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218. NATO After the Kosovo Campaign and the KFOR Peacekeeping Operations: What Has Changed?

NATO was conceived and functioned during the Cold War as a collective defense organization. The centerpiece of the allied mission was to deter an attack and to prepare for the emergencies of Article 5 - defending the territory of the members-states against an attack by the Warsaw Pact. Although the ultimate test never came, it is fair to say that the alliance acquitted itself well in this area.

The end of the Cold War left NATO with an identity crisis of sorts: what was it, should it continue as an alliance, and if so to what purpose and under what circumstances. The answer to these questions came piecemeal, with parts provided in the course of debates in Washington and Brussels, and the rationale provided and tested on an ad hoc basis in the Balkans. Without revisiting the debate about whether the "old NATO" should have been left untouched, or if the "new NATO" in its present form has been an inevitable response to the changed geostrategic environment in Europe, I would argue that ten years into the Balkan crisis, the Alliance has transformed itself increasingly away from the Article 5 collective defense mission and moved into the area of cooperative security as the backbone of a larger European security architecture. This new mission has been embodied in the 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts and tested in the Kosovo war and the subsequent KFOR operation. After Kosovo, NATO has remained the core of the transatlantic security system, notwithstanding the attempts by the Europeans to develop complementary or alternative European structures. What remains uncertain are the long-term implications of the new mission for future emergencies and the apparent disconnect between the rhetoric and the means available for similar missions in the future.

This paper will cover three areas: the relevant aspects of the 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts; the significance of Kosovo as a combination peacemaking and peacekeeping operation (especially what the six-months "trial run" of the Eurocorps command in Kosovo seems to suggest); and the performance and the expectations of the three new members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the "new NATO."

The 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts

The most appropriate term for the mission of the "new NATO" would be "cooperative security." The members see themselves as the core of the Euro-Atlantic security structure emerging in the aftermath of the Cold War. It is in that context that NATO has accepted the imperative to "put an end to the immense human suffering created by conflict in the Balkans." (1) While the defensive role of NATO has been affirmed (Articles 5 and 6), Article 4 is now clearly at the center. This latter article provides for consultations on any issues that affect the members' security. Kosovo also puts Article 2 at the center (values/free institutions and elimination of conflict). Likewise, as a result of the informal security commitments to non-NATO Balkan states undertaken in the course of the Kosovo campaign, Article 10 is very much at the center of the discussion.

The 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts also reflect the view that in order to accomplish the new range of its missions, NATO "will rely increasingly on multinational forces, complementing national commitments to NATO for the Allies concerned." In the area directly pertinent to Kosovo, the 1999 Strategic Concept is clear in its endorsement of a multinational approach to peacekeeping. Hence, the Kosovo operation raises the question of the overall effectiveness of such operations.

Also, the 1999 Concept in particular emphasizes the new role of the PfP (Partnership for Peace). "For peace support operations, effective multinational formations and other arrangements involving Partners will be valuable. In order to fully exploit the potential offered by multinational formation, improving interoperability inter alia through sufficient training and exercises, is of the highest importance." This approach places a new emphasis on the Partnership for Peace not only as a means for preparing potential new candidates for membership, but also for tapping partner resources for peacekeeping operations.

The Kosovo Campaign and its Aftermath

The Kosovo war and the follow-up peacekeeping operations are the first post-Cold War fulfillment of the Article 4 mandate that combined both peacemaking and peacekeeping. I would argue that it went substantially beyond the original mandate of Article 4, but it is debatable whether is has established a new, broader mandate for action. It also raised the question about the nature of those operations: was Kosovo a peace operation, or in fact a theater war? If it is a case for the latter, would NATO be prepared to do "other Kosovos" in the future.

The Kosovo operation and the KFOR mission also raised an important question for the three 1999 entrants into NATO regarding the nature of the security guarantee they got. This was especially true for Poland and Hungary for whom Article 5 missions remain central. Paradoxically, the Kosovo deployment led to a situation where today there is a US forward presence in non-NATO countries, such as Macedonia and Albania, but no US forward deployment in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. For the three new entrants this raises the question of the credibility of Article 5. The Balkan states appear to enjoy a security guarantee without being NATO members, while the Central Europeans in NATO have to accept a watered down version of Article 5 (reinforcement). In this sense, the Kosovo operation raised the question of the value of NATO membership to new and aspiring members.

Kosovo had a clear impact on the internal allied dynamic. First and foremost, it has exposed the inadequacies of the European contribution to military operations. Kosovo produced some embarrassing statistics: though the European armies command approximately 2 million personnel, they could deploy only roughly two percent of that number for NATO's air war and the subsequent peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Three-quarters of the aircraft, four-fifths of the ordinance, and most of the intelligence were provided by the US.(2) In some estimates, an American contribution of the air power was as high as eighty percent.(3) While the Europeans spend on defense about sixty percent of the US total, their ability to project military force is only about 10-15 percent of America's military capability. Even more important was the US' political leadership, without which NATO would not have been able to move. In sum, the Kosovo campaign confirmed the growing gap within NATO between America and its European allies.

KFOR has been the first implementation of the peacemaking cum peacekeeping multinational approach to peacekeeping since the 1999 Strategic Concept. In addition to the 19 allies, KFOR includes PfP members and other nations. Notwithstanding the multinational approach, however, it is still first and foremost a NATO operation.

The KFOR peacekeeping operation is also the first real test for the argument that Europe must become a stronger partner to the US within NATO. KFOR has provided an important training opportunity for the emerging embryonic European army, but the results are mixed. In January 2000 NATO announced that it would transfer the day-to-day command of its Kosovo peacekeeping forces for six months, starting in April, to the Eurocorps drawn from five nations in the European Union.(4) In this sense, the peacekeeping operations in Kosovo had the potential of becoming a significant step forward in EU efforts to obtain a defense role within NATO, with an expectation that eventually this could become an autonomous European military capability. The record suggests, however, that the Eurocorps operation in Kosovo will not be a turning point in this regard. As the announcement of the KFOR command transfer was being made, its limitations were clearly visible. The Eurocorps would provide the headquarters and commanders, while the 44,000-strong peacekeeping force would remain under the authority of NATO's supreme commander. Furthermore, the Eurocorps would operate with NATO procedures, including the use of English as the working language. In practice, even the command staff would be drawn from the existing NATO team because the Eurocorps would be able to deploy only 350 officers for the Kosovo headquarters (roughly one-fourth of the NATO staff of 1,200). The five Eurocorps countries: France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg were promised officers from Britain and other countries to back up the Eurocorps staff and commander. I would argue that the decision was still largely symbolic in nature, as NATO remained firmly in control of the operations; however, it was an important indication of the psychological impact the Kosovo campaign had on the Europeans. In this regard, the Eurocorps assignment was a political victory of sorts for France, UK, and Germany, the principal advocates of a stronger European defense role.

Prospects for a European Capability after Kosovo

In light of its record in Kosovo, Europe's ability to have a 60,000-rapid reaction multinational, corps-level force for autonomous missions in Europe by 2003 (as decided at the December 1999 EU Helsinki summit) remains in question, notwithstanding the recent declaration that the EU is determined to create such a force.(5) Britain and France, two potential core contributors in the future, are expected to contribute between 10,000 and 20,000 troops each, but it is unlikely that their future contribution to a military operation would approach the maximum available pool. Germany must address the issue of conscription before it can make additional commitments of manpower. It is also unclear how NATO members who are not in the EU (such as currently Turkey as well as the Central Europeans) would be integrated in the new European force. The proposals to the non-EU NATO members currently considered would be an offer to join a political-military committee of contributors in any operations in which they would be involved (though the decision to go ahead would be up to the EU), and to give them a say on operations not in their area.(6) It's still unclear how this will play itself out.

The acceptance of English as the official language at corps headquarters and the command experience at KFOR are important steps but they do not constitute a revolution. As demonstrated by the Kosovo peacekeeping experience, the reliance on the Eurocorps as the backbone for the crisis reaction forces is hampered by its lack of mobility and resources. The lesson of both the Kosovo war and the peacekeeping operations is that if the Europeans want to translate declarations into reality, they must spend more money on defense. However, since the end of the Cold War, defense spending in Europe has fallen by about thirty percent relative to the GDP. If Europe is to meet the demands of NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative, it has to move up from the present average of two percent to three percent of GDP on defense. At the same time, however, France's defense spending in 1999 went down by twelve percent, Germany's went down to 1.5 percent of the GDP, and Italy's per capita defense spending stayed at two-thirds of Germany, half that of France and a third that of the UK. Only the British have maintained that they would hold defense spending at roughly 2.4 percent of the GDP by 2001/2.(7) How realistic then is the prospect of a 60,000 troop readiness by 2003 (if we consider rotation and support, I would argue we have to calculate about three times that number). It seems that the only reasonable approach here is for the Europeans to consider such a force for multinational training and police support, leaving to NATO the actual peacemaking tasks.

The 1999 Entrants

Among Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as contributors to future NATO operations, only Poland passed the political test of support for the Kosovo operation. Hungary showed itself at times hesitant, while the Czech political leadership was clearly lacking in expressing strong solidarity for the allied action. Considering the relative weakness of their militaries and continued constraints on their defense budgets, the Czech Republic and Hungary are unlikely to be meaningful contributors to NATO security projecting missions soon; Poland can become a contributor depending on the outcome of the current modernization program. In part, it is due to the fact that only Poland has been able to sustain defense spending levels at above 2.0 percent of GDP, and even this level of spending was questioned earlier this year when Warsaw mooted the 1.87 percent of GDP. Continued reductions in military personnel in all three are not in and of themselves a panacea, as the smaller size does not necessarily translate into a military better targeted to contribute to NATO operations. Worse yet, in the case of Hungary, the drop in numbers is likely to be accompanied by further reductions in the defense budget, while in the Polish case planned reductions to 150,000 will require a greater share of the defense budget committed to retirement costs. In the Czech case there is also the questionable acquisition of a Czech-made support aircraft.

The ambivalence about NATO membership displayed by the Czechs (and to some extent Hungarians) during the period leading up to their admission into NATO was indicative of the low priority assigned to national security affairs and the low prestige of their militaries. In the Czech case in particular, the majority of the public considered membership in the European Union their first priority. Polls taken in early April 1999 showed that in the Czech Republic support for NATO air strikes against Serbia stood at no more than thirty-five percent. Hungary also demonstrated a degree of ambivalence about the operation, in part on account of the country's geographical proximity to the area of the conflict and the issue of ethnic Magyars in Serbia. In Hungary, forty-five percent of the population expressed opposition to NATO strikes.(8) In contrast, Poland showed a sixty percent support for NATO strikes, but that was a drop from the overall levels of support for Poland's membership in NATO that stood at between 70-80 percent in 1998-99.

Their capacities to become meaningful contributors to NATO aside, the three new members have to look with considerable unease at the idea of a European defense capability. Should the prospects for an autonomous military capability within the EU become a reality by 2003, they would find themselves in a rather awkward position of being outside the European Union, as it is highly unlikely that they would be invited to join the EU sooner than 2005. The three (especially Poland) are among the most "Atlanticist" of the allies, but this could change if they are forced to choose, and the current trends in Europe seem to be pushing them in that direction. Should they be forced to choose between an American or a European orientation (see the reports of Jacques Chirac and Joschka Fischer lecturing Poland's Bronislaw Geremek on how to be a good European instead of aspiring to become a "fifty-first state"),(9) this would raise serious questions especially about the future of Polish-German reconciliation.


American leadership for the new security projecting NATO operations (both peacemaking and peacekeeping) has remained as important as ever in the aftermath of Kosovo. Although the Europeans have been focusing on the creation of an autonomous military capability, much of that capability is still a work in progress and the outcome is uncertain. Most of all, this is due to the gap in overall military spending - Europe spent approximately $150 billion collectively on defense in 1999; the US spent about $290 billion.(10) I doubt that institutional reforms will compensate for this basic disparity, unless the Europeans seriously rethink their mission.

Five Key Issues that Need to be Revisited

  • Future NATO Missions: The Kosovo campaign and the KFOR peacekeeping operations have raised the larger question of whether NATO is now prepared to intervene in defense of shared values elsewhere in the region, and if so, whether it is willing to provide the resources necessary for such contingencies.(11) There is a clear gap between allied rhetoric and the actual commitment to provide the requisite resources.
  • EU Security Identity: In light of Kosovo and considering the resource constraints, the Europeans should consider non-military dimensions, especially multinational policing. In the foreseeable future, Article 4 missions are likely to increasingly shift to non- military policing; today this is increasingly what military forces are doing in Kosovo and Bosnia (patrols and confiscations - this is clearly more police than military work). The Europeans should consider whether they should insist on acquiring military capabilities that are available in NATO, or if they should focus their resources on preparing for policing operations. I believe that realistically NATO ought to focus on the high-end of the military spectrum for conflict resolution and conflict prevention, while the EU should develop tactics necessary for the low-end of the spectrum.
  • Balkan Expectations (Article 10): While the victory of anti-Milosovic forces in Serbia has set aside for now the question of whether the alliance would need to intervene in Montenegro, the fundamental assumptions underlying the 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts and their execution in Kosovo need to be revisited. In the course of the Kosovo campaign, NATO has extended implicit security guarantees to a number of states in the Balkans, raising expectations that are going to figure prominently in the upcoming discussion of further NATO enlargement. Allied credibility will be affected by the way in which these expectations are handled. Relatedly, I believe that although it would be politically, extremely difficult to delay further enlargement at this point, the option should be given serious consideration. Enlargement should continue, but it should proceed only after there is greater clarity on the relationship between the EU and NATO in terms of their respective missions and capabilities as well as the conditions in the region.
  • What is the Area of the Euro-Atlantic Community After Kosovo: this area was left vague in the aftermath of the campaign (as the upcoming debate on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) suggests). We should revisit it, or else the process will become policy. How far does the area of NATO security obligations extend into Central and Eastern Europe? Specifically, what type NATO response would be appropriate to a crisis east of the Bug River?
  • What is the Nature of the Security Guarantee Today (Article 5): this is in particular an issue for the 1999 entrants and has to be revisited if indeed in 2002 NATO declares that it intends to proceed with enlargement.


(1) The Alliance's Strategic Concept, (Brussels, Press Release NAC-S (99) 65, 24 April, 1999).
(2) Holger Jensen, "European Military Alliance Surrenders to Logistics, Logic," Denver Rocky Mountains News, May 18, 2000.
(3) Ed Foster, "Imbalance of Power," NATO's European Defence, 33(1), January 5, 2000.
(4) "Eurocorps to Command Peacekeepers in Kosovo: Force's 6-Month Tour of Duty Begins in October," International Herald Tribune, January 29, 2000.
(5) "Europe's new security and defense identity is about to take shape," The Economist, February 26, 2000.
(6) "EU Offers Turkey a Say in Proposed New Force," The Financial Times, November 14, 2000.
(7) Ed Foster, "Imbalance of Power."
(8) "NATO's Newcomers Are Shaken by Airstrikes: Czechs, Hungarians Express Greatest Dismay," The Washington Post, April 12, 1999.
(9) Lawrence F. Kaplan, "France 1, America O. Surrender," The New Republic, November 20, 2000.
(10) Ed Foster, "Imbalance of Power."
(11) On the issue of NATO credibility after Kosovo, see Sean Kay, "After Kosovo: NATO's Credibility Dilemma," Security Dialogue, 31(1), March 2000.

Dr. Michta spoke together with Sabrina Ramet, Aleksa Djilas and Steven Burg at a November 17, 2000 Colloquium entitled "Five Years of Peacekeeping in the Balkans: What Have We Achieved?" The above is a summary of his presentation. Meeting Report #218.


About the Author

Andrew Michta

Former Public Policy Scholar;
Mertie Willigar Buckman Professor of International Studies, Rhodes College
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Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program is focused on Europe’s capabilities, and how it engages on critical global issues.  We investigate European approaches to critical global issues. We examine Europe’s relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. Our initiatives include “Ukraine in Europe” – an examination of what it will take to make Ukraine’s European future a reality.  But we also examine the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE, Europe’s energy security, transatlantic trade disputes, and challenges to democracy. The Global Europe Program’s staff, scholars-in-residence, and Global Fellows participate in seminars, policy study groups, and international conferences to provide analytical recommendations to policy makers and the media.  Read more