Half a century after the alliance was created as a bulwark against Soviet aggression, the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization put down a new marker Saturday, agreeing that it can use military force to prevent the abuse of human rights anywhere in Europe.
"We are moving into a system of international relations in which human rights, rights to minorities every day, are much more important, and more important even than sovereignty," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told a news conference here during a weekend of meetings and ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary.
As the allies continued their air assault on Yugoslavia for a 32nd day, President Clinton said that NATO's new strategic concept "specifically endorses the action we are taking in Kosovo"--the bloodied Balkan region where the forces of Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia, have carried out "ethnic cleansing" brutal enough to drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
The presidents and prime ministers of NATO's 19 member nations said the use of military force is justified to prevent regional conflicts and instability that could spill over into their territory. At the time of its creation, NATO authorized military action only to turn back an attack on any of its member states. Officials conceded that more conflicts like the one over Kosovo are likely.
In related developments Saturday:
* NATO's unabated bombing runs on Yugoslavia caused heavy damage southeast and southwest of the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, according to the official Tanjug news agency. Four missiles hit the eastern industrial area of Nis early today, the news agency said. The "violent detonations" caused "great damage," it said, without mentioning any casualties.
* Earlier, thousands of Belgrade residents rallied near the bomb-shattered headquarters of Serbian TV, protesting a NATO attack early Friday that authorities said killed 15 people and injured 30. State-run television went off the air shortly after airstrikes resumed Saturday night, but it was unclear if it was because transmitters were damaged or broadcasts were suspended, Associated Press reported.
* In Washington, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, said that Yugoslav Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic has placed at least 10 fired Yugoslav generals under house arrest.
* More than 2,200 refugees crossed into Macedonia complaining of extremely difficult living conditions in Kosovo, according to an official of the U.N. refugee agency. Many of the refugees had been on the run for weeks or months, moving from village to village or sleeping in the woods, in fear of Serbian security forces. Many of the newly arrived refugees reported that they had tried to leave Kosovo several times in recent weeks but were prevented from doing so.
* The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in Belgrade to appeal for access to three captured U.S. servicemen and the return of his organization to Kosovo. Cornelio Sommaruga was expected to meet with Milosevic on Monday. Clinton pointed out in Washington that Milosevic has denied the soldiers Red Cross visits while telling American television audiences he would permit them.
* Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said he hopes to visit Moscow this week to discuss Russian peace envoy Viktor S. Chernomyrdin's six-point plan to end the conflict. Chernomyrdin said in Moscow that he has received invitations from Germany and other NATO countries to discuss the plan. U.S. officials say the Russian effort is a welcome initiative but that, so far, Milosevic has not met NATO conditions for ending the bombing.
In the often opaque language of the declaration that NATO reached Saturday, the allies said: "Ethnic and religious rivalries, territorial disputes, inadequate or failed efforts at reform, the abuse of human rights . . . can lead to local and even regional instability."
Solana, who shepherded the declaration through the summit and NATO's cumbersome bureaucracy, was jubilant. He said the action "marks the transition from an alliance that was concerned mainly with collective defense to one which will be a guarantee of security in Europe and an upholder of democratic values both within and beyond our borders."
The leaders assembled at the summit said that NATO will take military action to combat genocide and other serious abuses of human rights "on a case-by-case basis," and only if all 19 members agree on a course of action. The procedure could mean that the alliance will pass on some human rights crises, but it clearly could intervene in others.
The strategic declaration and a communique that referred to it were issued more than six hours after the summit talks ended because of disagreements over the final wording. The presidents and prime ministers approved the measure in principle but left it to aides to hammer out the language.
U.S. officials said the delay was caused by a dispute between Turkey, on the one side, and Britain and France on the other over the role of the European Union in some military operations that could be undertaken by the European members of the alliance with the support of NATO logistics and intelligence.
The Turks, who are not members of the European Union, wanted to make sure that NATO would keep firm control over such operations. The measure says that European efforts should be approved by NATO's governing council.
Some careful writing also was necessary to paper over a dispute between the United States and France over the role of the United Nations in any NATO operations undertaken in defense of human rights. France wanted to require U.N. approval in every case. The United States wanted to give the alliance the option of acting without Security Council authorization.
The declaration says the Security Council "has the primary responsibility for maintenance of international peace," but it does not specify that NATO must obtain the council's approval. Both sides claimed victory.
French President Jacques Chirac said the document was "a triumph for French diplomacy." He said it "clearly affirmed" the role of the United Nations in authorizing NATO intervention.
But Solana disagreed. Asked if U.N. approval would be required, he said, "No."
In another Franco-U.S. spat, Clinton said the alliance was determined to be "firm" in enforcing an oil embargo against Yugoslavia. Alliance defense ministers agreed in principle Thursday night to establish a naval blockade--referred to by the euphemism "visit and search"--to stop the sea delivery of oil to Yugoslavia. Although NATO officials danced around the question of whether allied ships would sink tankers that tried to run the blockade, informed sources said the meaning was clear that force would be used if necessary.
For his part, Chirac said that although he supports efforts to block the shipment of oil to Yugoslavia, the prospect of force raised serious legal questions.
Clinton said: "We sent our pilots into the air to destroy the oil refinery and supply systems of Serbia, and they did so successfully. They risked their lives to do it. How can we justify risking the lives of the pilots to go up and destroy the refinery and the supply capacity of Serbia and then say, 'But it's OK with us if people want to continue to supply this nation and its outlaw actions in Kosovo in another way'?"
The NATO leaders were unanimous, however, in repeatedly stressing their determination to cooperate closely with Russia, a country so offended by the bombing of Yugoslavia that it refused to send a delegation to the summit, making it the only one of 24 invited nonmember nations to stay away.
The final communique said that NATO and Russia "have a common objective of strengthening security and stability" in Europe. And Clinton and Solana expressed hope that Chernomyrdin will be successful in his peace efforts.
Still, the defense ministers' agreement in principle on a naval blockade to stop oil shipments put the alliance and Russia on a potential collision course. Russia has been the leading supplier of oil to Yugoslavia.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov said that Moscow will continue to sell oil. He said the NATO and European Union embargoes should cover only the members of those organizations.
"NATO's decisions are for its members," Reuters news service quoted Ivanov as saying. "In accordance with international law, no one can impose sanctions or embargoes without the U.N. Security Council agreement. In our relations with foreign countries, we follow international law, not NATO decisions."
NATO officials said that the nightmare scenario would be a naval confrontation between allied warships and a Russian oil tanker. However, maritime sources said that in recent years, blockades have seldom involved gunfire. Usually when a blockade is declared, international insurance companies refuse to cover merchant ships entering the exclusion zone, and shipowners themselves send the vessels away.
A senior administration official said the United States does not believe the Russians "really want a confrontation over this. We'll go to Hungary, Slovenia, all the neighboring countries, to get their help in turning it off."
But this official warned: "If a ship shows up, we'll try to turn it back. We'll hail them and board them. If that doesn't work, we'll fire some shots across their bow. And if that doesn't work, we'll take them out."
On the diplomatic front, Chernomyrdin said he hopes to discuss his efforts with as many NATO leaders as will listen during the next week or so.
While alliance leaders are skeptical of the Russian proposal, and while Yugoslav officials have contradicted Chernomyrdin on key elements of the plan, the former Russian prime minister says he still hopes to mediate an agreement. Both sides, he said, want Russia to take an active part in negotiating an end to the conflict.
Chernomyrdin said that Milosevic had agreed in their meetings to grant Kosovo broad autonomy within Yugoslavia.
"Of course there must be wide autonomy for Kosovo, and President Milosevic also agreed with this. This is very important," Chernomyrdin told reporters.
Chernomyrdin denounced the planned oil embargo but reiterated that Russia does not intend to send any ships to the Adriatic Sea to join the Russian navy vessel that was dispatched there at the outset of the bombing.
Times staff writers Richard C. Paddock in Moscow and Elizabeth Shogren in Skopje, Macedonia, contributed to this report, as did Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus.
"We are moving into a system of international relations in which human rights, rights to minorities every day, are much more important, and more important even than sovereignty."
"I'm not ver concerned about the future of Milosevic. I'm much--very much--concerned about the future of those thousands of people that have been dispelled out of their country."
"Our partnership with Russia. . .is in the interest of both NATO and Russia, and we want Russia to be our partner in finding solutions to the regional crisis in the Euro-Atlantic area."
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana
More on the Crisis
* REASSESSMENT--The bombing campaign has NATO taking a hard look at long-term objectives. A23
* JOURNALISTS JAILED--Belgrade orders the confinement of a French cameraman and a reporter for a Croatian newspaper. A23