All Commentary
Monday, October 1, 2001

A Maturing Europe?

Let the Europeans Handle the Balkans


Doug Bandow, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author and editor of several books.

Although the Bush administration has promised not to withdraw unilaterally from the Balkans, leading Europeans remain nervous about the administration. They recognize his reluctance to continue their continent’s free defense ride, especially as the Balkans explode again. It is time Washington expected the Europeans to secure their own interests.

The Clinton administration was good to Europe. It expanded NATO, brokered the deal preserving an artificial Bosnia, managed the war in Kosovo, and deployed a significant garrison in the Balkans. At the same time, it continued to guarantee the security of populous, prosperous states that face no obvious military threats.

Then the pre-election suggestion by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the American troops might be pulled from Kosovo set off ill-concealed panic across the continent. Lt. Gen. Carlo Cabigiosu of Italy, commander of KFOR, the Kosovo garrison, argued, “politically, no doubt, for the project of restabilizing the Balkans, the U.S. is very important.” A host of unnamed European officials whined to American newspapers that Washington’s presence was “vital.”

Yet at the same moment, European officials were chortling about their newly dynamic economies. Jean-Claude Trichet, governor of the Bank of France, contended: “The European outlook, barring proof to the contrary, is one of growth. In the United States, there are signs of a fairly considerable slowdown.” Despite Europe’s growing economic difficulties, it is still expected to outgrow America in 2001.

So why must Washington continue subsidizing Europe’s defense?

The European Union has a much larger population than and a comparable economy to those of the United States. No other power compares.

The Serbians and Albanian guerrillas certainly can’t compete. Europe has 1.6 million men under arms, enough to garrison the entire Balkans if desired. The Europeans’ combat effectiveness is far less than that of the United States, but they could remedy that. Indeed, the Europeans are talking of creating a more serious defense capability.

The lack of any genuine security threat in Europe has left NATO enthusiasts to talk about America’s “global responsibility” and the importance of being “engaged.” At his last NATO ministerial meeting, former Defense Secretary William Cohen sputtered about “unity” and the importance of avoiding an “EU caucus.” Jessica Fugate of the Council on Foreign Relations says that NATO is important “so that we are not alone when crises arise.”

What kind of crises? Warns Fugate: “risks to European security remain, which are multifaceted and multidirectional, such as international criminal networks, and thus hard to grasp and assess.” America must remain the dominant partner in a transatlantic military alliance with 100,000 troops in Europe to fight crime.

No Need to Feel Threatened

The United States possesses the strongest military, largest economy, and most dominant culture on the planet. Rather than feeling threatened by every minor civil war or social disturbance, the American people can feel secure.

Real leadership means devolving security responsibilities on populous and prosperous allies. World War II and the Cold War reflected unusual hegemonic threats that caused the United States to deploy overwhelming military power. And at enormous expense—the latter cost more than $13 trillion in current dollars.

But those conflicts are over, and the defensive capabilities of America’s allies have dramatically increased. They haven’t bothered to do much more, however. Almost four years ago, Gen. John Sheehan, then Supreme Allied Commander of the Atlantic, warned: “The technological gap between the United States and Europe is growing. Soon the other members of NATO will be little more than constabulary forces, with the United States possessing the only genuine modern army.” And he was right. Even the Europeans were embarrassed by their appalling performance in the Kosovo war, fielding just 10 to 15 percent of America’s combat capabilities. That reflects lack of effort, not resources.

They won’t do more, however, because they don’t believe they need to. They perceive the potential risks differently. And most important, they recognize that Washington is determined to protect them even if they do nothing. True, the Europeans are pressing to create a 60,000-man rapid deployment force by 2003. However, such a unit would require real resources, something the Europeans have not been willing to provide so long as they can rely on America.

America’s untoward generosity creates another problem. It encourages the Europeans to hand off their problems to America—like the Balkans, which is growing ever messier, with ethnic Albanian guerrillas operating in Macedonia and Serbia.

An expanding European Union is another problem being dropped in the lap of the United States. Last year European Commission President Romano Prodi said, while visiting Latvia, that the EU would issue security guarantees for all EU members, four of which are not members of NATO. Given the absence of any EU military, let alone an effective one, the enforcement burden will inevitably fall on the American people, as would protection of ever-more distant states, such as the nine central and East European countries that have requested admission to NATO in 2002.

Washington should begin devolving security responsibility on others. The Balkans is the obvious place to start. The Europeans argue that they already provide more than 80 percent of the troops and 90 percent of the financial assistance in the region. True, which means that if they think intervention is necessary, they can provide 100 percent without any strain.

And Americans have cause to leave—quickly. Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia are all catastrophes in waiting. There is no reason for the American people, who are forced to carry global burdens, to garrison every local trouble spot—especially when neighboring states have both more interests at stake and sufficient resources to act.

Secretary of State Colin Powell calls NATO “sacrosanct.” But an institution so wonderful should be able to adapt to change, both in the threat environment and the resources available to meet any threats.

The Bush administration should begin shedding the defensive responsibilities that have burdened the American people for so long. Then the Europeans, if they so wish, can handle the Balkans’ civil wars.


  • Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of a number of books on economics and politics. He writes regularly on military non-interventionism.