by Giorgos Kapopoulos
(Kathimerini, January 10, 2001)
Transatlantic relations are without doubt at a difficult juncture. The imminent change of guard in the White House comes at a time when the euphoria of Clintons cordial understanding with the European centre-left had already given way to recriminations about European defence and NATO. It is certainly fair to ask, given Europes displeasure at campaign hints by Bushs associates regarding the possible withdrawal of American military forces from the former Yugoslavia, whether the depleted uranium affair could lead to a more general Euro-American conflict in the Balkans.
The fragile stability that has existed these past five years in Bosnia, and the even more fragile truce in Kosovo, with flare-ups on the fringes of the region controlled by NATO forces, are directly connected with the presence on the spot of European and American military forces. This joint presence not only prevents a new local conflagration but hastens the achievement of a common political approach among the NATO partners. The cost of disturbing the balance—an uncontrolled conflagration with unforeseen regional impact—is prohibitive, both for the US and for its European partners.
This being the case, it is clear that in the present situation both sides will have to keep their disagreements, divergences and discontents on a close rein in order to forestall an undesirable new Balkan complication. Europe cannot go too far with its belated disapproval of the use of depleted uranium shells, and America will have to renew its assurances that it will in no case withdrawn its forces from the former Yugoslavia without the assent of its European partners. The same applies to the redefinition of the transatlantic defence pact: the unfinished business in the Balkans with its inherent risk of real military involvement will act for the foreseeable future as a drag, preventing the outbreak of an open crisis.
This illustrates a constant of the post-Cold War era: on the one hand, the inadequacy of international interventional supervision that cannot provide a final solution to the unsolved problems arising out of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and, on the other, the persistence on the part of the USA, the EU and Russia in their determination, whatever the situation, to make the Balkans the theatre of their conflicts on other fronts. In contrast to the impressions created by European differences of opinion in the summer of 1991 and the transatlantic psychodrama played out through 19921994, the international intervention and supervision in the Balkans has the stamp of assent and co-operation. This is a basic parameter in the balance of forces in the post-Cold War era that has been gradually created over the period 1994-1995.
NATOs ultimatum on the withdrawal of Serbias heavy artillery from around Sarajevo resulted in the establishment of the Contact Group, the institutional ratification of Moscows participation in the international supervising effort. The mobilisation of Washington in the summer of 1998, with the marathon negotiations between Holbrook and Milosevic and the NATO bombardment of Serbian/Bosnian targets, allowed American land forces to be sent into Bosnia after the signing of the Dayton Agreements. This brought an end to the disproportion in the degree of involvement of the Americans and the Europeans, a fact that could not be confuted even by the spasmodic escalations of NATOs war on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999.
In sum, this proves that both the Americans and their European partners are now irreversibly committed to the search for a consent formula for dealing with the uproar over the use of depleted uranium ammunition. The fragile balance of international supervision in the Balkans precludes any attempt towards global solutions that would shape a new regional stability.