Commentary

Europe’s Welfare Queens

The Clinton administration, headed by someone who refused to serve in Vietnam, is going to war. Without even the pretense of justification for bombing another sovereign state.

Yugoslavia hasn’t attacked the U.S. It hasn’t threatened American citizens. It isn’t even the worst human rights offender around the globe.

Conflict wracks many other countries. In January more people were killed in Sierra Leone than in Kosovo all last year. More people were murdered in one massacre in Afghanistan in December than died in Kosovo in 1998. As many people died in one three-day battle between Tamil guerrillas and the Sri Lankan government last fall as in Kosovo the entire year.

Indeed, though Slobodan Milosevic is a demagogic thug, the behavior of his government towards Albanians looks not unlike that of America’s ally Turkey towards the Kurds. Ankara uses U.S.-supplied weapons to kill Kurdish guerrillas and level Kurdish villages; some 37,000 people have perished over the last decade.

But the administration says nothing in any of these conflicts. President Clinton obviously believes humanitarianism means saving white Europeans.

There are more than enough flaws in the administration’s policy. It seems to believe that it can micromanage a guerrilla war, and impose a solution which neither party supports. In fact, backing insurgents who long for a greater Albania is likely to spread nationalistic flames throughout the region.

Moreover, President Clinton will ensure permanent European dependence on America. There should be little doubt that events in Kosovo are more relevant to Europe than America. Yet the U.S. is being expected to take the lead in Kosovo.

Why? NATO was created a half century ago to provide a defense shield behind which the Europeans could rebuild. The alliance was never intended to provide a permanent subsidy for populous and prosperous states after the hegemonic threat had disappeared.

In fact, the American leaders who originally shaped NATO would be appalled at continued U.S. domination of the alliance. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned: “Permanent troop establishments abroad” will “discourage the development of the necessary military strength Western European countries should provide for themselves.”

Experience has borne out Eisenhower’s fears. Although the Europeans were always far more at risk than was the U.S., they never matched America’s defense effort.

Their preference for social over military spending is matched by a reluctance to act without America. In the eyes of some, this demonstrates the necessity of American leadership.

However, by acting when the Europeans choose not to guarantees continued European passivity. So long as they can induce Washington to subsidize their defense and moderate their conflicts, they have no incentive to organize independently.

Instead of constantly bailing Europe out of its troubles— troubles which, in contrast to those in times past, do not threaten its very existence—America should set the Europeans free to make their own decisions and bear the resulting consequences. Let the members of the European Union, with a combined GDP of $8 trillion, population of nearly 400 million, and armed forces of more than one million sort out the problems of the Balkans. That is, if they believe doing so to be worth the cost.

Truly ridiculous are claims that U.S. military intervention is necessary to save NATO. For instance, Robert Hunter of the Rand Corporation complains that “If fighting in Kosovo goes on unabated at the time of NATO’s 50th anniversary summit in Washington this April, the focus will not be on its new strategic concept or grand visions. Kosovo will overshadow both celebration of the past and plans for the future.” One of Clinton’s foreign policy hands was quoted anonymously as contending that “the alliance itself is at risk because if it’s unable to address a major threat within Europe, it really loses its reason for being.”

The argument is silly on its face: the conflict in Kosovo endangers no NATO member, let alone poses a “major threat.” Serbia is not a new Soviet Union.

Even more idiotic is the notion that the U.S. should go to war to preserve the European alliance. This turns a means into an end. Alliances are created to deter and win wars; wars should not be used to preserve and strengthen an alliance.

In fact, NATO lost its raison d’etre with the collapse of communism. There is no better evidence that the alliance is ready to join the Warsaw Pact in the dustbin of history than fears that NATO can’t survive without bombing a small country on the periphery of Europe.

To paraphrase German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single healthy American pilot. The duty of the President is to defend this nation, not to go warmongering around the world in the name of peace.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.