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Reflections on NATO's New Mission: Conflict Prevention in the Struggles for Ethnic Self-Determination

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image of Review of Central and East European Law
For more content, see Review of Socialist Law.

During the Cold War, both NATO's role and purpose were clearly defined by the existence of the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The traditional confrontation between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact military organizations effectively has ceased to exist. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact—combined with the emerging constitutional democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the transformation of the Russian Federation—has essentially assured that the future threat of a confrontation between the major armies on the European continent is highly unlikely. However, it soon became obvious that several non-traditional, and quite unexpected, risks would give NATO a new mission and new challenges.

One of the greatest challenges for post-Cold War Eastern Europe lies in the unresolved questions of ethnic self-determination. The unprecedented human tragedy of two world wars failed to resolve these questions. The concept of ethnic self-determination has been the central theme of the conflicts in the Yugoslav civil wars. NATO played a significant, if not central, role in the final resolution of the Yugoslav civil wars, particularly in the case of Kosovo. The Kosovo experience creates a real challenge for NATO and international legal scholars to create a more precisely defined body of international law to protect ethnic minorities and to build an effective institutional framework for the observation and implementation of so-called minority rights. which would have prevented the tragedy of the Yugoslavian civil war and can prevent future conflicts.


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