The Graveyard of NATO?
by Stephen Schwartz
Unfortunately for the future of peace in the Balkans, the West is continuing its path of incompetence there, and the consequences of another Balkan bungle mean real trouble for America's legitimate, broad aims in the world.
The inevitability of failure in the latest exercise - the crafting of a peace deal in Macedonia - is especially galling because a resolution of that country's crisis needn't be that expensive in treasure or lives. But given that much of the Macedonian reconciliation effort has been left in the hands of the European Union - not notably successful in dealing with the Balkans - America will probably end up having to shoulder the main burden of normalization.
Does the United States have real interests in the Balkans? Only to the degree we take seriously the continued existence of NATO as a stabilizing force. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to guarantee European security, and its plans call for its institutional framework to be extended to the Balkans sooner, rather than later.
Yet the Macedonian conflict has been treated as a second-rate affair by Western politicians and media alike, seen as much less dramatic or needful of action than either the Bosnian or the Kosovo wars. In fact, this is the most dangerous of all the post-Yugoslav wars, especially for Western strategic and security concerns.
Why? Bordering on a Greece which has its own discontented Albanian and Slavic Macedonian minorities, the Slavo-Albanian conflict in Macedonia could be the first of the post-Yugoslav wars to spill out of the former Yugoslavia. Greece, which could be the next falling domino, is a NATO member.
And Bulgaria, another Balkan nation so far relatively unaffected by the post-Yugoslav chaos, has a historic interest in the fate of the Slav Macedonians, whose language is closely related to Bulgarian. Of course, poor and corrupt Albania (whether or not one credits fears of a "Greater Albanian" conspiracy) can't be expected to remain completely passive if the Macedonian peace accord fails and the Slavs and Albanians commence fighting for real.
To make things even more interesting, there have always been some who argued that Macedonia should be partitioned between Albania and Bulgaria. And here's the punchline: Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania are all on the calendar for entry into NATO next year.
If NATO has a mission, it is security, and security in this instance cannot but include an effort to prevent three prospective members from setting each others' houses afire. The destabilizing effects of a continuing Macedonian war could be felt in Romania as well, which is also slated for rapid NATO entry.
The Macedonian conflict repeated past history, and was therefore eminently predictable, but the West was still caught by surprise. Once fighting broke out, the West responded with hasty, improvised proposals that consisted of little more than a plea for reconciliation and a symbolic disarming of Albanian fighters.
But the Balkans have had enough of first-aid solutions, which have contributed to the spread of war. The real causes of Balkan bloodshed - economic weaknesses and disparities inherited from Communism - must be attacked. America and NATO should provide security cover for a new era of capitalism, as we did in the Asian cases of South Korea and Taiwan, which were once poorer than even the Balkan countries.
This seems to clash with the U.N.-European Union perspective that compulsory "reconciliation" through multiculturalism is the first order of business in the Balkans. But waiting for Albanians and Slav Macedonians to love each other means no peace at all. And that's why the United States should take a new initiative for the coupling of peace and capitalist reform in the Balkans.