When NATO's air war against Yugoslavia ended last year, the United States joined with its European allies in sending ground forces to keep the peace in Kosovo. Congress neither debated that commitment nor voted on it. Now many members are having second thoughts. The Senate Appropriations Committee this week voted 23 to 3 to cut off funds for U.S. forces in Kosovo after July 1, 2001, unless the next president seeks and receives from Congress explicit authorization to continue the mission. Right now there's a good chance he wouldn't get it.
Congressional weariness with the overcommitment of U.S. forces abroad is growing, and not just among neo-isolationists suspicious of any involvement beyond the continental shelf. Kosovo is deservedly a sore point. The 5,900 Americans there are filling a role--essentially playing policemen--that the European members of the alliance should rightfully take over.
The NATO air war was mainly a U.S. operation; Washington's allies flew only 20% of the airstrikes. That's all they were capable of doing. But there's no similar excuse for failing to fulfill postwar ground duty in Kosovo. George Robertson, the NATO secretary-general, pointed out last year that European members sent to Kosovo less than 2% of the total military personnel available to them. With a modest effort and a mustering of political will, Kosovo now could be a fully European operation, as indeed it should be.
Per capita American spending on the military is more than twice that of the European NATO average. The imbalance in burden-sharing is exacting stiff costs in other ways as well, including sharp and worrying declines in U.S. reenlistment due to excessive and disruptive overseas deployments. The White House frets that the Senate committee's action "sends the wrong message." On the contrary, it sends the European allies exactly the right message, however reluctant they may be to hear it.