Contrary to many fears, Kosovo did not ruin the North Atlantic Alliance's 50th anniversary celebration in Washington last April after all. On the contrary, the solidarity that all the allies felt compelled to demonstrate amid the crisis may have helped them paper over their numerous differences over NATO's mission and procedures in a new era. The summit's agreement on an updated "Strategic Concept" for the alliance was a significant achievement. But anything less than success in the Kosovo crisis will undermine this unity -- an outcome that now seems likely.
The allies began the war with high expectations. The center-left governments in office in key allied countries stressed the moral imperatives of reversing ethnic cleansing and saving the people of Kosovo. Under attack from political forces on the far left (and, in France, from the right) for collaborating with the hated Americans, these leaders have defended their solidarity with NATO through moral argument. The war must "prevent a humanitarian catastrophe," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder insisted. But if the crisis ends in an ambiguous diplomatic compromise with Slobodan Milosevic, the disillusionment may be sharp and the political reverberations intense. NATO's unity of purpose in entering the war will not preclude transatlantic finger-pointing and recriminations if the outcome does not live up to the high standard that was set. The strategic stake for the alliance has become enormous.
Through most of the Kosovo war, the alliance has shown an impressive solidarity. Occasional displays of weakness by individual allies -- such as the impatient Greek and Italian pleas for a "bombing pause" after the very first night of bombing and a similar German overture three weeks later -- have been quickly squelched. Confidence in the prospects of success seemed to vindicate the alliance and its U.S. leadership. Nato was demonstrating its relevance and effectiveness in the new era by combating ethnic violence in Europe. No other institution -- neither the United Nations, nor the European Union (EU), nor the Organization for
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