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Aftermath of Kosovo

Europe takes military route to security

At the seminar on Kosovo and War Reporting, organised by the Finnish Institute in collaboration with Prospect magazine last June, one aspect of international reality hardly got a mention. It is the difference in perception of the world stage between citizens of big and small countries.

People in small countries often watch helplessly as the big countries with their historical self-confidence act on conclusions based on their own terms – which they declare to be based on universal values. Values may be universal but the power to decide on actions of war is the privilege of countries whose historical, political and economic power sets them apart from the rest of the international community. They have the privilege to define when a humanitarian crisis calls for action and what form that action should take.

The Bulgarian scholar, Maria Todorova, in her illuminating book, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford University Books 1997), worries about "that absolute belief in the operative and beneficial role of western public opinion that one has encountered especially at the end of the cold war".

There were revealing moments during the Kosovo crisis. Much emphasis was placed on maintaining NATO’s credibility. Some critics noted that this was not a reference to Danish or Greek credibility. No, it was really about the credibility of the big powers of the West i.e. the United States and its closest allies.

The West, we were told, had no strategic interest in the Balkans. This may be technically true. However, many American commentators saw the area as the next testing ground for Western influence and power. Todorova points out that most of the reasons for the West’s final involvement in Yugoslavia were "prompted by extra-Balkan considerations: the place and future of NATO, the role of the United States as the global military superpower and especially its strategic stake in European affairs, and so forth".

Since the governments of small countries tend not to express criticism openly of the way big countries run ‘the international community’, the unease of ordinary citizens does not easily find self-expression. Recently, however, the round of appointments in the EU and NATO has triggered some public recriminations. Small countries have felt excluded from the circles that matter.

In the EU, the viewpoints of small countries are supposed to get an equal hearing. Indeed, they are said to wield too much power in the Council of Ministers (see Changing EU voting rules would be undemocratic). At least as far as questions of European security are concerned, the parameters of debate seem to have been drawn by big countries notable for their more militaristic inclinations.

The public mood in smaller countries has traditionally perceived crisis situations in terms of mediation, economic aid and humanitarian concerns. Many citizens in the smaller countries are concerned about the new emphasis on rapid deployment forces and harmonisation of military spending and equipment. To their ears, it sounds more like a dangerous world-in-the-making than a preventive strategy. They would tend to agree with Professor Paul Rogers (Bradford University) who recently wrote: "Perhaps the real question for European security that arises from the Kosovo War is whether it should systematically embrace much greater commitment to conflict prevention, rather than concentrating so persistently on a military route to security." (The World Today, August/September 1999)

Illustration by Peter Till

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