Andrew J. Loomis, Ph. D. Visiting Scholar Institute for Global and International Studies November 13, 2008 The Kosovo Crisis, the Rise of Europe, and nato’s New Role

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Andrew J. Loomis, Ph.D.

Visiting Scholar

Institute for Global and International Studies

November 13, 2008
The Kosovo Crisis, the Rise of Europe, and NATO’s New Role
The spectacle of diminished U.S. authority over the 2003 Iraq invasion—in particular with respect to traditional West European allies—is the most prominent contemporary case of a failed diplomatic strategy. A multitude of explanations compete in the literature to explain the U.S. difficulty in garnering the support of the largest and most capable European states. Yet the most commonly cited explanation—dubious legitimacy of U.S. policy from the perspective of European policymakers—has not been subjected to rigorous methodological tools available to social scientists. This article aims to rectify this deficiency in the literature. To do so, which requires operationalizing the concept of legitimacy and testing its effects on U.S. leadership capacity, this study focuses on an earlier case of U.S. diplomacy.

In the spring of 1999 the United States led NATO airstrikes in Kosovo to end a growing humanitarian crisis. In contrast to 2003, President Clinton had considerable success in generating sufficient military and political support of the NATO member states. What is often forgotten, however, is that this support was slow to develop and ultimately was uneven across western European allies. This slow development of support that ultimately merged into consensus by the time the war was launched in March 1999 demands an explanation. Does a material explanation—strong states resist U.S. entreaties and weak states submit—provide a complete story of who sided with the United States in the respective wars? Lastly, does the explanation shed insight into the U.S. authority deficit vis-à-vis the same states leading up to the Iraq War in 2003? The explanation sheds insights into the history of the Kosovo war, but also has implications for U.S. diplomacy in the Iraq War as well as for future diplomacy of the incoming Obama Administration.

The results of this study suggest that while economic and military dependence are factors that shape the European states’ responses to the United States prior to the application of the use of force, the story is more complicated than this material explanation suggests. The central argument advanced here is that U.S. authority is enhanced when U.S. policy is consistent with normative standards of legitimacy. In sum, the explanation for European consent to U.S. requests in the use-of-force context is incomplete unless the perceived legitimacy of U.S. policy is considered.
The 1990s in Southeast Europe provided a display of the worst aspects of ethnic politics. While responsibility for the violence cannot be singly placed, the Serb leadership—with Slobodan Milošević as president of Yugoslavia—launched and effectively lost wars against Slovenia, Croatia, and the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Demagogues on all sides engineered ethnic hostilities for political profit.1

A key issue that was not addressed in the Dayton Peace Accords ending the war in Bosnia was the persistent problem of Kosovo. In the semi-autonomous province in Southern Yugoslavia, an Albanian population representing roughly 90 percent of the public by the late 1990s had no effective representation in seats of power. Polemical counterclaims over competing ancestral histories and territorial affiliation were fiercely levied by the Serbian and Albanian populations. Kosovo was contested land, a flash point for largely dormant Serb and Albanian animosities.

In 1989 the Serbian Assembly under the direction of Milošević effectively stripped Kosovo of its autonomous status and initiated the increase in repression and violent reaction. In the summer of 1998, what had originated as vigorous but pacifistic expressions of Albanian discontent began to turn violent. In March 1998 a total of only a few hundred Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army insurgents had assembled to seek redress for their claims. By July, incited by claims of Serb oppression, the number of KLA soldiers had grown to several thousand.2 Humanitarian conditions continued to worsen, particularly for the Kosovar Albanians.

The diplomatic path from the summer of 1998 to the launch of NATO air strikes in March 1999 was intense, both between NATO members and the Yugoslav government, and within NATO itself. Despite concessions by Milošević in a series of high level diplomatic efforts in the fall and early spring, nearly 80,000 Albanians were forced by Serb forces to flee their homes between the end of December and mid-March 1999.3 Yet NATO states remained divided of how best to respond to the deteriorating conditions on the ground.

On January 15, 1999, in an incident widely perceived to trigger the consolidation of Western resolve, Serbian paramilitary forces attacked the village of Račak, in southern Kosovo, killing 45 civilians in particularly gruesome fashion. A large number of the victims had been shot at point-blank range. Investigating the scene, Ambassador William Walker, the U.S. head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, deplored what he called a massacre, “an unspeakable atrocity” and “a crime very much against humanity.”4

The freshness of this recent tragedy enabled efforts of Washington to have success in its vigorous negotiations with NATO allies to back diplomacy with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) with the threat of force. On January 30, NATO’s North Atlantic Council issued a statement declaring that the conflict in Kosovo had become a “threat to international peace and security.” If immediate steps were not taken by the FRY government, “NATO is ready to take whatever measures are necessary… by compelling compliance with the demands of the international community and the achievement of a political settlement. The Council has therefore agreed today that the NATO Secretary General may authorize air strikes against targets on FRY territory.”5

Backed by the threat of force, Western leaders called Serbs and Albanians to the town of Rambouillet outside of Paris. Simultaneously, Western officials began constructing a peacekeeping force to implement a ceasefire, the expected fruits of the Rambouillet talks. Russia was invited to play an organizing role in the negotiations as well as any post-agreement force, which allayed Russian concerns for the moment. The talks opened February 6 and ended February 23 with a tentative agreement for the Serbian and Albanian delegations to reconvene March 15 in Paris for a final signing ceremony. The delegations requested the delay by to give time for them to consult their respective constituencies. Yet when talks restarted on March 15, the Serbian delegation refused to sign the agreement. The conveners dismissed the delegations on March 18. It was the final attempt at multilateral negotiations before the launch of air strikes six days later.

On March 24, 1999, NATO launched “Operation Allied Force.” While a combination of interests conspired to encourage Western leaders to respond with military force, the interest in arresting the further decay of humanitarian conditions in Kosovo focused the minds of policymakers, galvanized public support, and brought western allies into concert over the necessity of responding.

Despite the urgency on the ground, NATO states remained divided over how best to end the violence. United States officials began in March 1998 to advocate for threatening military force to end the humanitarian disaster that was unfolding. Most European states resisted this call for many months, only beginning to converge on a common view in the fall. In this way, the extent of U.S. authority vis-à-vis European states was remarkably uneven, considering the level of U.S. power and the direct security implications, given that the conflict was on European soil. Splits within the alliance continued after the war began. As Charles Kupchan has commented, “Although NATO officials did a good job of maintaining a facade of unity there was behind the scenes a great deal of European criticism of America's strategy for prosecuting the war.”6

What were the reasons for these divisions in the alliance? United States indecision undoubtedly contributed to the schisms in the alliance. “Despite the façade of unity within NATO, America’s deep ambivalence about the war did not go unnoticed in Europe.”7 It is undeniable that it took some time for U.S. policy to congeal.

When the interagency process finally settled on a coercive strategy, coupled with active diplomacy, the United States appealed to its NATO allies to agree to authorize the stick that was designed to make the carrot more enticing. In this display of U.S. authority, the United States experienced varying levels of success. This article explains why.
The Argument

This article tests competing claims of the factors that enhanced U.S. authority vis-à-vis its European allies. During the 1998-1999 Kosovo Crisis, U.S. authority will be evaluated in terms of the United States’ ability to persuade its allies within Europe to adopt a set of policy prescriptions consistent with U.S. preferences.

The explanation for the high level of authority the United States experienced is that the legitimacy norms associated with liberal internationalism bound the United States to Europe, and that the consistency of the character of U.S. policy in Kosovo with those norms influenced European states to consent to U.S. requests leading up to the war. In short, the European public’s and elite policymakers’ perception of the legitimacy of the U.S.-led intervention in Kosovo enhanced U.S. authority.

A structural-material explanation rejects the focus on norms and ideational influences and suggests that the asymmetrical character of the U.S.-European alliance is the determining factor in U.S. influence levels within NATO. This explanation suggests that the differential in power assets should have generated early acceptance of the U.S.-preferred approach in Kosovo, given the material dependence on the United States for military and other economic aid. Once the decision was made to intervene and operations commenced, the material imbalance should have generated high levels of free-riding by European states, due to the expectation that the United States would support the mission irrespective of European support. The Clinton Administration had publicly committed itself to a resolution of the humanitarian crisis, which raised the prospects that European states could be assured that the United States would carry through on this commitment irrespective of whether substantive contributions were forthcoming from Europe states.

The case of Kosovo is an interesting case in the sense that the legitimacy norm in question is not directly tied to a legal norm, as it was in the 1991 Gulf War or the 2003 Iraq War. In both cases, a UN Security Council Resolution served as fulcrum for European states’ stated support for or opposition to U.S.-led policy. Distinct from these two cases, the Kosovo case provides evidence that legal legitimacy is not required for consent to U.S. authority. In age of human rights and “new wars” of humanitarian intervention, normative legitimacy with respect to the use of force extends beyond the confines of legal doctrine.8 In this era in which the protection of human rights increasingly is considered to be an international responsibility, I am testing the extent to which the United States’ advocacy of this norm was a determinant of European public support, and European states’ willingness to consent to U.S. preferences.

This decision to focus on norms that extend beyond positive law retains the focus of this dissertation on legitimacy norms. This decision, however, is less ad hoc than it might first appear. The core argument is that legitimacy standards—which include but are not confined to legal rules—serve as a guideline for public approval. Their normative character provides ballast against erratic swings in public opinion. Legitimacy norms are not whatever the public believes at any given moment, but must include this normative character for it to have the effect on policymakers predicted here. In the same vein, legitimacy norms still provide some rigidity in determining the appropriateness of foreign policy behavior, while less rigid rigidity that provided by legal rules. As Richard Falk has written, “The positive role played by legitimacy is to impart a measure of flexibility with respect to the application of legal constraints on the use of international force in two, and only two, sets of circumstances: conditions of humanitarian necessity (Kosovo; Darfur, Sudan) and circumstances of defensive necessity (1967 War in the Middle East; Afghanistan War of 2002).”9

In sum, competing norms of legitimacy clashed in the Kosovo war, and ultimately the consideration of eroding humanitarian conditions was more powerful than fidelity to legal text (such as an authorizing vote by the UN Security Council) in determining the legitimacy of the intervention. As a result, this article adds a dimension to the argument that legitimacy enhances the prospect of consent by secondary states by stretching the legitimacy concept beyond legal legitimacy to include broader conceptions of normative legitimacy.
If this explanation is correct, as humanitarian conditioned worsened, ceteris paribus, the U.S. appeal to humanitarian norms should have had increased salience with Europeans as they debated the legitimate form of intervention. American officials should have relied on humanitarian concerns in their appeal for European support for a robust intervention, European elites should have increasingly invoked human rights norms as a justification for intervention, and evidence of a deepening humanitarian crisis should have been a tipping point for the European public and elites, overcoming Europeans’ concerns for the lack of legal authorization by the UN Security Council, and triggering broad European states’ support for the use of force against Serb forces in Kosovo.

In short, the degree with which the European public perceived U.S. policy to be consistent with normative standards of legitimacy defining the permissible use of force and shared between the United States and Europe influenced the extent to which Europe states consented to U.S. authority. In the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, the ideological climate encouraged the further development of the constitutional order and increased the salience of the norms restricting the erratic or unilateral application of military force. In 1999, it was evident that the emergence of human rights concerns became a key feature on the public’s perception of the elements that contribute to a stable and humane geopolitical order, an ideological development that surpassed the narrower dictates of treaty law.


At the time NATO was contemplating intervention in Kosovo, the ideological climate played a critical role in shaping the European public’s perception of their continent as an emerging force in geopolitics, the character of U.S. policy, and the necessity of responding to deteriorating conditions on the ground in Kosovo. Each of these perspectives influenced the public’s willingness to support their respective governments’ responsibilities as a NATO member—and to respond to U.S. leadership within NATO—to contribute substantively to a response to the unfolding crisis. The confluence of four ideological cross-currents generated a dynamic that shaped the nature of the diplomatic experience leading up to the intervention.

Europe Rising

By 1998, Europe’s consolidation had made important strides in both form and function from its origins as the 6-member European Coal and Steel Community founded in 1951. In 1993, the European Union came into force, and by 1995 Austria, Finland, and Sweden had joined the 12 members that had constituted the European Community until Maastricht. Driving the integration project was European elected elites’ interest in the pacifying effects of political union. Policymakers were not captive to a set of post-modernist or utopian fantasies, as alleged by some observers—they identified integration and consolidation as a principal means of preserving order.10

By 1998, the European public was broadly supportive of the promise of political union in the form of the European Union. According to the fall 1998 Eurobarometer poll, 54 percent of EU members believed that their country’s membership to the European Union was a good thing, compared to 12 percent who believed it was a bad thing. Public preference for joint EU decision-making on foreign policy issues over national decision-making was a gaping 71 percent to 21 percent.11

This growing acceptance was due in part to the socialization effects that were underway, and accompanying this changing belief structure among the public was the possibility of policy changes at the national level. Ole Waever observes, “By changing notions of ‘self,’ the European project has changed old notions of ‘self-interest’ and, consequently, the behavior of individual states.”12

Although different narratives supporting union functioned across the 15 EU states, they pushed in a common direction favoring integration. This meta-narrative for European states suggested that integration was a means of escaping the past.13 Waever writes, “Since the end of World War II, the idea of Europe has to a large extent been cast as a revolt against Europe’s bloody history.”14

As the pace and extent of integration, the consolidation of national capabilities, and the capacity at the core all intensified, Europeans had an expanding sense of what Europe could accomplish on its own. It is a logical outcome if increased capacity that, as Charles Kupchan argues, “As Europe's wealth, military capacity, and collective character increase, so will its appetite for greater international influence.”15 In an emblematic statement of Europe’s new role, French President Jacques Chirac declared in 1999, “The European Union itself [must] become a major pole of international equilibrium, endowing itself with the instruments of a true power.”16

Seeds of Intra-Alliance Tension

Increased notions of a newly capable Europe, generated mainly by a strengthening of the institutions of the European Union, are not necessarily compatible with sustained viability of U.S.-European relations. In fact, in the predictable consequence of the increased capacity of Europe, the same forces that contributed to a rising Europe through the 1990s undermined the strength of transatlantic ties, revealed as fissures within NATO. On the Americans’ side, for example, there was an abiding concern that European cohesion within NATO—such as the requirement of European consensus on NATO operations—would compromise the functional efficiency of the alliance. As one U.S. official decried, “There can be no question of an ‘EU Caucus’ inside NATO.”17

The conventional structural account of fraying U.S.-Europe relations in the 1990s is familiar: an erosion of external threat and the transition from a bi-polar to multi-polar system generates instability, mistrust, and insecurity under anarchy. This dynamic potentially creates cleavages between U.S. and European states’ national interests and undermines intra-alliance cohesion.18

While structural forces were affecting U.S.-Europe ties, domestic political factors also contributed to the skepticism over the long-term health of ally relations. Generational changes served to challenge the notion of an essential tie between the United States and Europe. As Kupchan argues, “The younger generations who lived through neither the war nor Europe’s rebuilding have no past from which they seek escape.”19 Furthermore, a new wave of European thinking at both the elite and popular levels was expected to assert that Europe needed to radically adjust its traditional levels of defense spending in order to increase European capacity and reduce the level of security dependence on the United States.20

In addition, as Europe grew more capable, the European public understandably sought liberation from the shadow of U.S. influence. In 1991, polls suggest that Europeans relied more heavily on the United States in security measures than later in the decade. In assessing the capabilities of various institutions to address the Gulf Crisis, 74 percent of EC members believed that the United States was capable of resolving the crisis, compared to 69 percent who believed the European Community could succeed.21 By 1998, 75 percent of Europeans supported a common defense and security policy forged through EU institutions, up from 70 percent of EC members at the onset of the Gulf War. The trend revealed a modest but significant increase in interest for some separation from the United States in conjunction with the growth in European capacity.22
Yet while the structural and domestic political conditions were in place in 1998 for mutual skepticism about the others’ intentions, U.S.-Europe tensions in fact had not risen to acute levels. A principal cause is that shared ideational bonds that reinforced U.S.-Europe ties were slow to come undone. On the European side, and central to the argument above, ideas in the form of legitimacy standards at the popular level served to reinforce U.S. authority as long as the United States operated in accordance with shared norms.

In 1991, the normative legitimacy standards that served as the justification for the Gulf War were broadly shared and pushing in the same direction—the prohibition of territorial aggrandizement and the requirement that the UN Security Council authorize the use of force. In 2003, the legitimacy standards between Europe and the United States diverged as Europeans broadly distrusted U.S. motives in the Iraq War, as well as the procedures it exercised in attempting to build support —bypassing the Security Council and traditional alliance structures in favor of an ad hoc “coalition of the willing”.

In 1998, however, contributing to the muted level of transatlantic tensions despite forces generating discord, U.S. aberrance from long-standing norms was rare, and U.S. investment in institutional arrangements remained strong. While European anxieties of U.S. domination of Europe may have been growing, fear of U.S. abandonment was stronger.

For this reason, while the seeds of discord were sown within the alliance by structural and domestic political factors, Europeans’ perceptions of U.S. foreign policy as excessively unilateral and dismissive of traditional normative standards and institutions were not yet borne out. Working against the structural factors described above, continued colinearity of perceptions of legitimacy standards between the American and Europeans contributed to the sustained nature of U.S. authority on the eve of the last chapter of the wars of Yugoslavia.23

Europe’s Near History in Southeast Europe

The early experiences of the European Union in defense matters were sobering for proponents of Europe’s rise, reflecting a disturbing gap between anticipated and actual European capabilities. Given the broad Europe-wide anticipation of a newly constituted Europe exerting itself in world affairs, Europe’s failed efforts to resolve the earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia relates directly to the ideological climate that existed during the lead up to war against Serb forces in Kosovo.

The war in Yugoslavia first broke out in Slovenia on June 27, 1991, two days after a near-unanimous vote in parliament declared Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav National Army (which was eventually purged of nearly all non-Serb officers), under the direction of President Slobodan Milošević, made a show of force in Slovenia, but withdrew forces after three weeks of hostilities. Violence ended when Presidents Milošević and Milan Kucan of Slovenia agreed to a peaceful secession of Slovenia from Yugoslavia.

As violence first erupted in Slovenia, the troika of past, current, and future presidents of the European Union was sent to mediate. Jacques Poos, Luxembourg’s foreign minister and EU president, led the delegation. In a display of self-confidence that corresponded with the rise of Europe, Poos said, “If one problem can be solved by the Europeans, it is the Yugoslav problem. This is a European country, and it is not up to the Americans. It is not up to anybody else.”24

Yet in the course of the next four years, despite Europe’s Herculean efforts to negotiate an end to the war, European diplomacy failed to stop the bloodshed. A host of European diplomats streamed into the region—Carl Bildt, Lord David Owen, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Robert Badinter, and Lord Peter Carrington were among the prominent Europeans who had a hand in crafting a peace plan, each of which would eventually collapse. Journalists began to call negations that began in September 1992 a “peace marathon”—talks that lasted into 1995.25

At the United Nations, while outgoing Secretary General Secretary Javier Perez de Cuellar dispatched former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to the region in late 1991 to broker an agreement to remove Serb forces from Croatia, incoming Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, reportedly intent on focusing the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts on Africa, was less committed to solving the Balkans problem. “Yugoslavia is a European problem,” he said. “Let the Europeans deal with it.”26

Meanwhile, U.S. policy was distracted and detached. Early in the trajectory of the Bosnian war, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney declared on CNN, “It’s tragic, but the Balkans have been a hotbed of conflict… for centuries.”27 President Bush cast the war as the result of “age-old animosities… century-old feuds.” Undersecretary of State Larry Eagleburger, a former ambassador of Yugoslavia, expressed both exasperation and evasion. “The tragedy is not something that can be settled from outside and it’s about damn well time that everybody understood that... there is nothing the outside world can do about it.”28

In May 1993, after the change in U.S. administrations, U.S. policy began to shift. President Clinton sent Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Europe to pitch a new policy coined “lift and strike”, which combined dismantling the arms embargo with conducting air strikes against Serb assets. Europeans were resistant to the policy and lift and strike was abandoned. By the time the United States became directly involved in 1994, the term “ethnic cleansing” describing events on the ground in Bosnia had already entered the public lexicon.

On August 28, a Bosnian Serb shell was dropped on a Sarajevo marketplace, killing several dozen people. It was not the most egregious of criminal events, but it came at a time that international attention and Western resolve had begun to converge. All the forces of intervention were pushing in the same direction—increased public attention, congressional pressure, ally support, as well as a successful Croatian offensive against Serb forces in eastern Croatia. The Clinton Administration took advantage of this window of opportunity and took the initiative to finally end the violence in Bosnia. NATO air strikes commenced on August 30, targeting Bosnian Serb targets near Sarajevo. Combining the air strikes with invigorated diplomatic efforts proved to be the right combination to end the war.

On November 21, 1995, after 20 days of negotiations at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, the presidents of Croatia, Yugoslavia, and Bosnia signed the peace accord ending the war in Bosnia. Yet of all the delicate issues resolved in the peace talks, the issue of the status of Kosovo remained unsettled. It would be an issue that would find the full expression of President Clinton’s maturing resolve to use military force to save foreign lives.

This brief history of the wars in Yugoslavia that preceded Kosovo reveals a certain European impotence in negotiating an end to the war as well as the efficacy of U.S.-backed use of force. As Europe increased capacity through the project of integration and its resultant institutions, its ambitions outpaced its capabilities in solving intractable wars such as that in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995. This display of a lack of capacity to deal with these crises assuredly was on the minds of policymakers as well as the public, as solutions were sought to increasing violence that erupted in Kosovo in 1998. Expressions like those of Poos were less on display in 1998 and less effort was made to differentiate European from American policies.

Europeans were not interested in 1998 in a prolonged series of failed negotiations that deepened the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo and further revealed Europe’s inability to solve critical security challenges—especially those in their own backyard. Americans weren’t interested in wasted time and effort, either. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke distinguished between the diplomatic experiences of 1991-95 and 1998-99, saying, “It took us four years to put together anything effective in Bosnia and four months in Kosovo. That is progress.”29

Evolution of Humanitarian Intervention

In conjunction with the European public’s sensitivity to European institutional impotence in ending the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, historical progress in international human rights concerns also infiltrated the public mind, which affected the degree to which they welcomed U.S. leadership in arresting the deterioration of conditions in Kosovo. By 1998, 79 percent of the EU public believed that guaranteeing human rights and democratic principles should be a priority for EU actions. Furthermore, 94 percent believed that a country’s respect for human rights and democratic principles was an important criterion for admitting new members to the European Union.30

Having expanded dramatically over the past 60 years, the human rights concept inserted itself in new ways into national policymaking and revealed itself in the explosion in the number of key international fora concentrating on human rights concerns.31 At its core, however, the force behind this development in human rights concerns was a citizens’ movement. Amnesty International first convened in 1961 and quickly became a powerful advocate for human rights protections of vulnerable populations. Human Rights Watch was launched in 1978, aimed at monitoring the compliance of Eastern European countries with the provisions of the Helsinki Accords. Non-governmental organizations and other citizens’ groups increasingly exerted their role in ensuring that international organizations and member states took seriously the responsibility to safeguard human rights.

On the international scene, tragic events of occupation and oppression helped provoke the public consciousness on human welfare. After the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975, between two and three million people were killed. During his dictatorial rule of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, Idi Amin saw as many as half a million of his countrymen murdered. Vietnamese refugees fleeing the country by boat, abuses by dictators in the United States’ own hemisphere, throughout Central and South America, and images of segregated South Africa all generated international attention.

These developments were not restricted to Europe. The U.S. Congress, reflecting constituent sentiment, began to seriously tackle the question of human rights in the 1970s. Congress first established a human rights bureau in the State Department designed to report on human rights abuses abroad. President Carter embraced the function of human rights reporting within his administration. The Reagan Administration, publicly skeptical of the Carter’s supposed preoccupation with human rights, quietly adopted rights language in supporting democratic freedoms in such places as Central America, Haiti, the Philippines, and South Africa. Slowly, as a growing consciousness of rights and freedoms took root, the cost incurred by governments of ignoring violations of human rights escalated.

Yet what Stanley Hoffmann calls a “triple evolution of the idea of human rights”—elementary civil and political freedoms, minority rights, and access to democratic governance—presses intensely against the norm of non-intervention.32 National sovereignty and prohibition of aggressive war were the core principles that the Founders of the nascent UN system advanced to reinforce the emerging order. As the global consciousness on human rights concerns matured, however, the public pressure on governments to respond posed a challenge to the legal norm of the inviolability of national borders. As Richard Falk writes, “The espousal of international human rights and democracy as major global agenda items meant that the idea of territorial sovereignty, so central to Westphalian notions of statecraft and written into the UN Charter, (was) being significantly eroded.”33 In the 1990s, this tension between the non-intervention norm and liberal norms of democracy and human rights began to come into focus, a tension that Falk has identified as “the essential normative challenge for the future: genocidal behavior cannot be shielded by claims of sovereignty, but neither can these claims be overridden by unauthorized uses of force delivered in an excessive and inappropriate manner.”34

It is in this context of a maturation of the human rights consciousness in Europe that the Balkans tragedy of the 1990s moved from Bosnia to Kosovo. The rule of law—which included the impermeability of national boundaries and the primacy of the UN Security Council in authorizing the use of force—continued to feature prominently in Europe’s pantheon of contributors to international peace and stability. Yet the success of norm entrepreneurs in advancing human rights concerns led to substantial progress in the emerging consensus that military intervention to save lives was legitimate.35 As Tony Judt observed, “What Milošević quite failed to grasp was the transformative impact of the Bosnian catastrophe upon international opinion. Human rights—ethnic cleansing in particular—were now high on everyone’s agenda, if only out of a gnawing collective guilt at the world’s previous failure to act in time.”36 The Srebrenica tragedy of July 1995 was particularly haunting, where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were executed by Serb militia after the so-called UN “safe haven” controlled by Dutch blue helmets effectively collapsed. In short, in determining the legitimacy of the NATO operation in Kosovo, the legal norm requiring UN authorization gave way to the moral norm favoring the protection of human lives.
Uncorked nationalism that spawned a wave of humanitarian disasters in the 1990s intensified the human rights concerns in Europe. Coupled with an embarrassing record of ending violence in Bosnia previously in the decade and a deep interest in projecting European competency, these factors helped facilitate European acceptance that a U.S.-led NATO humanitarian intervention was not only permissible, but desperately needed.

This ideological climate in which a constellation of legitimacy standards were operating had a deep impact on the negotiation phase leading up to Kosovo between NATO members. A disconnect between the aspirations of a capable Europe and its record in the Bosnian context generated a paradox for Europeans. The public aspired to a greater role for a unified and assertive Europe in world politics, but was fearful of limited results. An increasingly capable Europe also sowed the seeds of transatlantic tensions that revealed themselves in negotiations over strategy and tactics throughout the Kosovo war. Lastly, a deepening of human rights concerns and the embrace of global governance mechanisms led to European preferences for a robust response through a multilateral forum.

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