This gave NATO the pretext to engage in the Yugoslav conflicts, but it did not do so until 1995. In the intervening years, NATO used primarily diplomatic means of dealing with the situation. The organization at this point was assisting the United Nations, and eventually took at the role of enforcing sanctions against the combatants. During this time, the conflict continued unabated, as the sanctions had only nominal impact. If the objective of NATO had been to stop the conflict, that objective was not met at all during this time. However, there is little evidence that actually stopping the conflict was the objective. The objective of 'managing' the conflict can be interpreted in a number of ways, but from NATO's actions the organization simply did not want the conflict to expand into other parts of Europe. There was a significant ethnic element to the conflict, and of course some of the regions involved bordered on NATO countries, and also on non-combatant countries like Slovenia.
In 1994, the NATO strategy in the region shifted from one of containment and monitoring to one of active combat involvement (Haglund, 2011). While enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia, NATO aircraft shot down Serbian jets that had attacked a Bosnian factory. The next stage of the operation was called Operation Deliberate Force, which entailed bombing Serbian positions and assets. Having officially entered the conflict, NATO turned the tide of the conflict as well. Deliberate Force lasted for 2 1/2 weeks, and destroyed the capabilities of the Bosnian Serbs were to that point had been the main aggressors (Hendrickson, 2005).
Operation Deliberate Force led to the signing of the Dayton Accords, which ended the conflict. The fact that the conflict ended so quickly once NATO became actively involved indicates that Operation Deliberate Force was a success, but it is not so easy to determine whether or not the entire Bosnian operation was a success. The conflict had dragged on for three-and-a-half years when NATO's role was strictly non-confrontational. As long as the organization was playing the role of monitoring sanctions, the conflict raged and NATO was ineffective.
It is worth considering, however, that NATO did not have a clearly defined mandate for Bosnia. As Hendrikson (2005) points out, NATO's early involvement in the conflict was not without internal conflict. The EU and United Nations had taken the lead on dealing with the conflict in 1991. Member nations of NATO were conflicted about whether or not the Balkan region should be part of their mandate. NATO's role at the time, of course, was in a state of transition at the end of the Cold War. The member nations were unsure whether or NATO should become involved in the conflict, and allowed other organizations to take the lead. Some key NATO members -- the UK, Canada and France, were already involved in the conflict under the auspices of the United Nations (Ibid).
When NATO finally engaged in the conflict militarily, it was the first time that NATO had ever done so. At that point, NATO had determined that it had a clear mandate and sought to enact that mandate. Prior to Deliberate Force, NATO had remained as something of an outside player, and other than the Banja Luka incident had not been involved heavily in conflict.
Thus, when measuring the success of the NATO mission in Bosnia it is worth considering that NATO did not have much mandate. The member nations could not agree of whether the Balkans was to be in their sphere of influence, and they could not agree on any set objectives for their mission other than enforcing sanctions that the UN had approved. When NATO attained clarity of vision with respect to its role in Bosnia, its swift, decisive actions brought about an end to the conflict quickly. On those terms, the NATO mission in Bosnia was a success.
The Balkans proved to be an ongoing challenge for NATO, however. The next major conflict zone was in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia that was comprised primarily of ethnic Albanians, a Muslim people. When the Kosovars saw that the international community had little interest in their corner of the Balkans, their unarmed resistance became an armed one, ushering in another major conflict in the former Yugoslavia. According to the U.S. Department of Defense (1999), Operation Allied Force had the objective to "degrade and damage the military and security structure that President Milosevic has used to depopulate and destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo."
The bombing campaign was successful as it led to the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. There were criticisms of the operation, because of the high number of civilian casualties, upwards of five hundred according human rights groups (Human Rights Watch, 2000). The campaign, according to these groups, did not enjoy success because of the loss of civilian life. Arguably, however, the loss of civilian life would have been much greater had the conflict dragged on.
After Operation Allied Force, NATO became involved in the post-conflict reconstruction effort, which was another first for the organization under its post-Cold War mandate. NATO set up the Kosovo Force (KFOR), that was to be NATO's primary involvement in the country from that point. Under the UNSC Resolution 1244, KFOR was established to be "responsible for establishing and maintaining security in Kosovo," and the force has existed ever since (Dursun-Ozkanca, 2009). KFOR initially was the most powerful force on the ground in Kosovo and as a result had to operate civilian tasks outside of its mandate (Ibid).
KFOR remains mandated to provide security for Kosovo today. This mandate includes providing backup for local police forces faced with strong security challenges. There are many such challenges in Kosovo, particularly with respect to strife between the Kosovar majority of the minority Serb enclaves. Kosovo's situation remains complicated because the international community is split with respect to Kosovo's declaration of independence, with as many major countries opposing this declaration of independence from Serbia as supporting it.
NATO's more recent tasks in Kosovo include disbanding the KPC (Kosovo Protection Corps, a sort of a paramilitary police force). KFOR is also implementing development zones, areas of a stable and secure environment that can be part of building a new, safe Kosovo for all its people. NATO has not typically engaged in post-conflict peace-building activities, so its ongoing involvement in Kosovo is an example of NATO's expanded mandate in the post-Cold War milieu. While the primary peace and security mandate in Kosovo remains, NATO appears to have less of a mandate with respect to its current activities outside of security in Kosovo, at times conflicting with the role of the EU (Dursun-Ozkanca, 2009). In addition, the is little timeframe for the end of the NATO mission in Kosovo.
Overall, it may be difficult to judge the relative success or failure of the NATO mission in Kosovo. Part of the reason is that the problem is ongoing, and probably will be until the sovereignty issue is resolved. NATO also has a fairly changeable list of objectives for Kosovo. The initial role of KFOR is still valid. By and large, KFOR has been successful at keeping the peace in Kosovo, although the long-run success of these efforts will be dictated in part by the ability of KFOR to bring together people of different ethnic groups to live side-by-side. For the past ten years, the peace has been kept by keeping the Serbs and Albanians apart from one another, a situation that is not sustainable in the long run.
When NATO established KFOR in 1999, it knew that it was entering into a long-term commitment to this mission. In that respect, it is hard to say that the current twelve-year run in Kosovo is successful or not. The mandate that NATO has in Kosovo has expanded into civilian efforts in post-conflict reconstruction, and it appears that NATO is committed to maintaining a presence in Kosovo until the sovereignty issue is resolved. That the mission has lasted so long ultimately is not the fault of NATO. Most member nations support Kosovar independence as a resolution to the situation. In addition, KFOR itself is only around one-tenth of its initial size, so the commitment has been reduced dramatically, indicating that by and large the mission in Kosovo has been successful, if a slower-than-expected process.
When the United States was attacked by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda on September 11th, 2001, this marked the first time that a NATO member had been subject to attack. According to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO members are obligated to treat this attack on one member as an attack on them all. Article 5, of course, was written at the outset of the Cold War and the strong wording held very much true. In a more globally diverse world, it was uncertain how the NATO partners would react to an attack on the United States, especially by a non-sovereign entity. The attacks then, would…