- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

While 14,000 Macedonians have been sent fleeing to neighboring countries as ethnic Albanian guerrillas try to fire their way to greater rights this month, the world's militaries have to ask themselves who should bear the responsibility for playing peacekeeper in this new Balkan crisis. Barely four months ago, the European Union approved a 60,000-member rapid reaction force that would respond to crises on the continent. This idea, spurred most recently by Europe's inability to handle the Balkan conflicts of the last decade by itself, was meant to streamline international defense missions in Europe and to launch their poorly-equipped forces from codependency to full capacity.
Now that a new conflict has actually presented itself, however, dreams of a self-contained European force appear unrealistic. A senior German official said Thursday that the conflict involving Macedonia and the surrounding area is not an example of a situation which should be handled by a European force alone. The United States and NATO as a whole will be integral to resolving the conflict, he said, and Germany and the rest of the European militaries are not equipped to handle such crises with their own self-contained force. In the case of Germany, he said, outdated military equipment made up of countless tanks made to fight an East-West battle in Cold War times creates a barrier. In addition to that, the defense budgets of the European countries don't have much to offer. Germany is looking at a deficit of $50 billion, while the United States is enjoying a surplus.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Serbia is not worried as NATO goes about the long process of trying to determine how much responsibility to give the Europeans in the present conflict, even with ethnic Albanians attacking its people.
"We don't expect too much from NATO," Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told the editorial page. "We expect to keep control of this region. NATO cannot do enough to suppress extremist elements, because these extremist elements will come back to harm them," he said. Because of the explosive nature of ethnic divisions in the region, he explained, for NATO to throw its firepower behind any one group would be counterproductive. Well, before they get too cocky reform-minded Serbs should not forget that it was NATO, together with the Yugoslav people, which forced dictator Slobodan Milosevic from power. The alliance's role in keeping the peace in the Balkans will remain vital. The Balkan conflict will not be contained without burden sharing in some form, which is of course the purpose of an international military partnership.
However, Europeans should not again renounce the role they have in diffusing the conflict in their own backyard, nor can they afford to ignore their military deficiencies. Europe ought to take active measures to boost its militaries and do more of its own peacekeeping, which has suffered as the continent's forces have often depended on the United States and Britain to fight its battles. To have a real partnership, the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) must be crafted to strengthen, not fracture NATO.


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