THE first use of force by NATO in its 44 years was something of an anticlimax: We woke up to find that there had been an ``engagement.''
The cold war is over, but it is NATO that, a couple of times now within as many weeks, has been the mechanism through which the forces of international law and order have worked. First, of course, came the ultimatum to stop the shelling of Sarajevo; now has come the US fliers' shooting down of Bosnian Serb aircraft.
The fliers had simple instructions, and the Serb planes were in clear violation of the no-fly zone. We can only hope that the next steps will be so clearly indicated, and so confidently taken.
NATO was established in a climate that was heavy with fear, but in which the hierarchy of values was nonetheless clear: anticommunism, treaty obligations, spheres of influence, and alignment into blocs. Leaders have had to face the madness in the former Yugoslavia without that kind of clarity.
Through what lens should the United States - and other countries of the West - consider the Balkans? The lens of well-articulated enlightened self-interest? Of democratic idealism? Of a universal commitment to human rights that sees an attack on the least of these sparrows as an attack on one's own people?
More recently, traditional balance-of-power politics has seemed the lens of choice. If it actually helps bring peace, that may not be a bad thing.
Around the world, people are having to confront issues of order: How do we organize as societies that let us be true to ourselves and our values without doing violence (metaphorical or otherwise) to the ``others'' among us, or to our neighbors?
The transitions from one established order to another are often not pleasant. There is a plate tectonics of politics, international and domestic: Pressure builds, plates shift, and this release leads to a calm, a new order.
Thus, in South Africa, despite the deplorable continuing violence, there is at least a process in motion. Who could have imagined that the National Party and the African National Congress would ever be partners trying to persuade others to join them?
In Northern Ireland, the plates are shifting out from under diehard unionists - and the extremists on the other side, too: A poll out Feb. 27 found that overwhelming majorities in Ireland (85 percent in the North and 94 percent in the Republic) want the Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein, to renounce violence and join in peace talks. And 79 percent of the voters north and south agreed that (Protestant) unionists must not be forced into a united Ireland - Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams's call for an all-Ireland referendum notwithstanding.
In Tito's Yugoslavia, the various constituent republics were crushed together like so many wood fibers pressed into waferboard, a sort of artificial composite state. After the end of the cold war it seemed natural for Yugoslavia to devolve into independent sovereign states, but then deconstruction became disintegration, which has led to the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. We can't accept that territorial aggression is part of the national identity of any people, but somewhere along the line the Serbs' sense of their nationhood began to impinge seriously on the Bosnians' sense of theirs.