At risk in the Balkans

By Richard Holbrooke and Jeane Kirkpatrick
Tuesday, June 12, 2001

This month's summit meeting of NATO leaders comes at a crucial time for the alliance. The common values NATO fought for in Bosnia and Kosovo are threatened by renewed ethnic violence. The impression exists that NATO is no longer fully committed to staying the course in the Balkans and making our joint investment in peace and self-sustaining stability work. In Bosnia, the Dayton Peace Accord is being challenged anew by the very forces that started the war. In Macedonia, the survival of the state is at stake. Action is essential, and time is short.

Failure to take firm action now threatens to reverse all that NATO action has gained; prolong the time that NATO troops must stay in the region; and cause political ramifications and human misery that could extend well beyond Balkan borders. We urge the leaders of the United States, Europe and Canada to take two steps:

First, NATO should make a firm public commitment to finish the job the United States and Europe began in the Balkans: maintaining a secure environment, holding war criminals accountable and helping the region's leaders build and sustain democratic institutions and protect human rights. NATO and all its members must leave no doubt that they will do what it takes to maintain peace in the Balkans. This is a task that we can well afford; it is clearly in our own national security interests.

Second, Macedonia is in real danger of destruction. Much stronger NATO action is required before violence there escalates further and overwhelms voices of moderation among ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. Macedonia's descent into civil war would call into question national borders across the Balkans, reward forces of violence across the region, threaten countries such as Bulgaria, and even create tensions within the alliance. This would endanger the prospects for bringing the Balkans into Europe, and ensure that Europe could not focus on anything but the Balkans.

Almost nine years ago, a preventive deployment of NATO and other troops helped keep Macedonia calm at a moment of great Balkan turmoil. Five years ago, NATO took the lead in bringing peace to Bosnia. And two years ago, NATO acted decisively in Kosovo. In all cases, NATO's involvement produced benefits for the cause of peace and stability. But the job is not finished. NATO needs to make it clear that it will stay the course in Bosnia and Kosovo, and that it will not allow Macedonia to be destroyed -- that it will do what is necessary now to establish a settlement and enforce it -- before conflict in Macedonia threatens not only peace in the Balkans but the transatlantic partnership.

Richard Holbrooke and Jeane Kirkpatrick served as U.S. permanent representatives to the United Nations in the Clinton and Reagan administrations, respectively.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company