What Kind of Alliance Is This, Anyway?

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This is not the NATO that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had in mind. Only weeks after being admitted to the alliance -- which was supposed to protect them from Russian hegemony -- the storied alliance has: 1) gotten itself into a no-win spitting match with a two-bit dictator; 2) thrown gasoline on Kosovo's humanitarian brushfire; and 3) thoroughly alienated the Russians in the process. "This has greatly reduced NATO's credibility because it started an intervention that it was never willing to finish with ground troops -- and announced as much," says TIME foreign correspondent William Dowell. "It makes any new member-state wonder whether it can count on the alliance to deal with threats effectively."

So far it's Greece and Italy, not the new members, that are complaining the loudest. But there's concern enough for all since NATO may have made Milosevic-style eruptions in Europe more likely. "It's opened the door for demagoguery because Milosevic has shown that demagoguery works," says Dowell. "He's got to be delighted at how this is working out." The Serb is more popular than ever at home, he's accomplished his goal of clearing out most of Kosovo, and when it's all over he'll likely have the best parts of the rebellious province to himself after his friend Mr. Primakov saves the day with a negotiated settlement. As far as carrots and sticks go, that's not exactly a recipe for a stable Europe.