- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

If the ethnic Albanians had their way, NATO would be a tool to create their Greater Albania, an ethnically pure homeland which would expand Albania to parts of Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo. The United States would lead the alliance in the Balkans and remain in the role of big brother, getting them out of scrapes when they become involved in excessive paramilitary violence. Macedonians and the Serbs waver between protesting the U.S. presence and pleading with them to disarm the ethnic Albanians. Europeans have considered it more convenient for the United States to continue to play a leading role in NATO peacekeeping during a time when European defense budgets are tight, while criticizing it for its shortcomings. For the United States, continued leadership on the ground has meant a backlash of violence by Macedonians, injured U.S. soldiers and an attack on the American Embassy in Skopje by protesters.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson left for a mission to Macedonia last week in the face of growing violence there after drawing up plans to send 3,000 troops to Macedonia to keep the peace and collect guerrilla weapons. Though he stipulated that there could only be a mission on the ground if a cease-fire and political deal resulting from peace talks between four Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties were made, Americans have already been forced to take the lead in the fray in the meantime. This has been to the detriment of the Balkan peace process and to the U.S. troops themselves.
Ask Sgt. Richard Casini of West Virginia. In the process of trying to get rid of the guerrillas' weapons near the border of Kosovo and Macedonia last month, he lost a foot when he stepped on a land mine, the New York Times reported. Ask the U.S. GIs whom Mr. Robertson ordered to escort 400 ethnic Albanian rebels out of the guerrilla stronghold of Aracinovo, and then dropped them a few miles down the road, where they continued the fighting. In the wake of this mission, thousands of Macedonians protested violently in the streets of Skopje, 1,800 new refugees fled from Macedonia to Kosovo the next day, and European NATO allies and Macedonians criticized the United States as a partisan force trying to protect the Albanian guerrillas.
Germany has now taken to criticizing the United States' role in the Balkans. While the official line of the German Embassy in Washington was that the United States' role is still important, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told confidants that the "international community," meaning the Americans, had "not acted consistently" and "shared responsibility" for the crisis, according to yesterday's German weekly Der Spiegel. The same report quoted Greens Party Deputy Winfried Nachtwei and the deputy leader of Germany's opposition party, Willy Wimmer, as blaming the United States for training the rebels and supporting their desire for a Greater Albania.
In a time when the United States is seen as a partisan force, the Europeans must step up their role in peacekeeping in the face of increasing violence. The Bush administration has said U.S. troops will still be in the Balkans for years, and, indeed, the U.S. commitment to upholding peace in the region is unwavering. However, in a time when violence is only increasing in the region, Europeans would do best to stop criticizing and starting sharing more of the responsibility for peacekeeping.

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