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Jewish World Review June 19, 2001 / 29 Sivan, 5761

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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A maturing Europe? -- PRESIDENT George Bush is off on his first visit to Europe, but the Europeans are unhappy hosts. They want America to protect them militarily, but criticize any independent U.S. action on issues ranging from the environment to missile defense. Bush should respond by inviting Europe to take over its own defense.

The pre-election suggestion by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the United States might pull its troops from Kosovo set off ill-concealed panic across the continent. A host of European officials whined that Washington's presence was "vital."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently sparked a new round of hand-wringing by talking about bringing home America's forces from Bosnia.

But why should 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.

Certainly not Russia, with a military and economy that have both imploded. Today, Britain, France and Germany each spend about as much on defense as does Moscow.

Neither Serbia nor Albanian guerrillas can compete.

Europe has 1.6 million men under arms, enough to garrison the entire Balkans, if desired.

The Europeans are talking of creating a more serious defense capability, but that made the Clinton administration nervous. Worried NATO enthusiasts sputtered about America's "global responsibility" and the importance of being "engaged."

For instance, Jessica Fugate of the Council on Foreign Relations argued that NATO is important "so that we are not alone when crises arise." What kind of crises? Threats "such as international criminal networks," explained Fugate.

For this, America must remain the dominant partner in a trans-Atlantic military alliance? To fight crime?

The issue is not isolation vs. engagement, but what kind of engagement. The U.S. 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, it can remain aloof, choosing when to intervene. That is, it can exercise the sort of discernment and selectivity implied by real leadership.

Real leadership also means devolving security responsibilities upon populous and prosperous allies. The post-World War II military threats to America and its allies have largely disappeared; the capabilities of the latter to defend themselves have dramatically increased.

They haven't bothered to do much more, however. Even the Europeans were embarrassed by their appalling performance in the Kosovo war, fielding just 10 percent to 15 percent of America's combat capabilities.

They won't do more as long as they don't believe they need to. And they recognize that Washington is determined to protect them even if they do nothing. To continue smothering Europe in America's military embrace will only encourage continued irresponsibility.

True, the Europeans are plotting a 60,000-man rapid deployment force. U.S. carping aside, however, there is little in the continent's past behavior to suggest that the plan will become more than talk.

Such a force will require real resources, something the Europeans have not been willing to provide so long as they can rely on America. Relative spending by Britain, Germany and Italy has been falling for years; indeed, German officials have said that their military outlays may eventually drop to just 1.1 percent of GDP, one-third U.S. levels.

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

And an expanding European Union. Last year, European Commission President Romano Prodi said that the EU would issue security guarantees for all EU members, four of which are not members of NATO.

Given the absence of an EU military, let alone an effective one, any enforcement would fall on America. As would protection of ever-more distant states, such as the nine Central and East European countries that have requested to join NATO in 2002.

Washington should begin devolving security responsibilities on its allies. The Balkans is the obvious place to start.

The United States has cause to leave - quickly. Kosovo and Macedonia are catastrophes ready to blow. Bosnia is little better, an artificial state marked by pervasive corruption and festering hostility that survives only through a foreign military occupation.

There is no reason for the United States, which, unlike its allies, carries global burdens, to garrison such local trouble spots. Especially when neighboring states have both greater interests at stake and sufficient resources to act.

The Bush administration should set a new policy course and encourage development of a truly independent European defense capability. Then the Europeans could handle little issues like Balkan civil wars and EU security. And the United States could worry about the big issues, such as the re-emergence of a serious global hegemonic threat.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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08/15/00: European garrison for Kosovo?
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05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

04/28/00: American tripwire in Korea long ago disappeared: Why are we still involved?

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