In this paper I examine the Future of NATO as it contemplates further expansion eastward. I evaluate the risks that democratisation and ethnic conflict pose to regional security as well as the importance of irredentism and secessionism to statebuilding and state breaking. I argue that NATO is best placed to pursue a preventive strategy which focuses on maintaining productive relations with Russia. I also caution NATO about its lax attitude towards norms of non-intervention . I wrote this paper while holding a NATO Fellowship.
A revised version of this paper (including references cited) appears in the journal Contemporary Security Policy.
SCROLL TO VERY BOTTOM FOR SPOILER
THE FUTURE OF NATO
The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union left NATO without an adversary, arguably without a reason for existence. When the Soviet threat disappeared, parliaments, publics and academics in NATO countries questioned the reasons for maintaining the Alliance. Those who endorsed dissolution could see no threat from a renationalization of defence policies in Europe, policies resulting in war throughout European history.
Others assert that NATO still has a purpose but argue that the institution should be wary of change. They urge a cautious approach favouring the status quo. NATO is a defensive alliance, they argue, and not a collective security arrangement. It is better if NATO pursues strategic change only when Russia presents a clear and present danger to Western security interests.
Both of these perspectives express very short-term points of view. The former misinterprets the immediate absence of threats as lasting, while the latter ignores the contributions of preventive systems and collective approaches to the peaceful settlement of local conflicts.
In the spring and summer of 1995, the Alliance transformed its role in the Bosnia conflict by bombing Serb-held positions in retaliation for assaults on civilians and peacekeepers. These air- attacks created new enemies for NATO and possibly a new reason for existence. Nevertheless, the decision to use force against Bosnian-Serbs, chosen as the aggressors in the Bosnia conflict, compounds the divisions within the Alliance and raises questions about its future role in conflict management. If the institution is to survive as a constructive entity, NATO will have to gradually adapt, evolve and enlarge its mandate to include broader security issues that do not necessitate a military response.
The purpose of this paper is to investigate how NATO could expand as a preventive system of military, economic and political stability and as a mechanism for achieving a common understanding in security matters that have an ethnic dimension. With expansion now on the table, projecting stability Eastward opens a range of new conflict prevention possibilities. Conflict prevention is not a panacea for resolving ethnic disputes but it is cost effective insurance against their diffusion. Ethnic conflicts pose specific intractable problems that make their management and resolution difficult once they have escalated into violence and interstate crisis. The primary goals are to act prior to the outbreak of armed violence, to encourage alignments based on interests other than ethnicity, to reduce disparities between groups and to deter regional adventurism. These goals can best be accomplished by step-by-step and gradual transformation of the alliance and by subsuming and managing potential instabilities so that situations requiring force (such as in Bosnia) do not arise again.
NATO’s conflict prevention strategies should be two-pronged. First, they should focus on shaping the internal behaviours of those states which have the potential for violent ethnic conflict and which present the greatest potential for diffusion. Second they must act to forestall undesirable inter-state side effects that could result from indiscriminate inclusion and exclusion of states from the Alliance.
Inclusive-oriented political strategies must encompass a package of incentives and policies incorporating techniques that encourage the deconstruction of ethnic armies, democratisation processes which separate civilian from military control, joint peacekeeping operations, early warning and constructive relations with Russia. The issue here is not that violent ethnic strife represents a threat to the security of states, although that is true in varying degrees. The issue is that, in Central and Eastern Europe, questions of democratisation, minority rights and civil-military relations cannot be easily disentangled from the broader problems represented by regional diasporas, interstate support for rebellious minorities and unresolved territorial disputes; all of which do constitute threats to regional security. In this regard, a holistic approach including cooperation with the member states within the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Partnership for Peace initiative (PFP) is fundamental. A multi- layered set of policies consisting of political strategies is the best way that NATO can maintain its legitimacy, effectiveness and coherence as it moves Eastward.
Rather than focus on the more narrow functions of NATO in peacekeeping support operations (as in Bosnia) this paper sketches out an argument as to how and why NATO’s evolution towards conflict prevention will sustain both the institution and provide for a stable and unified Europe. Including this introduction, the paper is in five parts. The second section assesses the meaning of conflict prevention. The third part of the paper, examines the multiple dimensions of ethnic conflict. Citing evidence from Eastern and Central Europe, the specific problems associated with ethnic conflict’s politicisation and escalation are examined The fourth section assesses the implications ethnic strife has for NATO’s projection of stability Eastward including NATO conflict prevention policies and strategies. The fifth and final part of the paper concludes with some implications this research has for NATO strategies and policies.
The Conventional Approach and Its Side Effects
The failure by the West to stem the bloodshed in Bosnia, Europe’s worst war in 50 years, is a sufficient reason to examine NATO’s evolving conflict prevention role. Four side-effects have resulted from the decision to use force in Bosnia. The first has been the Sarajevo effect, “the fear of becoming entangled in ethnic and nationalist disputes”. The most significant aspect of this effect is uncertainty over the United States’ participation in conventional peacekeeping operations. For example, from the outset of the Yugoslav crisis, the US administration considered most options except sending peacekeeping troops to Bosnia. The truth is that there appears to be no political backing inside the American political setting for conventional multilateral peacekeeping. There has been much greater support to use air- strikes as a negotiating “tool” to force the Serbs to the bargaining table. The US Congress, under Republican control, is even less supportive of making long-term commitments which cannot be immediately translated into serving direct US security interests. This short-term perspective on the Bosnia conflict has resulted in a change in the peacekeeping mandate under UN direction and supported by NATO forces.
Second and related to the first is the process of “mission creep”. It began when the UN abandoned its reluctance to take sides, subsequently moving the mission from one of peacekeeping, then peace enforcement and finally war. The consequence has been militarily undefined and politically ambiguous half-measures. Both the UN and NATO now recognize a conventional peacekeeping command structure is ill-suited to resolve a dispute in which all parties are unwilling to negotiate. A conventional peacekeeping operation under Chapter VI of the UN Charter is to be impartial and to not interfere with the internal affairs of the belligerents. The parties in conflict are to allow peacekeepers the freedom of movement that is necessary to carry out their mission. Finally, peacekeepers are not to use force unless it is for immediate self-defence. These basic conditions were abrogated first in November 1994 when UN peacekeepers were detained by Bosnia-Serb forces in retaliation for NATO bombing of Serb-controlled airfields near Bihac in the Krajina corridor. Less than a year later, NATO initiated an airstrike consisting of over 60 aircraft on August 30, 1995. Later, the artillery pieces of the Rapid Reaction Force around Sarajevo opened fire on Serb-held positions. These strikes were implemented more than two full years after Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo and were intended to force the Serbs to remove their artillery aimed at UN designated safe areas.
The third effect is the high cost associated with the use of force (human, material and political). These costs have led to sober second- thoughts about the efficacy of conventional peacekeeping and to a peacekeeping “chill” connected to repeated failure. Within the past two years, the international community has backed away from its bold post-Cold War conflict management approach succinctly summarised in Agenda for Peace. These promises included, a more active role for international organizations (most notably the United Nations) in civil conflicts, a greater role for regional organizations and a greater level of cooperation and coordination among the great powers. Cooperation and coordination problems involved in such action requires sacrifice of power and control over the intervention. The net impact has severely compromised the credibility of multilateral forces to intervene on behalf of minorities.
The fourth effect is stagnation. Ethnic leaders often find it in their interest to perpetuate a conflict “on the ground”. Intransigence among elites is a characteristic of all protracted conflicts, especially ethnic ones, in which there are significant gains to be made by prolonging and escalating conflict. Even when third parties are well- intentioned, mediation and peacekeeping strategies can only work when the parties to the conflict want to end it. If leaders do not want peace; or if their supporters do not consider the terms of peace useful; then the circumstances for conflict reduction do not exist. To the extent that they provide economic, military and political support and incentives to rebellious ethnic groups, external states also promote stagnation.
The Meaning and Purpose of Conflict Prevention
In contrast, the basic logic of conflict prevention is unimpeachable. Act early to prevent disputes from escalating or problems from worsening. Reduce the need for peacekeeping and its deleterious side-effects. Enhance the prospects for a lasting peace. The corollary of this logic is itself prudent; while there are no guarantees that early action will be successful, the prospects for success decrease over time. Furthermore, the consequences of the failure to act early have implications for applying international criteria of justice, minority rights and humanitarianism to future cases. Failure to act quickly, early and decisively not only leads to conflict escalation but incriminates the Western powers directly in the ensuing violence and severely damages the legitimacy of international norms.
Not surprisingly, conflict prevention has become a “buzz word” among diplomats. It is a term used loosely. In general, conflict prevention involves the perception of the opportunity to act in combination with the need to act in order to reduce risks. It is intended “…to prevent disputes arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.” Fact-finding, theory building and development of models are emphasized as essential to accumulation of “timely and accurate knowledge”. Consequently, conflict prevention possesses several requisites. These are: early warning information, an analysis of the interests and values that stand to be threatened, risk analysis (the costs of not being involved coupled with the likelihood that a conflict will escalate) finding an appropriate fit between strategy, the problem at hand and resources available, and finally, credible coercive threats. In brief, conflict prevention involves anticipation, mediation, facilitation and leverage.
In its most robust form, conflict prevention includes a full range of political, diplomatic and military instruments. Arguably, such a comprehensive list is beyond the scope of any single state. Yet there are instances when with the appropriate major power backing and organizational support, state violence has been reduced, conflict ameliorated and crisis managed. These are instances when the possibility of uncontrolled violence is sufficient enough that the Western powers feel compelled to support preventive action. In states undergoing power transitions ethnic conflicts are most susceptible to rapid escalation. They are ripe for attention.
THE CAUSES OF VIOLENT ETHNIC CONFLICT
Rationality, Violence and Escalation
There is a widely held belief that the collapse of ethnically divided states signals the rebirth of irrational ancient hatreds. When states are confronted with the simultaneous tasks of political and economic liberalization, antagonisms grow and prosper, taking on numerous political, economic and international patterns. Instrumental in this process of centrifugal disintegration are nationalist ideology and party pluralism. Popular appeal to long-held and dormant ethnic grievances results in a seemingly irrational escalation of conflict, diffusion and violence.
Interpretations that hold ethnic conflicts as “irrational” are fraught with dangers. Reliance on irrational behaviour assumptions inhibits the development of sustainable conflict prevention policies. Conflict prevention is premised on the assumption that individuals are rational. That is, individuals respond to incentives, threats and coercion in fairly predictable ways. Given the correct set of incentives, even the most violent of ethnic militia leaders is open to negotiation. Unfortunately, even this perspective underemphasises the important role that violence plays in ensuring ethnic group solidarity.
More specifically, conventional perspectives assume that individual behaviour is the sole determinant of violent ethnic conflict. Although, there are compelling theoretical reasons to expect that individuals within ethnic groups are acting on rational impulses when they pursue violent strategies, interaction effects between leaders and the groups who support them are also significant. Collective action results from historical struggles for autonomy and self-determination or as a result of recent outgrowths of current political processes. Collectively, ethnic conflict appears to be irrational because it leads to undesirable social outcomes over the short term, such as destruction of property and economic decline.
However costly and irrational it appears in human and material terms, violence is a means of regulating behaviours, maintaining social order and ensuring favorable results. In short, a collectivity will pursue violence if it safeguards advantageous and long term political and economic outcomes. Performance expectations are one way to ensure mobilisation, cohesion and stronger support. Violence serves a functional and positive role for an ethnic elite and their followers. For example, leaders will use violence as a means of increasing cohesion among the group. Identification of a common enemy provides an opportunity for a group ridden with antagonisms to overcome them. For example, when Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo province protested the failure of Yugoslavia’s Belgrade government to establish an effective and coherent economic policy in 1981, Serb leaders used this confrontation as a pretext for seizing land from ethnic Albanians and for establishing a manifesto framing the Serbs as an oppressed and endangered people. The manifesto, prepared by members of the Serbia Academy of Sciences, portrayed Serbia as an imperiled victim of an “anti-Serbian coalition”.
From the perspective of an ethnic militia leader, the long term gains from a territorial dispute (such as territorial consolidation, enhancement of political power and increased ethnic homogeneity) can be dramatically enhanced if a conflict can be controlled within limits. On occasion, leaders may not even be interested in resolving a violent dispute. Since representing an ethnic group can provide specific benefits (such as prestige and military power) leaders may be more interested in prolongation and future escalation. For elites who play on the fears of their constituency, the benefits of escalation are obvious.
Consider Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman’s adroit playing of the Croatian Serb card in 1993 and again in 1995. Initially, Tudjman wanted to press Croatian Serbs to accept the creation of an autonomous Serb region under Croatian control. The Serbs, for their part, wanted to be part of a greater Serbia, which is not adjacent to all the areas of Croatia that they controlled. Tudjman took a calculated risk that would at once bolster his support at home and take advantage of a supportive international community. In 1993 and in 1995, Tudjman predicted, correctly, that attacks on Serb held enclaves would not be matched by reinforcements from Serbia. On 22 January 1993 Croatia’s army launched an offensive to retake territory held by Serbs in southern Croatia’s Krajina region. A second attack on the region, this time forcing ethnic Serbs to flee their homeland, was carried out in August 1995.
Justification for the offensive into Krajina, which was shielded by UNPROFOR troops, was based on the belief that the UN had failed to oversee the return of Serb-held areas of Croatia to the Croatian government. Tudjman’s calculation of the outcome was astute. Serb leader Milosevic’s response and the international community’s reaction were weak; The West’s condemnation of the attack was not matched by any punitive action.
In essence, ethnic conflicts that result in violence are only superficially ethnic and are usually stimulated by a combination of non-ethnic factors. These include a blend of structural, instrumental and normative determinants. In states undergoing political transition, (such as those in Eastern and Central Europe) these three conditions create a dangerous combination. In the former Yugoslavia, for example, political participation and opportunities were defined along narrow bands of ethnic sensibility. Coupled with the deliberate suppression of non-ethnic issues and concentration of power, the result was a perceived narrowing of policy options, leading to inter-ethnic confrontation, civil war and international crisis.
Some structural arguments contend that extreme violence is likely under conditions of power parity. For example, when the size and number of groups within states is relatively equal such as in Yugoslavia, conflict is more likely. Highly diverse plural states encounter special problems in maintaining strong institutional capacity. These states have highly divided political loyalties and are less likely to develop civic cultures conducive to the pursuit of peaceful policies for the reduction and management of ethnic conflict. Similarly, if a minority is large in size and territorially concentrated, as in the case of the Russian minority in the Ukraine, it not only constitutes a greater threat at the outset but also possesses better resources for its own defence. While the state may be hostile toward the minority, its capacity for coercion is reduced. Others contend that it is easier to mobilize an entire population when there are fewer opponents and few structural factors that limit violent strategies. This argument would suggest that power disparity will lead to violence. For example, an ethnic minority that is small in size but geographically concentrated, like the Russians in the Baltic states, may predispose these states toward coercive policies.
A second factor is instrumentalism, in which the state becomes the principal instrument for advancing ethnic group interests. Frequently, the existence of an ethnic political movement depends on an elite with skills and resources to sustain a movement. Ethnic identities, are evoked in certain structural circumstances to advance the material and political interests of actors whose primary purposes are not ethnic. Subsequent myth-making and the dredging up of past events become symbols around which ethnic groups coalesce. These symbols make inter-ethnic violence appear just, honourable and legitimate. For example, until the break up of Yugoslavia, any potential sources of ethnic friction were effectively managed through bureaucratic political arrangements. Formally, Yugoslav socialism was a tight-knit system, in which public opinion and ideology were strictly controlled by an elite bureaucracy. The absence of confrontations and conflicts between classes prevented, in part, the growth of liberalism with its ideological and legal emphasis on individual rights and liberties. The convergence of interests among Croatia, Slovenian and Serb leaders resembled a balance of power system, characterized by a shifting pattern of flexible coalitions. Eventually this balancing broke down and Yugoslavia shifted from a state based on an equilibrium engendered by decentralized constitutional arrangements, to one in which coercion became the main instrument of control.
A third and related set of determinants are state norms. States involved in recurring episodes of violent ethnic conflict tend to develop elite political cultures that sanction the use of violence and maintain institutions specialized in the exercise of coercion. To the extent that coercive strategies result in advantageous outcomes for the political elite, their preference for those strategies in the future is strengthened. Reactive violence (aimed to defend the entitlement of the state – rights and resources) is a likely instrument of internal policy. For rebellious ethnic communities, proactive violence (which aims to appropriate new entitlements, which the group has not previously enjoyed) is a likely instrument of mobilisation. For example, on 2 August 1992, President Franjo Tudjman was returned to power in Croatia’s first elections since declaring its independence a year earlier. Less than a week later, the Croatian leader was implicated in the deaths of an ultranationalist opposition leader, clamped down on the media, and reduced basic personal freedoms for Croats. Critics accused the leader of running Croatia as a medieval monarch and for practical purposes, Croatia has become an authoritarian state under the former communist general’s rule.
According to Hechter, the domestic and international autonomy of a state increases its propensity to engage in violent repression. Frequent success in the use of state-organized violence (for example, to achieve national consolidation and suppress internal challenges) leads to the development of police states. Post- revolutionary states, which face internal resistance in the immediate aftermath, also move in that direction. Not all power transition states are susceptible to this process. Recurrent success in the use of reforms and concessions to manage internal challenges can lead to the development of institutions and elite norms of democratic rule. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is moderately repressive regimes experiencing democratic transitions that are more likely to experience internal ethnic rebellion. In highly developed societies, institutions are arguably better insulated from external influence. Rebellious minorities are more likely to be co-opted into the political process and leaders are unlikely to rely solely on coercion to suppress such challenges. In contrast, a highly repressive regime (police state) will discourage any form of rebellion.
The above points support the argument that elite-led ethnic violence is likely when a state’s political institutions are in a process of reconstruction. Any decision by NATO to intervene in an ethnic conflict that is already violent must consider this. There will be specific kinds of ethnic conflicts that are unlikely to be resolved through conventional peacekeeping tactics and the use of force. These are the conflicts initiated by elites in order to stake a claim to power, discredit opponents or widen the political agenda to include ethnification of political issues. The primary issue is how ethnic threats can be transformed and channelled into less violent and constructive patterns of association prior to the onset of escalation. Accordingly, the next step in this analysis is identification of the types of ethnic conflict that threaten the security of the Central and Eastern European states.
Types of Ethnic Conflict Threat
This paper has focused on the sources of ethnic violence. What are the implications for Eastern and Central Europe? In general, the “ethnic threat” on NATO’s periphery has three interlocking dimensions Each dimension affects the security of the states of Central and Eastern Europe in varying degrees. In reality, there are some states where there is only a small likelihood that latent animosities will translate into inter-group violence and spillover effects (i.e. Poland, the Czech Republic); in some states, ethnic tensions have the potential for widespread violence (Estonia, Ukraine). In others, disputes have already escalated into acute and protracted domestic violence, destabilizing not just states but entire regions through refugee flows and other sources of diffusion (i.e. the former Yugoslavia). Three generalizations are offered.
Power Transitions, Democratisation and Civil- Military Relations
First, all post-communist states suffer from a sense of insecurity that derives directly from the weakness of each state’s governmental and political structures. Democratic institutions are brittle, economic transitions are indeterminate and societal loyalties are splintered. During the Cold War, the authoritarian communism of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact at least had the merit of suppressing violent internal challenges. Now even the “spread of democracy” and economic evolution will not guarantee relief from ethnic unrest. Transitions to democracy can elicit ethnic strife if an ethnic majority uses its political power to suppress defeated minorities. In this instance, the uniting cry of “democratisation” results in something other than productive pluralism; by- products include excessive hypernationalism, inter- elite struggle, and the shattering of fragile institutions. According to Gurr at least twenty new states are experimenting with democratic institutions. “Much of the upsurge in communal conflict has occurred precisely in these states, and as a direct consequence of the fact that institutional change has opened up opportunities by which communal groups can more openly pursue their objectives”. In this instance the concern is understanding how power transition states are susceptible to porous civil-military relations and how military regimes can become dominated by a single ethnic group.
Power transition states are particularly susceptible to inter-elite competition and rivalries. The main reason for this is that these states have underdeveloped institutions for mediating ethnic group interests and demands. When social mobilisation is high and political participation is high but there is institutional incompleteness then the capacity for the state to manage the demands made upon it are diminished. Regimes will lack the political capacity to carry out reforms peacefully and will rely extensively on coercive means to bring about economic and political change. The primary problem in these situations is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic change. This is particularly true for those states in which there are both international and domestic imperatives for rapid economic and political change. In these instances, the degree of autonomy between the political and military sphere is likely to be underdeveloped. How well the political sphere is independent from other spheres of state activity will determine the extent to which a state will succumb to ethnic group pressures. In highly developed societies, institutions are arguably better insulated from external influence.
Huntington’s fundamental proposition about military intervention states that the most important causes of military intervention in politics are not military but political and reflect not the social and organizational characteristics of the military establishment but the political and institutional structure of the society. Countries which have political armies also have political clergies, political universities and so on. A second important feature is the fragmented nature of political power. Military intervention is a response to political action by others and especially to the escalation of social conflict. According to Horowitz, the process begins when ethnic leaders stressing an aggressive, ethnically-oriented policy towards other ethnic groups, emerge on the political scene. All other things being equal, multi-party systems will facilitate this process. For example, moderate elites may go along with the ethnically oriented sentiments of the radical segments of the population out of fear that they will be replaced. This is true especially when a leader faces a constituency composed of part of a single ethnic group. Political competition, manifested through multiparty ethnic factionalism, may become intense. A kind of extreme hypernationalism is likely to emerge from leaders interested in “outflanking” other political parties.
For example, the process of outbidding may result in a shift to a one-party state and can occur, for example, when a democratically elected party succumbs to political zealotry. The single- ethnic parties make it possible that the original, democratic party, unable to satisfy either extreme, will be left with a reduced political base. To maintain support, leaders may strive to represent a single ethnic group’s interests within the state and on occasion abroad. In general, the political party with the greatest interest in aggressive policy also will have the most extreme position on that issue. If other parties (including those in power) are in a position to oppose fanaticism, then it can be prevented. In other words, the more autonomous the state from ethnic dominance, the greater its ability either to oppose — or impose — an extreme set of discriminatory policies. The former requires that the state accommodate as many interests as possible and that the state stand above society in order to act as a rational agent of change.
Beinen argues that variations in the social and organizational characteristics of armed forces do make a difference with regard to the propensity of the military to intervene. The problem is that in moderately repressive regimes that favour political reform, specific ethnic groups within the military can come to dominate the political process. The inability of democratically elected governments to manage internal ethnic tensions may become a prime reason for the armed forces to give their support to ethnic leaders who promise that their concerns will be addressed. The military may be pulled into civilian affairs until the point at which there is a progressive narrowing of the ethnic base of a regime until one or two groups come to dominate the rest. In turn this narrowing process will reduce this effectiveness and impartiality of the military; because of the military’s simple and hierarchical command structure; sensitive issues cannot be depoliticised. Politicisation of the command structure will in turn mean the military will look for allies within the civilian political structures. They will do so in order to control rebellious minorities. This process will including forging alliances with the police and eventual intervention in civilian politics either directly through coups or indirectly through a civilianization process.
In either case, if the military comes to power it may acquire civilian trappings and seek to build up a national political party linked to itself. Former army leaders then become divorced from the command structure within the military, giving rise to conflict over policies between the military and the politicians. Eventually the boundaries between the military sphere and the socio- political sphere will become fragmented. In predicting the constraints on political leaders in transitional countries it is first necessary to asses interactions between civilian leaders and military leaders.
Bremmer has developed an index of state autonomy based on indicators of economic, social and economic fragility. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania all face a low perceived threat with respect to institutional instability. “Similarly, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have emerged from fifty years of Soviet rule with reasonably secure state institutions and a strong sense of national identity” The states in Eastern and Central Europe ranking high on the index include Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovakia. The main function of the armed forces in these latter states has been to defend the interests of specific ethnic groups within the state. Yugoslavia represents an extreme case in which there had been a persistence of ethnic loyalties in the Yugoslavia National Army (JNA) that superseded professional loyalties. As in the case of Serb support for the JNA and Serb irregulars, breaches of military autonomy will involve either preemptive reaction involving not just individuals but whole forces by packing with ethnic friendly groups or through the development of ethnically differentiated paramilitary units.
Minorities and Internal Threats
The second source of state insecurity is the perceived internal threat from ethnic minorities. A related issue is demographic flux. Previously repressed by authoritarianism, dormant animosities have come to the fore. Without an ideological framework, emerging economic issues take on an increasingly ethnic character. Political leaders find it relatively easy to mobilize populations by stimulating a sense of a collective identity with scapegoating and suppression of minority rights the usual result. The danger in Central Europe, whose societies tend to be generally more ethnically homogenous, is different than that posed by the much weaker states of Eastern Europe.
In Central Europe, the concern is not that Poland, for example, will attempt to seize parts of Germany or that its 97.9 per cent Polish population is itself threatened. It is that, due to political strife and unfulfilled economic expectations, experiments in democratisation could result in the suppression of minority rights. Michael Brown is correct to point out that ethnic confrontations are virtually non- existent in ethnically homogenous Poland (and in the Czech Republic and Hungary to a lesser degree). However, it must be kept in mind that, no matter how numerically small they are now, the groups that were at one time Poland’s largest ethnic minorities have either been deported or exterminated over the course of the twentieth century. This is most likely not the kind of behaviour that NATO would like to encourage in other East and Central European states.
In Eastern Europe, though not exclusively, the problem is heightened by significantly lower levels of institutionalization than that of Central Europe and by unresolved disputes involving the Russian diaspora spread throughout the periphery of the former Soviet Union. Potentially explosive spots are in the so-called Dniester Republic, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. These Russian minorities exist side by side the remnants of the Soviet Armed Forces. The possibility of ethnic clashes is not isolated to these areas. Antagonisms within Russia proper i.e. Tatarstan, North and South Ossetia, Donbass and the Crimea and the Trans-Dniester region have been on-going.
In the Baltics the matter of citizenship is acute. Between 1959 and 1989 the growth rate of the titular nationalities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was far outpaced by non-Balts. In Latvia, for example, Lats constitute only 53.5 per cent of the population. Even though Lats constitute an absolute majority of the citizens, most non-citizens are Russian speakers. Unlike Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia has yet to pass laws determining the legal status, rights and obligations of non-citizens. Restrictions have been imposed on the economic, social and property rights of non-citizens. Latvia’s leaders are steadfast in their efforts to dismantle the demographic legacy of the Soviet rule including the “repatriation” of non-Latvians.
The issue of demographic flux has been most intense in countries practising “minority displacement”. Ethnic cleansing is not isolated to Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia. For example Turkish communities have been expelled from Bulgaria and Gypsies have been forced to leave Romania for Slovakia and Poland. Pearson has argued that the problem of displacement is not isolated to minorities but also effects ethnically dominant groups as well. For example Serbs have been expelled from their perceived historic homeland in Kosovo by the growth rate of the Albanian majority.
Demographic flux and minority rights are problematic when there are dominant and subordinated ethnic groups. Most states in Eastern and Central Europe are those in which one ethnic group is both politically and numerically dominant. An important exception is Bosnia (Russia and Macedonia both claim to be multinationalist but concrete evidence is in short supply). Yugoslavia was another, given the ethnic percentages of its population. When Tito broke off the provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo from the Republic of Serbia and drew new federal boundaries that left millions of Serbs outside its rule, the Serbs maintained their status as the most numerous ethnic group in Yugoslavia (36 per cent of the entire population) but they were never an absolute majority. They compose an absolute majority within Serbia (66 per cent) but not within the province of Kosovo, for example, (only 13 per cent) where their numbers are diminishing.
In general, dominant ethnic groups control access to resources and entitlements. In turn, subordinated groups require protection either by a society’s institutions or from external guarantors. In ethnically dominant states, ethnic identification is either created or maintained as a basis for asserting ethnic group dominance. The advantages accrue mainly to urban elites, who can mobilize support through media, unions, and urban organizations. Not all ethnically dominant states are
susceptible to ethnic politicisation. For example, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia face few problems from their minority groups. In contrast, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania have a significantly higher percentage of their population who are minority groups. In the latter cases the minorities of these states are much less politicised. In the former category, efforts are made to protect minority rights.
Two broad categories are used to describe the politicisation of ethnicity in ethnically dominant states – civic and ethnic nationalism. A primary indicator of ethnic nationalist states is whether or not political participation is inclusive or exclusive. Inclusive-oriented states such as Hungary and Poland are very careful in ensuring that their ethnic minorities are given basic political rights. For example in Hungary one thousand people are all that is needed to qualify for minority status. Poland’s 1992 Charter of Rights and Liberties states that an individual may not be discriminated against because of their ethnic heritage. Citizenship is granted on the basis of commitment to the Polish nation not whether the individual is of Polish extraction.
In exclusive oriented states, such as Slovakia, Bulgaria and Serbia for example, the state is defined solely in terms of the dominant ethnic group’s national identity. The constitutions of these states make little or no provision for ethnic minority rights guarantees. Bulgaria is an extreme example of ethnic exclusion. Here the power of the state is derived from the Bulgarian narod which includes Turkified Bulgars.
A second indicator of politicised ethnicity is whether or not the economy is redistributive or efficient. In those states where elites are dependent on the support of more than one ethnic group or focus on cross-cutting identities, economic arrangements are said to be efficient (they will attempt to improve the condition of almost all of the groups within a society). In contrast, an economic system dominated by a single ethnic group is said to be redistributive (they will seek to improve the conditions of one group in society at the expense of another).
In reality there is a great deal of variation in these ideal types. In general, an ethnic nationalist state will tend towards exclusion and oppression of minorities within the political process and some form of redistributive economic system. Alternatively a civic nationalist state will purse economic efficiency and greater tolerance of minorities. In ethnic-nationalist states, such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Latvia and Estonia the state frequently is the leading force behind ethnic political mobilisation, providing differential advantages to regions and ethnic groups even when these extend beyond a state’s borders.
International Dimensions: Irredenta and Secession
The third security threat is external in nature and emanates from disputes over territory and transnational ethnic linkages. Here the concern is that claims to territory by a minority in one state may lead to demonstrations of solidarity by a neighboring ethnic majority state. There are two types of linkage: external support for secessionist- type conflicts involving large territorially concentrated minorities and irredentist-type efforts at retrieval of territorially concentrated minorities. Irredentism means the claim to the territory of an entity — usually an independent state — where an ethnic ingroup is a numerical minority. The original term “terra irredenta” means territory to be redeemed. It presumes a redeeming state, as well as such territory. Thus, irredenta are interstate ethnic conflicts by definition. Either an ethnic nation-state or a multi-ethnic plural state may seek redemption. The territory to be redeemed sometimes is regarded as part of a cultural homeland or historic state (or as an integral part of one state). This claim is based on transnational ethnic affinities.
Theoretically, claims can be based solely on territory. In reality, however, many irredenta are mixed and challenges to the claim usually involve mobilisation of groups on the basis of the principle of reuniting ethnic kin. This follows Weiner’s classic approach toward irredentism, which assumed the existence of a “shared” ethnic group crossing the international boundary between two states. Disputes over boundaries generate characteristic patterns of political development, with a direct influence on alliance formation, domestic repression, civil war and risky foreign policy behaviour – a unique complex Weiner has termed “the Macedonian Syndrome”.
A secessionist conflict is the formal and informal aspects of political alienation in which one or more ethnic groups seek a reduction of control or autonomy from a central authority and/or a redistribution of resources through political means. The state-centre and/or minority group will seek out and obtain external support, thereby enhancing internal cleavage and disruption leading to interstate conflict. Such conflicts may or may not involve (1) the use of force and (2) politically mobilized, well organized, ethnic insurgency movements.
There is a great deal of variation in the potential for irredentist and secessionist type conflicts with an obvious extreme being Serbia, which has engaged in aggressive efforts to support and retrieve its minorities. In comparison, Latvia and Estonia, both of which face an external threat from Russia, and Hungary whose displaced minorities have received some support from their homeland, represent moderate and low potential for irredenta respectively.
Even so, territorial disputes continue to plague relations between Hungary and its neighbours. For example, Romania and Hungary have not been able to conclude an agreement on frontiers and persons belonging to national minorities. However, Romanian Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu has said that Romania remained “resolute” to conclude basic treaties with all neighbours which clearly recognise existing frontiers and abandon territorial claims. In contrast, Hungary and Slovakia have managed to conclude a Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Co-operation, including Recommendation 1201 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly for an additional protocol on rights of national minorities to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Other areas of concern include the potential for secession in Estonia and Latvia. The main concern for the Baltic states is that Russia may find itself directly involved in the Baltics wherein Russian peoples straddling the border are the leading proponents of efforts to redraw the map. Even though Russia’s leaders may initially resist the temptation, right-wing political groups in Russia pose as defenders of the national rights of the Russian diaspora and may pressure the Russian government to act on these linkages. For example, Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev has been on record in suggesting that the withdrawal of Russian forces from Latvia and Estonia should be linked to the treatment of minorities in these two countries.
Even Russia itself is not safe. Gurr notes that Russia has at least eight minorities “at risk” a total that exceeds that of any other European country. A small potential for secession exists in Russia whose minority population is nearly 20 per cent. The potential is small because, even though many of the minorities are territorially concentrated groups, no group exceeds five per cent of Russia’s total population.
A compounding problem is the fact that secessionist ethnic conflicts attract third party support (for both the state centre and the minority group) which is difficult to overcome even by the most concerted of multilateral efforts. This is especially true when support is linked to broader foreign policy gains by a third party state such as maintaining regional stability. These conflicts are met with an immediate response by an elite with support from allies. Regime stability has an important influence on the likelihood of diffusion; the weaker the leadership of the state the greater the possibility that violent conflict and intervention will ensue. Third party states may intervene in support of the weak regime or to topple it. This will involve either the destruction of the state-centre in the event that a secessionist group is capable of overwhelming it, forceful assimilation of the minority or in the worst case, genocide.
THE ROLE FOR NATO IN ETHNIC CONFLICT PREVENTION
Power Transitions and Civil-Military Relations
NATO has a number of conflict prevention instruments at its disposal. Articles I and IV of the 1949 Washington Treaty, establish the commitment to consult together when the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened. The Washington Treaty itself can be considered as a statement of conflict prevention, because it declares the political willingness and legal obligation to defend collectively against armed attack. In brief, NATO’s current conflict prevention policy framework consists of the commitment to the expansion of the alliance through bilateral and multilateral linkages, the Alliance Strategic Concept and to the concept of mutually reinforcing institutions.
Since the launching of the NATO Partnership for Peace (PFP) at the NATO Summit held in January 1994, 26 nations have signed the Framework Document. Twelve states have concluded their follow-on Individual Partnership Programmes (IPPs), with a range of activities such as provision of NATO technical documentation on standardisation, adapting airfields to NATO standards, and exercises in compatible command and control systems. The programme has moved from peacekeeping exercises to defence review planning, an important transparency and confidence-building measure.
A gradual step-by-step process should address three issues. First, remove the justification for maintaining a national economy of defence. For example, the international and domestic security threats, noted above, can be reduced through involvement in overarching security institutions. Second, focus on institutional imbalances deriving from past emphasis on economies of defence. For example, state finances are no longer need to maintain strong economies of defence and can be diverted towards economic growth and towards alleviation of regional disparities. Third, pursue policies that reduce the influence of non-elected officials.
Each of these tasks can be achieved, in part, through military professionalization and democratisation. The PFP Framework Document outlines its objectives pertaining to civil-military relations as including the facilitation of transparency in national defence planning, defence conversion and the enduring democratic control of the armed forces. Democratic control means that all decisions concerning the defence of the country must be by elected officials responsible for overseeing the state’s interests. While there is no solitary formula for the PFP nations to follow, several elemental components must be maintained to in order to fulfil the requirements for democratic control.
According to the authors of the “The Enlargement of the Alliance” democratisation includes the following. First, a clear constitutional framework must define the parameters of defence planning and responsibility must ultimately rest on an elected civilian Minister of Defence. Second. civilians must also effectively participate in defence planning and in budget allocation. NATO’s interparliamentary arm, the North Atlantic Assembly (NAA) is there to assist national governments in implementing these conditions. Since 1989, the NAA has played this role for Central and European countries as well as its Western European partners. “Democratic political control is assured through a combination of process, structure and attitude. While there is no single model, there are several fundamental characteristics: a clear legal and constitutional framework; the hierarchical responsibility of the military to the government of the day through a civilian Minister of Defence; qualified civilians to work with the military in the elaboration of defence requirements and the agreement of defence policy and budget; the clear division of professional responsibility between civilian and military; the effective oversight and scrutiny of parliament.”
The fundamental assumption is that the armed forces are loyal to the democratically elected government of the day. However, in ethnically dominant states, constitutional arrangements sometimes leave a perilous degree of ambiguity. Consequently, the task of democratisation is highly dependent on how effective the de-nationalisation process is within the military. Specific ethnic groups within the military can come to dominate it through several means, notably skewed recruitment and when the ethnic composition of military and civilian leadership is congruent. The key problem is that soldiers who remain on the sidelines will have difficulty in putting ethnic affiliations aside.
A state’s capacity to facilitate positive and abiding democratic control is primarily a function of how a state and society relate to each other and secondarily a function of the characteristics of the state or society. Institutionalized patterns of authority are likely to be major determinants of the state’s developmental efficacy. In this respect, the former Communist states have little or no experience in civilian control of the military. The tendency toward a populist ruling arrangement, as evidenced in the former Yugoslavia, is not effective for building institutions or promoting economic development. Only some types of authoritarian states are effective in coping with change. The way out is not democraticization per se but effective well organized political parties, stable cross cutting coalitions, and coherent economic programmes which will reduce regional ethnic tensions and incorporate diverse interests.
In brief, transitions will be navigated most successfully by those societies that balance the implementation of democratic institutions and processes with steps to strengthen civil society and democratic culture. The various aid agencies of NATO’s 16 member states should more actively promote and support aid and trade policies that lead to the de-nationalisation of institutions within newly emergent states. These strategies could reduce internal cleavages within states through the reduction of disparities and encourage mobilisation on the basis of cross-cutting cleavages.
“De-ethnification” of the armed forces of Eastern and Central Europe can reduce the salience of ethnicity as a basis for mobilisation, recruitment and advancement and should be a component of military professionalization. So long as the militaries of these states remain in social disarray, they are susceptible to appeals from earnest politicians. It is vital that NATO pursue qualitative applications of cooperation and partnership at all levels of political, economic, and military spheres. Defence conversion, the process by which the military can adopt western standards of organizational and professional capacity for self defence, is a step in the right direction. However this process will only be successful if the army can maintain a high degree of autonomy from civilian politics.
Minority Rights and Early Warning
A second area of concern is minority rights. Minority rights are ultimately issues of domestic jurisdiction. This in itself raises some important questions about the qualifications required for NATO membership (including state legitimacy and peaceful incorporation of minority interests). NATO’s legitimacy and stature will diminish if the regimes of the new members come to power through processes that involve the suppression or assimilation of minority interests.
Given the problems highlighted above, there are techniques that could be used by NATO in conjunction with the activities of other regional organizations to monitor minority rights issues. A good start is a NATO minority rights policy that reinforces existing ones already in place such as the European Convention on Human Rights. This policy would be an instructive guide whose rules all states must learn and follow.
Early warning is a second preventive measure. Early warning is used as a means of identifying both the domestic and systemic factors associated with the onset of violent ethnic strife and diffusion. Most NATO early warning information depends on the national intelligence accumulation and evaluation systems of the individual allies. NATO, itself performs several early warning functions through Joint Staff Groups such as the Current Intelligence Groups and the NATO Precautionary System. Early warning information is also available through evaluation and inspection carried out by the OSCE. A third source of information and analysis is the academic community.
The academic community is in a good position to aid in developing sophisticated early warning mechanisms. There is an important role for academics in identifying lessons and strategies which are omitted by hard-pressed practitioners. To be effective, early warning must rely on the trained eye of the case-study specialist, the area specialist with a firm grasp on the domestic political scene and the broad underlying patterns made available by the aggregate data analyst. Perhaps, the most well- known example of ethnic conflict data analysis, using aggregate data, is the “Minorities at Risk” research project under the direction of Ted Gurr. Early identification and involvement to prevent escalation of internal conflicts is desirable, but states and institutions have limited ability and will to do so. This increases the importance of non- governmental initiatives, such as those by International Alert a London-based NGO, in the early stages of internal conflicts.
The OSCE is a “trailblazer” in the area of early warning. The institution has institutionalized weekly meetings of the Permanent Committee and the creation of a High Commissioner for National Minorities. Together the Permanent Committee and the High Commissioner have the mission to contain and de-escalate ethnic tensions and to alert the OSCE whenever tensions escalate. To this extent the OSCE acts as a conduit for ethnic grievances. Rather than duplicate the efforts of the OSCE, NATO’s best strategy would be information sharing in order to identify particular disputes with the potential for crisis escalation and frequent consultation with the OSCE. The main concerns are to use this shared information in order to prevent the rise to power of single dominant ethnic group, to identify minorities at risk and to understand when third parties provide military support for potential secessionist movements.
NATO Expansion and Joint Peacekeeping Operations
NATO is a military alliance and should be prepared to protect its interests. The question, is, in what way can NATO best use its military capacity to protect NATO interests while also providing security assurances to the Eastern and Central European States? At the Rome Summit in November 1991, the NATO heads of state issued a Declaration on Peace and Cooperation which outlined NATO’s new Strategic Concept. Recognizing that the primary threat to member state security arose from the instability in Central and Eastern Europe, the Strategic Concept outlined the need to coordinate with the other European security organizations, the OSCE and WEU as well as the assimilation of the former Warsaw Pact countries via the creation of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). The willingness to operate under a UN or OSCE mandate coupled with the security cooperation with former Soviet bloc countries has dramatically broadened the potential scope of NATO operations.
There are two trends of concern here. First, there is increasing apprehension that the world is beginning to reflect basic spheres of influence. This is a situation in which regional influences and geopolitics (including territorial disputes) take precedence over maintaining both a global balance of power and international norms of non- intervention. At present, NATO member states are willing to pay what amounts to a small price if it means continued good relations with states that are not formally part of the Alliance. For now, ethnic struggles on the periphery are unlikely to create an initial problem large enough to tip any relevant “military balance” of concern to the Western powers.
This “ostrich-like” attitude among NATO member states cannot continue for long. Eventually, non-member states may believe that they have greater leeway in suppressing or supporting ethnic minority claims. These unattended simmering conflicts could become a source of interstate friction and crisis. Consider as examples, Russian defence Minister Pavel Grachev’s request earlier this year that, because of the war in Chechnya, Russia could not adhere to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty or the potential for spill-over of the Balkans war into Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary.
The second concern is the manner in which ethnically-based crises affect NATO member states themselves. There are different reasons for this. As NATO continues to expand Eastward an initial problem will be that the security interests of NATO member states will vary according to each ethnic conflict. Interests will vary and consensus on how to manage the conflict will be difficult to obtain. Consider in this context, the “shadows” of influence that Turkey casts over Bulgaria’s 10 per cent Turkish minority and Greece over Macedonia. Even if Turkey’s intentions are benign and Greece’s interest in solidarity with Macedonia are essentially historical, there does not now exist a NATO policy on how to address issues related to transnational identities and regional diasporas. During the Cold War, there was a collective belief that ethnic conflicts needed to be managed as their diffusion represented a potentially destabilizing effect on East-West relations. The absence of a “Cold War mentality” as a second factor, may transform a state’s decision to act in coordination with others. At least one instance of regional spread involving a single NATO member is in evidence: Turkey’s 1994 invasion of northern Iraq in order to attack the enclaves of Turkish Kurdish separatists in Iraqi Kurdish territory.
Both of these concerns are particularly acute when two groups find themselves in search of a third party that can credibly guarantee agreements between them. If NATO does not place itself in a position to provide credible guarantees, third party states may find themselves as “guarantors” of “minority rights”. The problem is that in the “democratising” states of Central and Eastern Europe, ethnic majorities are unable to commit themselves not to exploit ethnic minorities. Consequently, multilateral retreat will open the door for greater involvement by self-appointed peacekeepers, regional hegemons and other more “creative” demagogues of newly democratising states who choose to meddle in the internal affairs of neighbouring states. These two concerns relate directly to NATO peacekeeping operations as a conflict prevention mechanism. In this respect peacekeeping serves two long-range functions. First, commitments to support joint peacekeeping operations constitute a basic deterrent against undesirable regional adventurism. For example, with respect to NATO peacekeeping activities, the NATO Charter specifically defines the limits of the responsibility in Article 5, which states that the member states agree that an armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all.
Joint peacekeeping operations could act as a deterrent in several ways. First, joint peacekeeping efforts could have a stabilizing influence through the integration of states into multilateral structures. This has to do with the ecumenical preference for managing security relationships through multilateral, as opposed to bilateral, frameworks. Furthermore, expanding joint peacekeeping into Central Europe would have a stabilizing effect on adjacent regions of Eastern Europe since it would likely decrease the rewards of military exploits in the region. Projecting this kind of non-coercive military presence Eastward would provide a signal that the West is willing to act multilaterally and through multiple institutions as a guarantor of minority rights, though, as of now, there is no “guarantee” that NATO would actually follow through with military action.
The second function of joint peacekeeping is to prepare PFP members as effective NATO partners. NATO has pursued joint military planning, training and exercises in order to establish and maintain strong linkages between the Alliance and the PFP nations. Cooperative programmes in the fields of defence procurement, and air defence represent examples of technical cooperation. Beyond technical assistance it is a priority for NATO to assist the PFP nations in establishing transparent and complementary defence planning, particularly in the area of peacekeeping. Joint exercises provide forums for cooperation and establish interoperability among PFP and NATO forces.
It should be noted that joint peacekeeping differs from assertive peacekeeping in which force is the main instrument of control. First, ambiguously defined assertive peacekeeping by itself is a very risky strategy with a very low likelihood of success. Ethnic group leaders will promote violence for their own ends especially when regional organizations risk their neutral status, making the transition from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. Second, peacekeepers may become targets rather than intermediaries when at least one antagonist becomes convinced that favouritism is at work. In fact, a viable peacekeeping mission may require territorial demarcation and some minimal agreement between enemies. It is far more efficient to communicate intentions at an early stage of a conflict. Third, NATO’s traditional military integration for collective defence is no longer feasible for joint peacekeeping operations. Nor, are traditional command structures suited to making decisions in civil conflicts. Flexible military structures that can be adapted to various circumstances are more viable and effective. Flexible arrangements in peacekeeping may obviate, to some degree, the need for unanimous collective decision-making in every instance.
On practical grounds effective NATO participation in current “out-of-area” conflicts does have some problems. Shpiro notes that NATO’s present structure would inhibit participation beyond the defined boundaries of NATO’s area of responsibility. NATO’s territorial security responsibilities are divided into three commands, each with distinct geographical limitations and operational strategies specific to their regions. Out- of-area involvements would have to be handled through these existing command structures which are not necessarily able to effectively design and operate missions beyond their assigned roles. This dilemma has been partially addressed with the creation of a separate Peacekeeping Section within the Operations Section of NATO headquarters.
NATO forces are also being redefined in order to function effectively as peacekeepers. Shpiro notes four categories of forces which are being established to accommodate this new function: (a) Immediate Reaction Corps (IRC) – a multinational force ready to be deployed at short notice in any NATO area; (b) Rapid Reaction Corps – eight divisions under direct NATO command available at any time for operations throughout ACE (Allied Command Europe); (c) Main Defence Forces – forces of member states, intended to operate on a regional basis and; (d) Augmentation Forces – national and US forces to provide reserves for all NATO areas.
However there has been some criticism of the creation of multi-functional forces as a way of projecting stability. The first issue is the impracticality of mobilising forces in ways that have as yet been tested in the real world. Ethnically- based conflict could affect NATO cohesion and decision-making in areas requiring rapid response and short-term strategies of peacemaking. A second issue is the difficulty in utilising such forces to perform both a civilian-political function (restoring domestic order) and military functions, again untested in the real world.
But by far the biggest issue is the preparation and participation of Russia’s small neighbours in joint peacekeeping training. The NACC and PFP are viewed by many former-Soviet states as a means to collectively take part in peacekeeping missions and thus avoid unilateral Russian intervention. These states look to NATO as a credible deterrent against Russian aggression.
Arguably, peacekeeping efforts designed to deter renewed Russian expansionism will be the most controversial. For at least the next ten years, the main use of Russian Federation armed forces will be the timely containment of ethnic conflict in peripheral regions and the suppression of military escalation at the initial stages of conflict. Trenin notes that the Russian government has both the will and the resources to intervene unilaterally and has so far participated in the management of conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and most recently, Chechnya. The issue of expanding NATO and risking confrontation with Russia has stressed relations within NATO, particularly between European members and the United States. Nonetheless, the US and Russia very recently negotiated an agreement whereby a multinational peacekeeping force would be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh.
NATO’s peacekeeping strategy must recognise that the Russian army serves an important role in European politics and therefore Russian troops should be integrated into all levels of the peacekeeping process as widely as possible. The litmus test would have to be the degree to which the Russian Federation made peacekeeping an operational activity according to internationally accepted standards and did not represent intervention to favour one side or another in a given dispute. The main goal is to encourage the Russian nation to reject a renewed retreat into isolation and instead to play a constructive and secure role in broader European society. If such efforts are not undertaken it is likely that Russia will use its troops as “self-appointed” peacekeepers to settle the ethnic conflicts along Russia’s periphery as they see fit. These activities may bring some essential morale, and rasion d’etre to Russia’s military wing but could also create a new division on the continent. Furthermore Russian intervention will also create conditions for settling regional conflicts in ways that agree with the interests of the Russian Federation. Every conflict situation in which Russia demonstrates that it can act as sole guarantor of minority Russian rights abroad, undermines collective efforts at multilateral peacekeeping.
It is also important to recognize that Russia will continue to intervene in the internal affairs of the weakest states, especially those in Eastern Europe. Power, status and capabilities will continue to be distributed unevenly among these states so that conflict will be a continuing reality of this changing political system; stronger states will be implicitly involved in this conflictual process. As noted, Russia may find itself directly involved in an ethnic conflict in which it is the leading proponent. The challenge facing NATO is to find a balance between helping the armed forces, regain its sense of purpose and morale without a commensurate threat to Russia’s internal stability. While NATO member states must help Russia confront problems in its development of western institutions of democracy, the free-market, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and civilian authority over the armed forces; the strategic imperative for NATO is to help Russia and its armed forces solve problems on its periphery through international support for conducting peacekeeping or peacemaking operations. These operations can be carried out by a decision of the UN Security Council, other organs of collective security or in accordance with international commitments.
This paper has argued that conflict prevention is an important way of promoting stability in Eastern and Central Europe. Asmus, Kugler and Larrabee argue that a preventive forward looking approach satisfies several conditions. First, promoting stability serves as a “geopolitical hedge” against threats facing the Central and Eastern European states. In this sense conflict prevention is a means of reducing the risks associated with expansion. Second, it allows NATO to establish criteria for success at a gradual pace that subsumes problems over time. In this respect, the key role to be played by NATO is a long term one; namely confidence building measures; the professionalization of defence forces which includes their de-ethnification and broadening commitments to collective security. Both conditions require that NATO undertake efforts to establish a presence in the East during peacetime. Consider NATO’s failure to prevent the violent confrontation between Turkey and Cyprus as a valuable lesson. To suggest that NATO would be no better now at preventing the outbreak of ethnic disputes than it was in 1967 and 1973 is to ignore significant coordination and growth among European institutions.
Anticipation is key. Inexorably, some states of Eastern and Central Europe will evolve in response to pressures, whether induced internally or externally. Internal crises often arise when environmental constraints are too great for political institutions to deal with them effectively. Quite often, the state does not merely respond to crises, produced by uneven ethnic mobilisation and social change, but is itself the leading force providing differential advantages to regions and ethnic groups. Consequently, in developing political relationships with the states of Eastern and Central Europe, NATO must recognise that the state itself is not always acting in the legitimate interests of specific minority groups.
Future scenarios will likely involve ethnically divided states attempting to make the simultaneous transition to more economically open and democratic systems. These states will succumb to the politics of intransigence, confrontation and conflict if the political system lacks the capacity, to widen the policy agenda to encompass non-ethnic issues. When other bases of mobilisation are weak, ethnic elites will depend on direct support from their ethnic constituency and in turn elites seek to control and influence these groups. Cold War tensions provided a contextual basis and an imperative for managing tensions between NATO member-states. This point of reference exists but has now shifted Eastward. As new members are incorporated into the NATO framework, they will bring with them some of their transborder tensions and unresolved territorial issues.
However, it is also vital that NATO induce behaviourial change without setting standards so high that isolation results. In essence, by suggesting that certain military “standards” and “norms” need to be met before a political decision is made to expand membership is to re-establish the purpose of NATO itself. Perhaps, NATO’s best strategy for legitimacy and effectiveness is to embrace the future as a leader in ethnic conflict prevention. This will require creative and imaginative thinking. A three step process includes, assistance in guaranteeing the independence of each state; then eventually their integration into the West and finally embedding each state’s institutions in broader pan- European institutions. This process of inclusion would encourage alignments between states based on interests other than ethnicity and reduce internal cleavages within states through the reduction of disparities based on international cooperation.
Unless NATO member states pursue a multi-layered set of preventive policies consisting primarily of political coordination with other European institutions, the organization will experience a decline in both effectiveness and coherence. The underlying assumption is that NATO effectiveness will be only as good as its member states want it to be. Conflict prevention is an aspect of, not a replacement for, foreign policy. Assigning of tasks to an international regime, even if that involves seemingly routinized activities, will be accomplished and sustained only if individual states believe that their interests are served best through that commitment.
Here’s the thing. I wrote the paper and submitted it to NATO 20 years ago when I was a NATO Fellow and post-doctoral Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford. This was my report filed with NATO HQ in 1994. The causes and manifestations of instability in the region haven’t changed nor has the rationale for NATO engagement. The only major difference is that the conflicts have now moved further eastward and that NATO is now contemplating a game changing policy by incorporating Ukraine under its wing.
Banner image by UX Gun, Unsplash.