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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Thomas R. Pickering
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Remarks to the American Society of International Law,
Washington, DC, April 7, 2000

Blue Bar

As prepared


Southeastern Europe: An Endeavor Consistent With the Transatlantic Vision and Indicative of the Changing International Environment

[Introductory remarks deleted.]

I'm particularly delighted to be here tonight because the pursuit of U.S. interests overseas requires a broad range of expertise. It is both trite and true to say that U.S. interests are expanding dramatically in a globalized world. That expansion tests old presumptions and paradigms, not to mention ultimately requiring response, evaluation, and amendment from you in the field of international law.

Because they are both current and controversial for some, I would like to discuss tonight our government's goals in Europe, especially in southeastern Europe. That region provides an early glimpse at some of the issues that are increasingly of interest in diplomacy and international law.

Our efforts there are at once consistent with our country's best endeavors in the 20th century and indicative of the way that international diplomacy is changing in the 21st century.

One year after we entered Kosovo, we can take satisfaction in the return of over 800,000 refugees and 550,000 internally displaced persons and with the international effort to restore the Balkans and to bring stability to all of southeastern Europe. Let me look first at the way in which those efforts can be seen as a logical extension of 50 years of American diplomacy.

U.S. diplomacy in the 20th century was noteworthy for its success in building an international system that facilitates the security and prosperity of all while encouraging countries to work cooperatively on mutual problems and bolstering free market democracies. The Bretton Woods institutions and the entire UN system are all products of this approach as are efforts the U.S. has made bilaterally and regionally on every continent.

The spirit of that vision and its success is most clear in Europe. After the war, we thought the answer to old rivalries would be found neither in conquest nor neglect but rather in helping democratic states themselves to rebuild.

At the same time, we and the countries of western Europe created a framework through which we could guard each other's security and cooperate on political, military, and economic issues.

That turned out well, better often times than we like to recall. And we often forget what a revolutionary concept emerged in western Europe after World War II.

From a precarious balance among frequently competing states before the war, there emerged a system of collective defense after it. Where Bismarck's Europe gave rise to conflict, this new Europe gave rise to peace, reconciliation, and cooperation. Our efforts were so successful that they provided the model for post-Cold War Europe.

So today we say to the countries of southeastern Europe: We will help you after the Balkan wars as we helped central Europe after the Cold War and western Europe after World War II. Borders cannot be barriers whose lines are drawn in blood. Borders must be bridges -- for people, commerce, and ideas.

The goal is a simple one: to protect U.S. interests by expanding the area of peace and prosperity in Europe. Two hot wars and one cold one in the past century prove that the security of the United States is tied ineluctably to events on the Eurasian continent.

The method is equally straightforward: to help countries rebuild and encourage them to work with each other, bury the hatchet, reform their economies, and strengthen their democracies. Those are the necessary steps toward integrating into the great transatlantic institutions.

This project is far less daunting than that which we faced after World War II. The recent Balkan wars were not as long, as destructive, or as widespread. Most notably, we do not have to do this alone. Let me explain.

  • One year after we entered Kosovo, the U.S. is working through and closely with the United Nations to prepare Kosovars for the interim status set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 -- that is, for democratic self-government, elections, and substantial autonomy under international oversight and protection.

  • In both Kosovo and Bosnia, NATO is leading the international security presence as authorized by the UN and is joined by troops from across Europe as well as from other continents.

  • The European Union is essential. It is taking the lead in many areas, including recovery and development.

  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe is charged with institution-building and is active in many aspects of democratic reform and human rights.

  • Russia, too, is a partner in promoting peace and recovery in the Balkans. In addition to providing peace-keeping troops in Bosnia and Kosovo, Russia -- which is still undergoing its own transformation -- actively supports the OSCE and the Office of the High Representative. And Russia with historical, political, and cultural ties to the region, is a key contributor in the Contact Group on plans for peace and security in the region.

  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) too are contributing significantly. As many of you know, the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative is promoting rule of law in the Balkans in cooperation with the international community and with some support from the U.S. Government.

The challenge now, as NATO Secretary General Robertson says, is to complete the job. Just as we are not alone in Bosnia and Kosovo, we also are not alone in our broader long-term effort to integrate all of southeastern Europe into the mainstream.

The Stability Pact brings the European Union, Japan, Russia and other European states, the international financial institutions, and the United States together with countries in southeastern Europe. At the international donors' conference of the Stability Pact in Brussels in April, donor nations pledged more than $6 billion in overall assistance this year, including $2.4 billion for Quick Start programs to fund democracy projects, infrastructure improvements, security projects, and private sector development right away.

The EU is providing the lion's share of the funding although Japan, and non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway are major contributors. Also, Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia pledged limited funds to apply "lessons learned" from their own transitions.

Of course, southeastern Europe is not a monolith and will not be treated as such. Countries in the region are at very different points in their economic and political transitions. Indeed, we faced a rare problem in launching the Stability Pact. Some countries protested their designation as a part of southeastern Europe. In a turnabout that rarely happens, some countries in the region balked at joining the Stability Pact until we assured them that they could be donors and that they did not have to receive assistance!

Likewise, joining NATO or the EU does not mean leaving your neighbors behind. Indeed, NATO members Turkey, Hungary, and Greece are part of the southeastern Europe effort and play an active role in meetings among leaders in the region.

In addition to not doing this alone, the United States also is not doing this without historic precedent. We are still indebted to the foresight of our leaders in creating a new paradigm after World War II. Today, no new dream needs to be conceived. We are simply doing better what has worked so well in the past.

In February, I traveled to many of the countries in southeastern Europe. I was struck both by the amount of work that needs to be done in some places as well as by the determination of the people in the region to succeed and the advanced political and economic circumstances in many countries.

At such a moment, how we view history is important. Do we look at the problems that remain in southeastern Europe and wring our hands, or do we roll up our sleeves remembering that western Europe was worse off after World War II than southeastern Europe is now and carry on with the job?

Do we believe that ethnic hatreds can never be overcome, or do we remember that reconciliation has occurred in western Europe, in South Africa, in El Salvador, and elsewhere?

Many are deeply concerned as they should be about ethnic hatreds in the Balkans. I do not believe these are intractable. In fact, the reprehensible truth is that in Kosovo and Bosnia fomenting hatred was a political strategy that succeeded in turning neighbor against neighbor.

We are confronting this problem and the related problem of nationalism in several ways. Conflict is forestalled through military means, peacekeeping, and confidence-building measures.

The civilian aspect of our policy is designed to strengthen democracy, reform economies, and foster regional cooperation. We believe that such steps can diminish lingering desires for separatism or conquest.

Thus far I have described our efforts in southeastern Europe and placed them in the context of U.S. foreign policy aims over the last 50 years. Let me now suggest a few areas in which the many developments in Europe may turn out to be a case study of the changing international environment.

The number of players active in southeastern Europe including individual countries, international organizations, and NGOs is becoming the norm for foreign engagement.

There are a variety of implications to this development. It means that the burden is shared. It means that the talents and expertise of a variety of cultures and institutions can be brought to bear.

But it also means that coordination on the ground can be more complicated and that parliaments can grow restive if they feel they are signing checks for matters not fully under national control.

A second set of issues surrounds the question of the international community's responsibility in the face of humanitarian crises. The OSCE report, "Kosovo As Seen, As Told," describes "chilling evidence of the murderous targeting of children, with the aim of terrorizing and punishing adults and communities."

As Lord Robertson said, "If NATO had not acted, then that spiral of violence would have intensified and the death toll escalated. There would now be many hundreds of thousands of refugees, with neighboring countries under pressure and the whole region destabilized."

Kosovo posed a challenge. And as I am sure you will tell me later tonight, the debate rages about the authority needed to intervene with force internationally even in the face of major humanitarian disaster and at a time when the concept of sovereignty is employed to block such steps.

Another contesting area of consideration is the relationship of borders, ethnicity, and nationalism. There is as much good as bad news here.

The Czechs and Slovaks amicably went their own ways while elsewhere in the region prospective members of NATO and the EU have or are working out disputes. It is one of the conditions of joining these organizations.

But the problem of borders, ethnicity, and nationalism is far from resolved. At its most extreme, this nexus can lead to armed conflict. At that most dangerous level, thankfully, there is common opposition to egregious cases of nationalism such as creating a Greater Serbia (which Milosevic daily is making into lesser Serbia) or Greater Albania.

But the debate continues on how to re-establish stable, multi-ethnic states and how to ensure that national minorities in all states are treated properly so that they do not become cause for violent attempts to redraw borders.

In that regard, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays a vital role. It has established the principle that borders cannot be changed by force and the corollary that governments are obliged to enfranchise all their citizens without regard to ethnic origin, religious group, or linguistic preference. Its vocation is to help countries work out their internal problems through peaceful and democratic means. In the last decade, it has acquired new tools that will make it more effective.

For example, at the Istanbul summit last year the OSCE agreed to develop what might best be called an electronic Rolodex of experts who could deploy quickly in a crisis situation. These police, judges, attorneys, doctors, and other experts would form Rapid Expert Assistance and Cooperation Teams.

Finally, even in cases where nationalism poses the least risk of violence across borders, there remains in many countries a great suspicion of their neighbors.

Many in southeastern Europe believe that the answer to ensuring their security lies solely in affiliation with Western institutions. Go west, young man, takes on a whole new meaning as these countries are tempted to make a fast break, secure their own membership in Western institutions, and try to escape their neighborhood rather than to rebuild it.

One of the more fascinating aspects of our work in southeastern Europe is persuading these countries that security and prosperity start at home through cooperation with other countries in the region. Then economic satisfaction can begin to diminish the feelings of hardship and persecution that can lead to violent reactions.

This is now beginning to bear fruit. Under the aegis of the Stability Pact, Slovenia recently convened a conference to discuss inter-ethnic relations and minorities, Bulgaria hosted a regional export control conference, and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is both co-host of the Stability Pact's Economic Table and host of a conference on reducing trade barriers.

These efforts can build on the treaty between Hungary and Romania as concerns the treatment of the Hungarian minority in the latter country, on improved relations between Hungary and Slovakia, and on the quiet steps taken by Bulgaria to solidify the position of the Turkish minority, to mention just a few examples. These initiatives show that borders can become bridges, not barriers.

Still another intriguing aspect of modern-day Europe is the evolution of sovereignty. I want to be careful on this point because it quickly becomes a touchstone.

Some thinkers are all too readily declaring the end of the nation state, while others in alarm react by wishing to withdraw further from the international system. We should obviously try to avoid both those extremes.

Rest certain that the nation state is alive and well. Neither chaos nor "Big Brother" writ international are at hand.

The matter is not the dissolution of national sovereignty but rather the sovereign choices nation states are making to devolve more power to local and regional authorities or to pool their sovereignty in supranational authorities.

One major advantage to this evolution is that the original concept of borders has ceased to be the cause for tension and conflict in western Europe.

At the risk of oversimplifying the history of the border in western Europe, one could usefully think of its stages. First, NATO's success at collective defense and political cooperation meant that borders no longer were seen as areas of potential conflict. This mattered especially in terms of ensuring no more wars among states but also meant that nationality was less important in areas such as Alsace-Lorraine. Its unique culture is protected without it declaring its independence and without wars being launched to redraw the France-Germany border. Today's date is an apt reminder of how important this development is. On April 7, 451, Attila the Hun plundered Metz, France.

Another stage in the history of the border was making it something other than a barrier to trade. From the European Coal and Steel Community to the full achievement of the internal market in 1992 to the adoption of a common currency in 1999, the European Union is making borders irrelevant economically.

Also interesting is the sense of "we are in this together." This is manifested in political and economic cooperation and in EU assistance to its members. That sense of community is what we also hope will develop in southeastern Europe. Further, the sense of a Europe of regions -- Basques and Bretons, Catalans and Gallegoes -- means that another concept of tolerance and mutual appreciation has begun take hold.

What can southeastern European countries learn from all this? They can learn that borders can -- indeed must -- become less important.

In an interdependent world, pooling sovereignty is one way of ensuring a politically acceptable degree of influence over one's environment. To a degree this process has already begun elsewhere in Europe. EU aspirants have to change huge bodies of law and policy in order to conform to the EU standards. European law thus is becoming applicable in these states even before their entry into the EU. Legally, this is interesting. They are following common legal norms before a treaty brings them in.

A less dramatic but interesting case is evident in NATO. Preservation of national sovereignty is a major underpinning of NATO and is reinforced by the veto right of each member. The NATO Treaty makes clear that how Allies implement their obligations is contingent upon their constitutional procedures.

Nonetheless, countries that are in NATO, or who hope to be, agree to work collectively on defense issues that they would otherwise pursue separately as sovereign nations.

Western European countries also have in some cases devolved authority in a different direction -- to local governments. In such areas as Catalonia, Spain and Alto-Adige, Italy such devolution has eased pressures against the unity of the state.

Often the answer is to give local governments authority over such culturally important areas as education and language. This is an example of the balance that can be struck between respect for borders and respect for people within those borders.

There are security implications too. As my colleague Strobe Talbott has said, nations that feel secure in their identities and neighborhoods can "make a virtue out of their dependence on one another."

The solutions western European countries have found nationally and through the European Union need not be replicated exactly in southeastern Europe, but they do provide a set of examples for dealing with important internal and external problems. This could usefully be applied elsewhere in the world, too.

There are other interesting issues surrounding sovereignty. Knowing that my voice prevents the dinner bell from ringing, I will list some of these rather than go into further detail. My hope is that in the discussion planned for after dinner you can give me the answers.

Think of the many issues we have dealt with in recent years:

  • The break up of the former Yugoslavia with Slovenia, Croatia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina becoming independent;

  • The question of Kosovo's future status;

  • The problem now bedeviling international financial institutions of how to provide funds to Montenegro when Montenegro is not a state; and

  • The problem of how to treat ethnic minorities within states as well as how to restrain those who would redraw borders by force along ethnic lines.

In addition a particularly important legacy of the Cold war is that many west Europeans and east Europeans view the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination through fundamentally different historical experience.

While west Europeans have come to accept a concept of sovereignty based on the pooling of common resources in selected areas, in eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics the call for sovereignty or self-determination is often a call for independence, a liberation from what are perceived to be shackles on national or ethnic freedom of maneuver. Instead of standing together they want to stand apart.

These are all issues we are facing in Europe, but there are parallel situations all over the world. We are obliged to think about these issues now.

As a government official I am acutely aware of the fact that regional disruptions tend to demand U.S. responses. There are many reasons for this, from our current predominant position in the world to the fact that crises are instantly beamed into the living rooms of our citizens who then demand that their government respond.

Equally true is that our interests are more widespread in this globalized era. Unrest anywhere tends to threaten some economic or political interest or to pose new risks of terrorism or crime.

For all these reasons, as a policy maker my vocation must in part be to think creatively about how to keep such tensions from turning to conflict. Your vocation may be the more difficult. As you all know, much of the body of international law is evolutionary and customary, based on the practice of states over a long period of time for reasons of their sense of obligation and often based on a careful, long-range evaluation of what is in their best interests globally.

There are particularly difficult questions in considering the significance of developments in southeastern Europe both to the sufficiency of existing principles of international law and to the development of legal norms.

What is the meaning of "sovereign state" in the modern world? Much of the post World War II legal structure inadvertently provides incentives to seek independence since statehood is the ticket to many good things.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not only an anniversary for Attila the Hun. On April 7, 1933, wine and beer were made legal in the United States after 13 years of prohibition. I'll take my cue from that and pause now for your questions and for discussion at the reception and dinner that follow.

[end of document]

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