- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Defense Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld caused quite a stir in Europe recently when he told a gathering of NATO defense ministers that the number of NATO troops in Bosnia should be reduced by a third by the end of 2002. "NATO military authorities," he added, "should be tasked to develop options, so that allies can make a decision by our next ministerial [meeting] for such a reduced and restructured force."

Here's one option that should definitely be considered: Passing the baton to the Europeans. It is, after all, Europe not the United States that is most affected by what happens in the Balkans.

Over the past few years, NATO has taken several steps to enable Europe to undertake just such a mission. Most notable was the advent of the Combined Joint Task Force mechanism, or CJTF, in 1999. Before then, NATO members had only two options when it came to alliance commitments either every member was in or every member was out. Such a rigid decision-making structure was bound to cause political tensions within the alliance someday when the specific interests of member states diverged.

The Task Force was developed to add a needed dimension of flexibility to the alliance. Through the CJTF, alliance members opting out of a specific NATO mission does not automatically prevent other members from going ahead with a NATO operation if they deem it necessary to their national interest.

Bosnia presents the United States with a golden opportunity to put the CJTF to work in a way that recognizes that there are circumstances where Europe should act without employing the full apparatus of the trans-Atlantic alliance, i.e., the United States. This would be beneficial for the United

States now because, as Mr. Rumsfeld has noted, America's open-ended deployments in the Balkans are putting "an increasing strain on both our forces and our resources when they face growing demands from critical missions in the war on terrorism."

In pursuing the CJTF option, Washington would take a long-overdue step in obliging Europeans to play a greater role in stabilizing their own continent than they do today.

Europeans have spoken volumes in support of this general objective and constantly emphasize that they already provide the majority of peacekeepers deployed in the Balkans. But the fact is that they still depend psychologically and materially on the participation of the United States.

Moreover, their defense spending and military capabilities are presently out of sync with their professed goal. Several European nations, in fact, spend less than half in terms of a percentage of GDP of what the United States spends on defense. Moreover, the Kosovo air campaign made it clear that Europe is not on a par with the United States when it comes to war-fighting capabilities. Indeed, during the bombing, a U.S. Air Force general said the shortcomings of European aircraft were so glaring such as the lack of night-vision capability and absence of laser-guided weapon systems that European sorties had to be curtailed to avoid unnecessary risks to other alliance pilots and civilians on the ground.

Justifiably embarrassed by the vast disparity between their military capabilities and America's especially at the high end of military technology the European Union announced plans in December 1999 to create a formal mechanism for crisis management a common European security and defense policy and to develop their capabilities in key military areas. In November 2000 the EU began to give teeth to that idea by pledging troops and equipment to create its own 60,000-strong rapid reaction (RRF) force by 2003.

Turning Bosnia over to the Europeans under the CJTF mechanism could serve as a needed policy bridge from the present arrangement to an eventual hand off to the proposed RRF. Adopting this plan would keep Europe honest; it would have to spend more and do more for its own defense. Fortunately, the demands on the ground in Bosnia right now closely match the core competencies Europeans presently have anyway; the mission calls for a civil-military police role on the light end of peacekeeping. That is the kind of mission the Europeans are better versed in than the United States.

Thus it is only logical that the RRF should inherit Bosnia as its first mission.

Why might Europe not want to pursue this course? Its own Balkan ghosts; that is, the fear of taking responsibility after its involvement in Bosnia in the early 1990s was undermined by Washington's incessant back-seat driving. Indeed, Europeans are desperate not to have a repeat of the pre-1995 Bosnia peacekeeping operation, when they provided all the troops but the United States pursued its own diplomatic initiatives from the sidelines. That sent conflicting signals to the warring sides and undercut European diplomacy. If Washington should now decide to give Europe the job, it must be prepared this time to let its allies call the shots.

There are many advantages to pursuing such a policy. By saying yes to the RRF, Washington can change the terms of the trans-Atlantic debate, force the allies to make good on their promises to alleviate burden-sharing problems within the alliance, and allow the United States to better prepare for and win America's wars.

Gary Dempsey, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, is editor of the forthcoming book, "Exiting the Balkan Thicket."

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