the Concert of Europe to deal with the problem; now we have the Contact Group. A century ago people described it as a "powder keg"; now it has an awful tendency to explode.

The war was marred by three serious problems. NATO used force as a substitute for diplomacy rather than a support for it. It failed to understand the real nature of the conflict: this is not a matter of quick fixes but of long-term management and containment. And it used force in a way that minimised danger to itself but maximised danger to the people it was trying to protect.

Kosovo is now a wasteland, a humanitarian disaster comparable with Cambodia; the region around it has been profoundly destabilised; and Serbia is in danger of imploding. We cannot solve the Balkan problem without the help of Serbia, which overshadows the region in much the same way that Germany overshadows Europe. But Serbia's leaders have been indicted as war criminals, and the country is likely to be racked with social problems, fuelled by despair. We may be entering the twenty-first century in calendar terms. But in political terms we are much closer to the nineteenth.


The war in Kosovo stems from the fact that the "solution" to the Bosnia problem was nothing of the sort. It failed to address the security concerns of the major players and left two of the three ethnic groups that make

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up the new country wishing they were somewhere else. If we remove troops from Bosnia, the conflict will reignite immediately.

In Kosovo, the West used NATO in a way that the rest of the world thought was illegitimate: it intervened in an area that was not its prime responsibility; and it did not bother to get the endorsement of the United Nations. From a military commander's point of view, legitimacy is crucial: if you are going to ask people to sacrifice their lives the operation has to be thoroughly legitimate from the top down.

In the Gulf War, the president clearly defined both the objective and the strategy, and then gave commanders great freedom in controlling operations. In Kosovo there were nineteen masters rather than one, and commanders were hamstrung over operational details (something that war colleges and military staff will be studying for years).

The problems with the peacekeeping operation will be huge. The war is far from over in the minds of the participants. Disarming the KLA could be impossible. The Serbs will respond to any acts of terrorism. Building institutions that can govern this area will be a nightmare. There will inevitably be a conflict between military forces that have access to resources but no enthusiasm for getting involved in civic reconstruction and civil authorities that are desperately short of resources.


The new Europe is not being born in Brussels or Washington but in Kosovo. Kosovo may mark the end of the United Nations' involvement in Europe so far as security issues are concerned. The differences in priorities and values between Europe and other states is just too great -- and there is really no reason why China should have a veto over Europe's involvement in Kosovo.

Kosovo is leading to a strengthening of Europe's identity at the expense of that of its sovereign states. Central and Eastern Europe were not prepared for this development. They thought they were buying an insurance policy by joining NATO -- but just

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twelve days after they joined NATO started the bombing. Only a few years after they regained their sovereignty with the end of Communism, these states are being obliged to give it up again.

International law is of little help in making sense of the post-Kosovo world. Three fundamental principles are in conflict. The principle of self-determination that was established by Versailles; the principle of national sovereignty that flourished after the Second World War; and the principle of universal human rights. At the Congress of Berlin somebody pointed out that the new dividing line in Europe ran through Bulgaria. Bismarck replied that we are here for the peace of Europe rather than the happiness of Bulgarians. A hundred-and-thirty years later "the happiness of the Bulgarians" is still crucial to the peace of Europe.


There are two ways to conduct foreign policy. The first takes the view of the prophet, who believes in fighting crusades for absolute values; the second that of the statesman, who believes that objectives should be achieved in stages. More lives have been lost in crusades, with their excessive self-righteousness, than in statesman's wars. The notion of sovereignty was created in reaction to the Thirty Years War, which saw 30% of Europe's population killed with the most elementary weapons.

It was a mistake to let the war in Kosovo happen (though we had no choice but to win once war had been declared). We devastated the region that we were trying to save purely in order to avoid suffering casualties ourselves. We allowed the agenda to be set by domestic pressure groups, thus making it difficult to end the war. And we established a principle that the rest of the world does not accept. A war that leads to the destruction of the region that it was designed to save cannot be considered a triumph of diplomacy. It would have been better to build on last September's accord between the negotiators and Milosevic.

American politics fragmented on this issue. Kosovo could be this generation's equivalent of Vietnam -- a conflict that could

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split society and convulse us with self-righteousness. Meanwhile, the Balkans looks far from stable. Macedonia is combustible. The only thing that is preventing Bosnia from falling apart in our presence. NATO is in danger of replacing the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires in a series of permanent protectorates.


Several participants thought that the panel was too gloomy. A Dane pointed out that the operation was a major success by the Alliance's own criteria, and that it had also garnered considerable legitimacy in the eyes of the public. It seemed perverse to complain that its soldiers were not killed in sufficient quantities. A British politician also thought the victory was worth celebrating. It was right to take on people like Saddam Hussein and Milosevic in order to deter others. Kosovo involved questions of national interest as well as humanitarianism. And he insisted that getting rid of Milosevic should remain one of the clear aims of the alliance. The second panellist agreed with the idea of trying to force Milosevic to go to The Hague, but pointed out that other indicted war criminals from Bosnia remained at large.

Others thought that a little gloom was indeed in order. A Greek warned of the depopulation of the region. An Austrian urged the international community to step in to deal with the problem of refugees. More than two-thirds of the refugees were with host families in Albania. But a combination of "family fatigue" and lack of compensation could make this situation explosive. A Russian warned that, well meaning though it might have been, NATO's intervention would leave behind a huge number of long-term problems. These included resentment in Russia -- combined with a feeling that Russia now has a carte blanche to intervene in Chechyna -- and the possibility that the next regime in Serbia will be even worse. One panellist noted that, back in 1995, the American people had been promised that their troops would only stay in Bosnia for a year -- and they are still there five years later. They could easily be in Kosovo for a quarter of a century.

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The cost of rebuilding Kosovo and Serbia worried several people. One of the panellists pointed out that 70% of the targets had been infrastructure: that meant that the cost of reconstruction would be gigantic. Another panellist doubted whether stability could be restored to the region without considerable investment -- perhaps as much as $50 billion. A British politician wondered whether the alliance could hang together after the end of the war. He warned that there would be little popular enthusiasm for putting lots of resources into solving the region's gigantic problems

The idea that Kosovo had been the first "post-nationalist war" -- and one that gave a huge boost to the ideal of European unification -- came in for some heavy fire. A German argued that it was much too early to celebrate the birth of a new Europe: had the war gone on, the decision about whether to send in ground troops would have torn NATO apart. A Canadian pointed out that nothing would have been achieved without the United States. Is this a new sort of "soft left war", he wondered, one based neither on national interest nor on the safety of the people who are supposedly being saved? A Portuguese worried about "selective solidarity". There was little worry about outrages in East Timor, for example. A Russian argued that what we are witnessing is not so much the birth of the new world order as the collapse of the old one. What is emerging is a world without consistent standards. NATO will not bomb Moscow if Russia invades Chechnya.

The first panellist defended his position. He argued against the realpolitik school: that it is sometimes realistic to be moral and naive to be over-cynical. And he pointed out that, for all their complexities, the Balkans was an area of brutal simplicities. The moderator implied that this was an oversimplification. Everybody disapproved of massacres; the question was how to prevent them in the first place. The concept of strategic interest had been turned on its head when NATO was only prepared to bomb for three days in Iraq but 70 days in Kosovo. How did one

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persuade countries like China, Russia and India that NATO's new mandate was not just a new version of "the white man's burden" -- colonialism? There were, indeed, new dimensions to foreign policy but they had to be looked at in a traditional framework.