Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Impact of Kosovo on the Future of NATO and Its Members

Prof. Bronislaw Geremek
Foreign Minister of Poland


Fifty years ago, the signatories of the Washington Treaty pledged “to safeguard the freedom, common heritage, and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.” These values are as relevant today as they were in 1949. However, in 1949, these values had to be defended against a heavily armed totalitarian system led by a superpower. Today, they must be defended against policies of ethnic hatred and mass violations of human rights. If we are to enter the 21st century as a community based on democracy, pluralism, and human rights, we cannot in all conscience stand by and continue to watch events of the kind recently witnessed in the heart of Europe. Now, as in 1949, we must demonstrate that values are not only to be preached, but also to be upheld.


At the Washington Summit in April 1999, as we discussed the future of the Alliance, we reaffirmed our commitment to the core values on which the new Euro-Atlantic community must be built. We also reaffirmed our will to use all the means necessary to protect these values when they are threatened.

However, the new Euro-Atlantic community cannot be built by declarations of principle alone; instruments to deal with crises and instability are also required. Such instruments were approved by the NATO heads of state and government at the Washington Summit, the most notable of them being the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept. This document pinpoints the new kinds of threats the Alliance will have to confront in the coming century. We must consider these threats in terms of defense, and, where necessary, restructure the Alliance to make it capable of meeting our common challenges.

The fundamental purpose of the Alliance remains, of course, the defense of its members. But since new threats and challenges seem inescapable they call for immediate and effective action on our part, for a new resolve and new missions. It is becoming increasingly evident that in our complex world NATO can no longer limit its activities to traditional missions, but must find ways to respond to potential crises and, above all, enhance security and stability so that such risks do not arise in the first place.


Recently, in the middle of intensive debate concerning the New Strategic Concept on enlargement and cooperation with non-member countries, no one could have imagined that they were going to hear a voice calling hic Rhodus, hic salta! That voice came from the Balkans, which only a few years ago was the scene of violent hostilities, ethnic cleansing, and gross and systematic violations of human rights.

The conflict in Kosovo proved to be a graphic illustration of the complexities and interactions inherent in NATO’s enlargement, both geographical and functional. The out of area operation undertaken by the Alliance in response to the humanitarian disaster has had to be conducted with the heavy involvement of third parties—other states, international organizations, NGOs—all with their own agendas, and agendas that do not always facilitate the achievement of NATO goals.

The widespread ramifications and far-reaching implications of the Allied Force operation must still be analyzed and comprehended in a holistic manner. They should also be carefully re-examined by that part of the international community that is still reluctant to recognize the legitimate place of human rights as a cornerstone of peace and stability. Undoubtedly, the implications are going to affect the U.N. regime and influence the evolution of international law. I am strongly convinced that we should spare no effort to incorporate the lessons of Kosovo into the international system, and that the sooner that is done, the greater the prospects of a new world order in which the values of the United Nations are better protected and the aspirations of all peoples have a better chance of being realized.

The future of NATO, its unity and solidarity, has already been tested. It is a test that we have passed. Our Balkan policy and our response to the Kosovo crisis will require a critical review, but they have shown NATO’s effectiveness and strength when its members act in concert. Our handling of the peace talks and the air campaign, plus the lessons we are now learning regarding creating conditions in which refugees can return to their homes and regarding rebuilding stability in the region, will influence not only the future of NATO but also the future of the whole continent.


For the countries that just entered the Alliance, the Kosovo crisis was a practical test. The decision authorizing the NATO Secretary General to initiate Phase 2 of the Allied Force operation in Kosovo marked the beginning of a long and arduous process of deepening integration of the three new countries with the Alliance. Poland has had neither time nor any reason to act like a newcomer. In fact, we were unexpectedly given an opportunity to prove that we do indeed understand all the responsibilities, commitments, and obligations that are part of our membership in NATO. We were also able to demonstrate that Poland has brought to the Alliance both potential and experience, and that we are prepared to work hard to be a reliable and strong ally.

We have also learned some very practical lessons to guide us in our intensive efforts to integrate and work within NATO structures. For instance, we have learned that being a part of NATO involves much more than the military dimension: that civil-military relations are a crucial element of the organization’s efficiency; that the most must be made of any exercise in which we participate, especially in crisis management, to devise adequate procedures away from the pressures of real-life operations; and that we must speed up the adaptation of our armed forces. Finally, we have once again seen the need for close cooperation between government structures, political parties, public opinion, and the media.

These are lessons of relevance not only to Poland, but to all of us. And they have brought home the fact that we must foster strong Euro-Atlantic ties and assume responsibility for all of Europe.


The actions and projects we undertake today will affect future political and military relations in Europe. They will influence our cooperation with Russia, a country that must find its proper place in the European security system and should play an important and constructive role in the development of that system. Our actions will also shape relations with Ukraine, another strategic partner on our continent. In addition, the need is growing for NATO to engage in even more intensive cooperation with partners in other regions, such as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, not only to avoid new crises but also to encourage all members of the Euro-Atlantic community to build a framework of confidence, dialogue, and security strong enough to avert the possible risks and challenges.

Finally, Kosovo has highlighted a fundamental truth about building long-term security for Europe. We need a cooperative approach that must be grounded in two facts: first, that all the peoples of the continent have a stake in European security; and second, that security in the Euro-Atlantic area is indivisible.

Nothing could have demonstrated more starkly than Kosovo that the future of Southeastern Europe affects all of us. It has also shown that to create an environment in which our shared democratic values can flourish requires more than short-term action: we also need a comprehensive vision of the future of Southeastern Europe.


This Workshop has created an opportunity to reflect on Kosovo’s future now that the international community is beginning to implement a peace settlement. The Washington Summit also advanced this objective and launched work on a set of initiatives to enhance security in the context of Southeastern Europe in general. NATO’s Southeastern Europe Initiative sets out its and the international community’s longer-term commitment to the region. However, this is but one attempt to create lasting stability in the Balkans. It complements other efforts that address not only the current crisis, but also events beyond it. We need to help the people of the Balkans enjoy peace, freedom, and prosperity as part of a democratic community of nations moving closer to Euro-Atlantic structures.

The OSCE, which combines security concerns with the human dimension, should play a special role in our efforts to stabilize the province. The OSCE is very knowledgeable about the problems of the region, and also has experience cooperating with NATO.

Finally, the Southeastern Europe Stability Pact proposed by the European Union and signed on 10 June 1999 is an important initiative for helping the region get back on its feet. We have to remember, however, that the focus cannot only be on economic recovery and development; that is only the beginning of the international community’s investment in the longer-term stability of the region.  This investment must include a democratic Yugoslavia. The Milosevic regime has isolated and impoverished what used to be a great European country: its people deserve better. We want to see Yugoslavia return to the bosom of the international community. NATO’s mission in Kosovo had the people at its heart, and we acted to defend their basic rights—freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Even Serbs are beginning to say openly, “Milosevic must go!” Poland is with them, and so is NATO.


Any lasting solution in the Balkans will have to bring enduring stability to the area and reintegrate the people with the international community of nations from which they have been absent for too long. It is necessary to act now in order to help all citizens of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia to return to a normal, peaceful existence, to regain their dignity, and to find genuine reconciliation.

We can see that the crisis in Kosovo confronted us with an enormous challenge. NATO, together with the international community, must try to ensure that the evil policies of a regime like Milosevic’s are consigned to history. They have no place in today’s or any future world.


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