That dangerous enlargement of NATO’s purview exposes the United States to possible involvement in conflicts all around the world. Indeed, if NATO can intervene in Kosovo, it can theoretically intervene anywhere. That is an especially ominous prospect, given Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright’s statement earlier this year that NATO should extend its geographic reach beyond the European continent and evolve into “a force for peace from the Middle East to Central Africa.” Kosovo is just one of a number of places where a minority group within an established state has engaged in a violent effort to achieve national independence: Armenians in Azerbaijan, Christians in Sudan, Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Kashmiri Muslims in India, Karens in Burma, Tibetans and Uighurs in China, Chechens in Russia, Abkhazis in Georgia, and so on.
Second, if NATO intervenes in Kosovo, it will further set back Europe’s ability to build its own security and defense identity, one that does not depend psychologically and militarily on the transatlantic participation of the United States.
Defining Kosovo as a European problem would make those nations closest to the Balkans responsible for maintaining regional stability; strengthen the credibility of European security institutions; and improve the quality, consistency, impact and profile of their operations. To a great extent, it was precisely the lack of such a robust, European‐level security architecture in 1992–95 that inhibited the Continent’s ability to handle a crisis in its own back yard in Bosnia.
Over the past few years, NATO has taken initial steps that would enable the Western European Union to undertake such a project. Indeed, by beginning to work out procedures for releasing NATO assets to the WEU, designating NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander as Europe’s prospective strategic commander, and identifying NATO officers who could be loaned to European operations, NATO has recognized that there are circumstances in which Europe should act militarily without bringing into play the full apparatus of the transatlantic alliance; that is, the United States. More American military involvement in the Balkans will only set back that goal and perpetuate Europe’s security dependence on the United States.
Third, if NATO intervention in Kosovo evolves into a peacekeeping operation — as happened in Bosnia — that could further reduce U.S. military readiness by keeping more American soldiers away from combat training. In fact, over the past 10 years, the U.S. Army has been used in 29 significant overseas operations, compared with 10 in the previous 40 years. According to the Pentagon, the strain of so many operations has manifested itself in downward trend lines across various readiness categories in all military services. Moreover, throughout the military, there is mounting evidence of erosion in America’s troop morale and combat strength. Troops complain that repeated deployments on peace operations and other noncombat missions have compromised their combat training. A Kosovo peacekeeping operation will simply add to the problem.
Once again the Clinton administration has set an interventionist course without addressing several key questions. As a result, the United States may soon find itself saddled with yet another strategically irrelevant military commitment overseas.