While the American people have an interest in peace in the former Yugoslavia, American military forces have no business policing the just-completed Dayton accords. The Clinton administration is interested in deploying U.S. troops not so much for the peace and security of Bosnia as for the survival of the U.S. military presence in Europe.
On the fragile back of peace now rests the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, into which American taxpayers have poured trillions of dollars over the past half-century. Formed early in the Cold War in the name of countering a Soviet threat to Western Europe, NATO served as the rationale for a U.S. military presence in Europe which even today accounts for a major part of the Pentagon’s $250 billion annual budget.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, NATO and the Pentagon have been searching for a new mission. With no enemy in sight there is no need for tens of thousands of American troops in Germany, air force and naval bases all over the continent, and listening posts stretching from the North Cape of Gibraltar to Turkey to the English moors.
Enter the war in Bosnia. That long, bloody, intractable civil conflict gave NATO an opportunity to justify itself as a military force in the post-Cold War world, especially after a United Nations peace-keeping force proved unequal to the task. Limited air strikes launched earlier this year justified the mobilization of U.S. and other NATO air and naval forces from all over the Mediterranean. Commitment of 20,000 U.S. ground troops to enforce the Dayton peace settlement in Bosnia would engage NATO even more fully and secure an active role for it into the indefinite future.
No wonder the nation’s military leaders have stifled their qualms about getting bogged down, Vietnam style, in mountainous terrain in a limited operation having no clear military objective or exit plan. At stake is the European centerpiece of the Pentagon’s vast overseas establishment.
After four years of war and rape and ethnic cleansing, the battered people of the remnants of old Yugoslavia deserve the peace and security that a neutral military presence could bring. But NATO is neither the only nor the best means of delivering it. Other nations with no agenda of their own in the Balkans could be found to enforce the peace.
Sweden, Holland, India, New Zealand, and South Africa are all neutral countries with the military wherewithal, alone or in combination, to enforce the peace in Bosnia. And they are probably better suited to keep the peace because they do not carry the political baggage that NATO does, with its desire to perpetuate itself as the policeman of Europe.
Neutral nations enforcing a Balkan peace could do so under U.N. command, as was done in Bosnia, or by U.N.-sanctioned agreement with the previously warring parties. The United States could best help by contributing financially to the operation, including full payment of its overdue U.N. assessment.
For the American people there would be a double payoff from keeping our troops out of Bosnia but supporting the settlement in non-military ways. One would be the satisfaction of having played a constructive role in that troubled part of the world. The other would be a substantial start toward the solution of equally troubling problems here at home.
We have yet to face the realities of the post-Cold War world: our outdated justification for a vast and burdensome global military establishment, the rise of economic competitors not similarly burdened, and the fiscal challenges born of fifteen years of deficit spending on the military.
Where are the billions of dollars for the rebuilding of our infrastructure, the restoration of hope in our inner cities, cleaning the environment, and other programs to rescue the nation from the same social and economic decline that ultimately bankrupted the world’s other superpower? The answer lies in the reordering of the nation’s priorities to meet the real needs of the people.
The scrapping of NATO, a relic of a national security policy that now makes no sense, would be a good place to begin. If we can contribute to that process by doing the right thing in Bosnia, our people will be doubly served.