Kosovo Intervention Highlights European Free Riding

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Our military attacks on Serbia have been portrayed by the Clinton administration as a NATO mission -- a true multilateral effort with our European allies. But the reality is much different.

To support the fiction that NATO is the driving force behind the militaryaction, the Pentagon has seen to it that European NATO officials in Brusselsbrief the world about the ongoing operations in the Balkans. They standbehind podiums emblazoned with the alliance logo and hand out briefingpapers that are stamped "NATO." But the forces in harm's way are primarilyAmerican. And the United States has contributed an estimated 65-75 percentof the cost of the war effort to date.

Once the current buildup of air power to 1,000 aircraft is complete, U.S.planes will be about 80 percent of the aircraft involved in the operation.Even before the buildup, an anonymous U.S. Air Force source noted thatAmerican aircraft were flying 90 percent of the combat missions. (ThePentagon is suppressing official data on the number of missions each NATOnation has conducted.) The U.S. percentage will increase as the forcesgrow. This lop-sided assumption of burden results from vast U.S.superiority in available aircraft, weapons, battlefield electronics,readiness and mobile logistics and support assets.

U.S. troops would also make up a disproportionate percentage of groundforces in an invasion of Kosovo or Serbia. According to retired Army Maj.Gen. Edward Atkeson, 50 percent of any NATO ground force would be Americanbecause "we've got the best stuff." The United States has militarycapabilities -- for example, in logistics and support assets such as trucks,equipment transport, ammunition-handling equipment, maintenance units,combat engineers, military police and medical units -- in areas where theallies are sorely deficient.

When NATO issued its first post-Cold War strategic concept in 1991, theEuropeans promised to improve the mobility of their air and ground forces sothat they could more easily conduct operations outside NATO territory. Inthe eight years since then, they have made little progress. At last week'sNATO summit in Washington, European members agreed to a new bureaucraticstructure to "coordinate" future upgrades in logistics capabilities andweapons procurement, but little else.

In fact, there is now worry in the alliance that U.S. forces may become sosuperior to the forces of the other members that NATO forces will no longerbe able to operate together. This disparity in capability arises from thewide gap in military spending between the United States and its allies: theUnited States spends about $280 billion a year on national defense while thelargest of our NATO allies spend a mere fraction of that. Britain spendsabout $40 billion, France about $30 billion, Germany about $25 billion andItaly about $20 billion. And given the great disparity between U.S. andallied contributions to the war effort against Serbia, the United Stateswill also bear the bulk of the supplemental expenses required to conduct thewar: money to replenish spent missiles, ammunition and fuel and for extramaintenance of equipment. (The Clinton administration has submitted alowball estimate of $6 billion to fund the air war through September, butthe eventual bill will reach at least $16 billion if ground troops areused.)

If the United States continues to bail out Europeans from even minorsecurity scrapes, such as small civil wars in remote parts of Europe likeKosovo, they'll never spend the money needed to provide militarycapabilities adequate to handle such situations themselves.

As always, the United States cares more about European security than theEuropeans do and seems to be willing to pay the costs in blood and treasurewhen it perceives that such security is threatened. But Kosovo presents nothreat. The Clinton administration raises the haunting specter of anotherEurope-wide conflagration, implying that the current conflict in the Balkansis somehow comparable to the situation prior to the onset of World War I.But that's simply not a valid comparison. Then, some of the European greatpowers were actively seeking gains in the Balkans. Today, the countries ofEurope harbor no territorial designs and seek only stability in the region.Despite Russia's bluster, it is no exception and is currently too weak toaggressively defend Serb interests even if it wanted to. Simply put, theUnited States had no vital interests in Yugoslavia during the Cold War andhas none now.

If the United States keeps rescuing its European allies from small brushfirewars, it will be doomed to do so for eternity. They will continue to take a"free ride" instead and never quite get around to developing the agilemilitary forces needed to put out such small fires.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.