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Does anybody remember that besides trying to prevent massacre and
ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, one of the stated purposes of NATO
intervention into the budding conflict there was to prevent the threat
of a wider war? It’s fairly widely acknowledged by now that far from
preventing massacre and ethnic cleansing the NATO air strikes almost
certainly accelerated the bloody process, although few NATO officials
yet acknowledge even a hint of responsibility, though they were warned
by intelligence agencies that it would probably happen. Did NATO at
least prevent a wider war? Not exactly.

The original rationale for intervention included the contention that
simply allowing the direct participants in the ongoing civil war in
Kosovo could lead not only to a large-scale humanitarian problem, with
refugees flowing out of Kosovo and putting a strain on social-welfare
systems in Western Europe, it could lead to a wider war. A
Serbian-Albanian conflict in Kosovo could have spilled over into
Macedonia, which has an unstable government and a large Albanian
minority.

Conflict in Macedonia, combined with religious and other ties of the
direct combatants, could bring Greece and eventually perhaps Turkey into
a wider war. The only way to prevent such widening of the conflict was
said to be prompt intervention, beginning with bombing, by the wise
diplomats of NATO, who would find ways to contain and eventually end the
conflict.

They’ve certainly done a fine job of that, haven’t they? The refugee
problem has been accelerated and the conflict has already begun to spill
into Macedonia. Let’s be charitable and put that
down to unintended and unforeseeable consequences (even though it’s a
dubious proposition).

Can the stubborn and often angry involvement of Russia in
deliberations over the Balkans, even to “shuttle diplomacy” by former
Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, be viewed as anything but a
predictable widening of the war that has occurred precisely because NATO
decided to launch bombs? The possible consequences of this awakening and
determination to re-climb the slippery “great power” ladder on the
part of almost all political factions in Russia are
chilling.

Russia is still something of an economic disaster zone (although
there’s more wealth in the black market or informal sector than anybody
knows). Before the NATO bombing it was politically divided and unstable
as well. Since the bombing, however, almost every faction in Russia,
from the xenophobic right-wing nationalists to the still-powerful
remnants of the Communist Party and everything in between, is more
hostile to NATO, the United States and the West in general — and more
determined to restore “dignity” and great power status (and perhaps a
few more Soviet-era satrapies) — than ever before.

Russia has also concluded a new working relationship that amounts to
a de facto alliance with China. That was already in the works before the
NATO bombing campaign and probably would have happened eventually
anyway. But the NATO bombing campaign likely accelerated the moves. If
Russia were merely an economic basket-case, this might not be a huge
concern, although going out of one’s way to create more hostile enemies
even among the despised of the world doesn’t strike me as the ne plus
ultra
of enlightened diplomacy. But as numerous observers have
noted, despite the destruction of a few nuclear weapons Russia still has
a huge nuclear arsenal. We don’t need to send such a country foreign aid
or loans from the International Monetary Fund (which probably do
economic prospects for ordinary Russians more harm than
good anyway). But purposely taunting such a country is hardly a good
strategy for long-term peace and stability.

Among other wider implications of the NATO bombing campaign are the
conclusions rogue regimes and terrorists might draw — a point stressed,
to be sure, by advocates of intervention. But if despots in Iraq, Iran,
North Korea and elsewhere see a bombing campaign that doesn’t throw
Milosevic out of power but simply harms the people he is already
oppressing — and in fact unites the country around his dubious
leadership — might they not be emboldened rather than frightened? If
ground troops are brought in and have rough going, might they re-learn
the ancient lesson that invaders usually have a rougher time of it than
defenders of a homeland?

Then there are the consequences of drawing down American military
power to support an insurrection undergirded by Islamic terrorists and
drug smugglers. I don’t know if the American military machine has been
damaged as severely as advertised by Clinton-era policies and the
Kosovo war. But there’s no question that we have used plenty of
expensive weapons to achieve very little to date. What if North Korea
just now issued an ultimatum to South Korea — a possibility for a
regime with its back to the wall and facing famine? Could the United
States find sufficient resources to cope with the situation?

In truth, the argument that getting more countries involved in what
had been essentially a local conflict (however horrific some of the
consequences of that conflict appeared to the tender eyes of CNN
watchers) would prevent the war from widening was always
counter-intuitive. We want to keep it local so we’ll get the United
States (and France and Britain and Norway and Hungary et al.) involved?
Even without the Russian-Chinese-rogue power problems that move never
made sense. You don’t prevent a wider conflict by getting more people
involved as potential combatants. You make the conflict wider yet.

Let’s hope we remember that the next time some would-be grand
strategist tells us that the only way to prevent some other local
conflict from breaking out into World War III is to get the United
States military deeply involved in the situation.

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