- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

There's an old saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Having withdrawn its military from Central Europe too quickly at the end of World War II, thereby condemning half of the continent to living under dictatorships for the next 45 years, Washington now has a chance to learn from its past mistake. The fall of Slobodan Milosevic should not be the occasion for Congress to legislate an end to America's military commitment in the region. On the contrary, it should provide a rationale for remaining there in order to help to ensure that the Balkans become a productive part of an undivided Europe.
If Congress wants advice, it should just ask the American troops here in Kosovo. Despite low pay, long hours, and too much time away from home, morale is high and performance superb. The sergeants and their squads who accompanied me and a small group of other U.S. business executives decked out in flak jackets and helmets on night patrol have no doubt about the importance of their role and no delusions that it can end quickly. Simply put, the 7,000 Americans and 35,000 Europeans are here to help keep an uneasy peace in Europe's hottest tinderbox. However promising the developments in Serbia, there may initially be more, not less, unrest in the Balkans.
Providing stability to the region is essential to the well-being of all of Europe and therefore the United States. But that goal will not be reached by trying, yet again, to quarantine this troubled peninsula, but rather by integrating the Balkan states into European institutions.
The East-West division between communism and democracy ended when the Iron Curtain was lowered in 1989. However, the West quietly raised a "Velvet Curtain" in its place in order to keep the former Warsaw Pact countries out. Simultaneously, a North-South split formed between Central Europe and the Balkans. When Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were finally admitted to NATO, it left Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia on the wrong side of this dangerous divide.
Yugoslavia was the most integrated Eastern European country in 1989; under Mr. Milosevic it became a pariah. Vojislav Kostunica will now lead a nation that has shrunk from six republics with 20 million people to a federation of only Serbia and Montenegro and 8 million people. In Kosovo, the ethnic Albanians fear the West's enthusiastic welcome of a democratic Yugoslavia will kill their dream of independence, touching off further violence.
Meanwhile, Bosnia is divided into three ethnic groups, and Macedonia can come apart at any time.
Unfortunately, at every stage of the unraveling of Yugoslavia, as Mr. Milosevic pursued his scheme of a Greater Serbia, the West reacted reluctantly to each immediate crisis, failing to look at the Balkans as a whole. When Slovenia declared its independence, no one dealt with Croatia. When Croatia seceded, violence began in Bosnia. And while everyone was preoccupied with Bosnia, ethnic cleansing of Albanians began in Kosovo.
The rest of the region has fared better. Austria, the bridge linking Western Europe to Central Europe and the Balkans, may end its half-century of neutrality to join NATO. Hungary and Romania are now allies. Croatia, with a new government, is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which is guaranteed to have a beneficial effect on neighboring Bosnia. Albania, the poorest European state, will be assured a modicum of stability by financial assistance and the presence of Western troops. And Greece has relaxed its embargo on Macedonia and now discusses cooperation and friendship with Turkey.
The unintended consequence of the bloodbath in the Balkans over the last eight years may be the realization that an integration strategy, not an exit strategy, is the only way to deal with the Balkans and Central Europe. At last December's Helsinki summit, the European Union's leaders pledged to open accession negotiations with Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. The next step is to expand the idea so that Slovakia and all the Balkans are eventually admitted to the EU.
For a half-century, Republicans and Democrats understood the basic premise that America's own security depends on a peaceful and democratic Europe. Throughout the Cold War, the United States stationed hundreds of thousands of troops in Western Europe to defend these principles. Surely it is worth keeping a small fraction of these forces in Bosnia and Kosovo to finish the job.

Stanley A. Weiss is founder and chairman of Business Executives for National Security, an organization of U.S. business leaders.

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