- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

President George Bush has returned from his first visit to Europe, after endorsing membership in NATO for "all of Europes democracies." But the Europeans have been unhappy hosts.
They want America to protect them militarily but criticize any independent U.S. action on issues ranging from the environment to missile defense. Instead of supporting expanded U.S. security guarantees for Europe, President Bush should invite Americas prosperous and populous allies to take over their own defense.
The pre-election suggestion by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the U.S. might pull its troops from Kosovo set off ill-concealed panic across the Continent. A host of European officials whined that Washingtons presence was "vital." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently sparked a new round of hand-wringing by talking about bringing home Americas forces from Bosnia.
But why should Washington continue subsidizing Europes defense?
The European Union has a much larger population than, and an economy comparable to, that of the U.S. No other power compares. Certainly not Russia, with a military and economy that have both imploded. Today Britain, France, and Germany each spend about as much on defense as does Moscow.
Neither Serbia nor Albanian guerrillas can compete. Europe has 1.6 million men under arms, enough to garrison the entire Balkans, if desired.
The Europeans are talking of creating a more serious defense capability, but that made the Clinton administration nervous. Worried NATO enthusiasts sputtered about Americas "global responsibility" and the importance of being "engaged."
For instance, Jessica Fugate of the Council on Foreign Relations argued that NATO is important "so that we are not alone when crises arise." What kind of crises? Threats "such as international criminal networks," explained Mr. Fugate.
For this, America must remain the dominant partner in a trans-Atlantic military alliance? To fight crime?
The issue is not isolation vs. engagement, but what kind of engagement. The U.S. possesses the strongest military, largest economy, and most dominant culture on the planet.
Rather than feeling threatened by every minor civil war or social disturbance, it can remain aloof, choosing when to intervene. That is, it can exercise the sort of discernment and selectivity implied by real leadership.
Real leadership also means devolving security responsibilities upon populous and prosperous allies. The post-World War II military threats to America and its allies have largely disappeared; the capabilities of the latter to defend themselves have dramatically increased.
They havent bothered to do much more, however. Even the Europeans were embarrassed by their appalling performance in the Kosovo war, fielding just 10 percent to 15 percent of Americas combat capabilities.
They wont do more as long as they dont believe they need to. And they recognize that Washington is determined to protect them even if they do nothing. To continue smothering Europe in Americas military embrace will only encourage continued irresponsibility.
True, the Europeans are plotting a 60,000-man rapid-deployment force. U.S. carping aside, however, there is little in the Continents past behavior to suggest that the plan will become more than talk.
Such a force will require real resources, something the Europeans have not been willing to provide so long as they can rely on America. Relative spending by Britain, Germany and Italy has been falling for years; indeed, German officials have said their military outlays may eventually drop to just 1.1 percent of GDP, one-third U.S. levels.
Americas untoward generosity creates another problem it encourages the Europeans to hand off their problems. Like the Balkans, which is growing ever messier, with ethnic Albanian guerrillas operating in Macedonia and Serbia.
And an expanding European Union. Last year European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU would issue security guarantees for all EU members, four of which are not members of NATO. Given the absence of an EU military, let alone an effective one, any enforcement would fall on America. As would protection of ever-more distant states, such as the nine Central and East European countries that have requested to join NATO in 2002.
Washington should begin devolving security responsibilities on its allies. The Balkans is the obvious place to start.
The U.S. has cause to leave quickly. Kosovo and Macedonia are catastrophes ready to blow. Bosnia is little better, an artificial state marked by pervasive corruption and festering hostility that survives only through a foreign military occupation.
There is no reason for the United States, which, unlike its allies, carries global burdens, to garrison such local trouble spots. Especially when neighboring states have both greater interests at stake and sufficient resources to act.
The Bush administration should set a new policy course and encourage development of a truly independent European defense capability. Then the Europeans could handle little issues like Balkan civil wars and EU security. And the U.S. could worry about the big issues, such as the re-emergence of a serious global hegemonic threat.

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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