THE countries of East-Central Europe must be encouraged to develop a "security culture" akin to that of Western Europe and the United States if regional ethnic crises such as that in Yugoslavia are to be avoided in the future.In the meantime, trouble-spotting "machinery" in Western Europe and at the United Nations in New York has to be devised. These are the conclusions of British defense and diplomatic analysts as they assess the struggle between Serbia and Croatia and contemplate the likelihood of other such conflicts arising in the post-cold-war era. "It will take at least a decade before such a security culture can be generated in countries where communism was in the ascendant for 40 years or more," says John Roper, Paris-based director of the Institute for Security Studies of the Western European Union. "Meanwhile the established European democracies will have to be more alert in responding to ethnic tensions and unbridled nationalism in the early stages. In Yugoslavia they were too slow, and once serious fighting began it proved impossible to intervene effectively." The concept of a security culture, Mr. Roper notes, cannot easily be taught. It consists of an evolving awareness that there are collective interests to be safeguarded and a "realization that a narrow national or ethnic perspective can undermine the security of entire regions." The reasons that concept may have been slow to emerge are outlined by Chris Cviic, a specialist on Yugoslavia at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs and author of the book "Remaking the Balkans." "In the early stages of the crisis there was no sense of common interest, only a desire on the part of Croatia and Slovenia to assert themselves, and a refusal by Serbia to accept their aspirations," says the Croatian-born Cviic. "The problem was complicated by the fact that the Croats and the Slovenes had only limited contacts beyond Yugoslavia and lacked a truly European perspective on their own policy aims." Mr. Cviic agrees the long-term answer to such problems lies in a better-developed sense of collective security, but says this will probably be a long time evolving. Western countries need to deepen their contacts with Eastern and Central European countries if they are to address comparable ethnic and national conflicts more successfully in the future, Roper says. He points to a need for "better machinery" to learn what is happening inside countries where violence may flare. This includes better political intelligence about the details of ethnic and national disputes. "Western Europe was slow to assert itself early in the Yugoslav crisis because it lacked the information needed for a full understanding of what was happening," he says. Developing an such an intelligence network will not be easy, says Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at Kings College, London. "Of all the former communist states, Yugoslavia was closest to the West, and one which many people thought they knew very well," he says. "Yet it got completely out of hand." "What scares many of us is that in the Soviet Union there are potential conflicts in areas about which we know much less than Yugoslavia. If we want to manage crises in such areas, we shall need to have much earlier involvement, much keener political intelligence about what is happening, so that we don't step in at a point where very little can be done." "In coming years we are likely to see a lot of civil wars, not only in Europe but in places such as Africa and the Americas," says Sir Anthony Parsons, Britain's former ambassador to the UN. "Regional organizations such as the European Community are going to have to overcome their inhibitions about involving themselves in the domestic affairs of states." "It is possible for diplomatic action to be taken by the great powers towards the party that looks to be a potential aggressor in an ethnic conflict. It should be made clear to that party that if it advances against a weaker neighbor, it can expect stringent action to be taken - for example immediate ... economic sanctions." Sir Anthony adds that the lesson of Yugoslavia is that such situations must be defused before they degenerate into conflict. "Much more could have been done than was done. For that to be possible in [the] future, permanent mechanisms need to be in place, probably at the UN in New York, to monitor potentially dangerous situations before they break out into actual conflict."