Europe grows after Kosovo

The war has dragged the EU centre-stage. Will its members know, asks John Lloyd, what to do with the

As the end of the war in the Balkans comes closer, so the job that Europe has already taken upon itself looms larger. It is becoming clear that the war could bring to an end the hegemony of America. It could broaden greatly the scope of Europe and present to Russia a new possibility of real partnership with the European continent of which it is a part - rather than a phoney partnership with the American continent with which it has been in rivalry for much of this century. But it could go otherwise. The war could also drive Russia and China closer together in a dislike of the west; it could deepen the alienation of central Europe; and it could continue the dependence of Europe on the US.

The first challenge is the hardest: to find the legality, as well as the "legitimacy", of humanitarian intervention. Action in Kosovo did not get the legal backing of the UN. Nato, in claiming that human rights were on its side, could not convince the other large players in the international game - especially China and Russia - that human-rights considerations were legitimate.

The war has thrown into harsh relief what was only fitfully evident before: that the defence of human rights - or, more accurately, the aggressive promotion of human rights in an arena, such as Kosovo, where they are being brutalised - is a posture confined to the rich and secure world. The rest of the world says it is hypocrisy: to them the real promotion of universal human rights is far more threatening than the "Westphalian state", or defence of national sovereignty, and the notion of a global balance of power.

Once the notion of a humanitarianism that transcends national borders is elevated out of vague declarations into action, the "international community" reveals itself as a series of warring tribes.

China cannot possibly agree to take action against a state for trampling on civil rights, when it won't allow other countries to question its own record on this score. Russia, even with a quasi-democratic system, wants to leave its hands free for a possible redrawing of its borders and a regathering of its exiled ethnic kin. And India is already involved in a low-level combat with Pakistan over Kashmir that bears some resemblance to the Kosovo conflict.

In these, and in smaller instances, the same rule applies: the young nationalisms and raw (or lack of) democracies of the non-Nato states mean that they cannot share the human rights-based views of Nato members, even though these views are simply repetitions of international treaties, charters and agreements that almost everyone has signed.

To find a common basis for real, rather than rhetorical, agreement is at once urgent and exceedingly difficult - urgent not just because the west cannot afford to become mired again in a conflict that the rest of the world condemns; urgent, because if we cannot make the realities that underpin foreign policies both apparent and comprehensible, the division between the rich "humanitarians" and the developing rest of the world will become deeper.

The second task, perhaps easier but certainly more expensive, is to shift the expansion of Europe up the international agenda and offer the Balkan states, in particular, the prospect of EU membership. The EU has already committed some of its own funds to pay for the reconstruction of Yugoslavia. In place is a rather devilish division of labour - the US pays for the destruction of Yugoslavia; Europe for its reconstruction. Yet through the fund, industries in the region can receive a large boost, and a post-Milosevic government of Yugoslavia can develop on a political platform that need not be anti-western.

To hasten the process of joining the EU for states that are still weak, relatively poor and uncertain of their post-communist nationhood is to take a number of demanding relatives into the family.

Europe has not lived under the motto: "Bring me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses . . ." - it was too used to exporting them. To develop a Marshall Plan for the Balkans is to pour billions of euros into an area that will certainly misuse some of them and will not be properly grateful for a long time.

It also brings Europe face to face with the problem of the former Soviet Union. It is fairly clear that most of the post-Soviet world wants, in one way or another, to remain linked to the west, rather than to put itself under a Russian hegemony.

The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania met recently to agree that they would co-operate closely in seeking rapid entry to both Nato and the EU. While these three states may be the most likely to qualify in the next decade, the position of buffer states such as Moldova, Belarus and, above all, Ukraine now becomes increasingly desperate, as they are trapped in an in-between world where there is neither a state-controlled economy nor capitalism, neither a functioning authoritarianism nor a functioning democracy.

If they cannot get themselves out of this position, the EU will sooner or later be forced to make a decision - does it continue to wish them a nice day as they slide into anarchy or does it seek a way of reconstructing their statehoods? It cannot find a way of doing this without a working agreement with Russia. Russia has barely known itself for much of the post-Soviet period, so it has been unable to be much of a partner. But its interests lie in Europe.

Russia may never be a member of the EU - though some, such as the former prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, want it to be so - but it must have a close partnership with it. Close partnerships are based on common values, and Russia has not yet finally chosen the values of liberal globalism - the values of the US and western Europe.

We have failed to persuade it to do so. When the reign of Boris Yeltsin ends, as it should do next summer, we shall have to try again. The western European leaders like to think of themselves as a new breed - left of centre, capable of shaking themselves free of the dogmas of socialism and of the constrictions of the neo-liberal right.

But now, in the post-Kosovo world, they face problems of global architecture that they were previously content to leave to the Americans; if they believe their own rhetoric, they must solve these problems in Europe and be prepared to pay for the solutions, bear the consequences and be patient about reaping the rewards.

Kosovo marks the end of amiable disengagement and contented grazing on the meadows of the peace dividend. We have learnt that Europe, in its vastness, is still a dangerous place, and that our proclaimed values do not allow us simply to lock the gate against the dangers.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Europe grows after Kosovo