Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Commentary

Countering Isolationism in Congress

Foreign policy: We mustn't shirk our responsibilities in the Balkans because of a rigid, ideologically based misconception.

May 11, 2000|JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. | Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) is the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

It's May in Washington. The flowers are blooming, the tourists are arriving and Congress is beginning its annual rite of spring: debating whether to engage seriously in international affairs--this year, in the Balkans.

One would think that having successfully fought a war to liberate Kosovo, Americans would be determined to win the peace. Yet powerful forces in Congress appear unwilling to meet the challenge.

Their arguments run the gamut from neo-isolationism to pseudo-realpolitik, but all share a common trait of an ideologically grounded refusal to stare facts in the face.

For some in Congress, the Balkans remain a distant, half-civilized place where naive, do-gooder Americans are doomed to failure. Their critique usually begins with intellectually lazy formulations like "those people have been fighting each other for 500 years."

Leaving aside the breathtaking superficiality of such sound bites, one might ask the non-involvement Cassandras how it is that the French and Germans are now the closest of allies after having fought three bloody wars with each other between 1870 and 1945. Or that Hungary has buried the hatchet with Romania, Poland with Germany, Slovenia with Italy, and so on. The peoples of the southern Balkans are sentient beings who, when given a chance, similarly can learn from their mistakes.

Others base their opposition to U.S. assistance on allegedly unequal burden-sharing of our European allies. Some would even condition U.S. assistance on actions of the European Union, an abdication of our prerogatives in decision-making that ought to horrify conservatives.

We hardly are getting a bad deal in the Balkans. According to the most recent figures, 86% of the troops in the Kosovo Force, or KFOR, are being supplied by our European allies and other countries. Yet for our 14%, we retain ultimate command through the American Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Fully 88% of the pledges for civilian police for Kosovo come from outside the U.S., and 87% of all police officers pledged have already been deployed.

With regard to humanitarian and reconstruction assistance pledged to Kosovo, 84% comes from countries other than the U.S. In fact, the American share of the first round of funding for the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe amounts to a whopping 3.3%.

Our European friends recognize that we did most of the fighting last year, so they have stepped up to the plate to bear the overwhelming share of the reconstruction costs in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans.

Another criticism of our ongoing involvement is that the Balkans allegedly are a strategic sideshow. But the Balkans remain central to our European interests. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO's 1991 and 1999 strategic concepts both identified Bosnia- or Kosovo-type conflicts as the most likely threats to the alliance. Renewed fighting in Kosovo would almost certainly spread to Macedonia, the perennial tinderbox of the area, and once again would spawn massive refugee flows, which would destabilize large parts of the continent.

Finally, critics assert remaining engaged in the Balkans is too expensive and uses up scarce resources, leading to a "hollowing out" of our military. Again, the facts contradict the rhetoric. We can afford to maintain 10,000 troops in the Balkans and still provide the funding to assure that we meet our commitments elsewhere in the world with a military far superior to any other country's. The cost this year of maintaining our troops in Bosnia and Kosovo together constitutes only a tiny 1.06% of our defense budget.

With our booming economy and our massive federal budget surplus, we have the capability to bring all of our divisions up to combat readiness without gravely sacrificing our national strategic interest by disengaging from the Balkans. In truth, the only thing that might make this impossible would be the budget-busting, massive tax cut called for by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush.

Through its nuclear guarantee and by stationing millions of American troops on the Continent over a 50-year period, the United States has been the anchor of European security. A stable, prosperous Western Europe is the fruit of our labors. Now we have partners able and willing to share the burden of extending that security to the rest of the Continent. To refuse to do our part in this effort out of rigid, ideologically based misconceptions would be folly of historic proportions.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|