BONN — EASTERN European nations are keenly watching how NATO handles the Sarajevo crisis for insights into the alliance's determination to maintain stability in Europe.
As the Bosnian government looks to NATO to impose a truce on the war-torn Balkan nation, many Eastern European nations view the Atlantic alliance as the best possible guarantor of stability in the region.
From Albania to Poland, the former Soviet satellites are eagerly signing up for NATO's Partnership for Peace, which aims to boost cooperation among participants and the Atlantic alliance. But despite the rush to join the Partnership, some Eastern Europeans have quietly expressed concern about NATO's ability to live up to their high expectations. Bosnia-Herzegovina is the test case. ``If they [NATO] do nothing, then they will have nothing to stand on,'' says a senior Eastern European diplomat with close ties to NATO.
NATO's Feb. 10 ultimatum - a threat to use airstrikes unless opposing forces remove heavy weapons from around besieged Sarajevo or place them under United Nations control, a message sent primarily to the Bosnian Serbs - has helped allay some concerns about NATO. In particular, an apparent rapprochement between the US and French foreign policy establishments may boost NATO's effectiveness in future crisis resolution efforts, diplomats say.
But several Eastern European diplomats add that NATO must not become complacent now that the Bosnian Serbs have apparently complied with their ultimatum. ``A weak and hesitant approach hasn't produced anything, except lots of dead people and the loss of face,'' the diplomat says.
As the deadline passed yesterday, President Clinton said airstrikes against Serb positions around Sarajevo were not imminent. But ``all parties should be aware that the ultimatum still stands,'' Mr. Clinton said. So far, the truce covers only Sarajevo.
Meanwhile, the German Foreign Ministry announced that officials from the US, Russia, France, Germany, and other European nations would gather in Bonn today to discuss the Sarajevo situation.
Some former Soviet satellites, such as Poland, worry about Russia's high-profile role in the Yugoslav peace process. Moscow was instrumental in convincing the Bosnian Serbs to respond to the NATO ultimatum. Russia announced it would deploy 400 of its soldiers in Sarajevo to help enforce a fragile cease-fire.
Senior diplomats of former Soviet satellite nations suggest the primary motivation for Russia's actions is not so much a desire to bring peace to Bosnia, but to keep NATO in check. Moscow has steadfastly opposed any expansion of NATO and has not indicated whether it will participate in Partnership for Peace. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev is touring Eastern European capitals this week to explain Moscow's stance on Bosnia.
``For about the last six months it's been clear Russia has been conducting a policy of `containment of NATO.' Bosnia is just the latest example of this,'' the Eastern European diplomat says. ``NATO must respond.''
But not every Eastern European state holds this view, or aspires to join NATO. Hungary, for example, is not eager for the alliance to become more deeply involved in the Sarajevo crisis.
The rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montengro, dominated by Belgrade, contains a significant ethnic Hungarian minority. Hungary worries about increased border tension with Serbia in the event of NATO airstrikes around Sarajevo.