If America wins the war, Europe must make the peace

The view from the Hill is that we have failed in Kosovo

Hugo Young

Thursday March 23, 2000

Washington - Outside the Balkans, the place where Kosovo matters most is Washington. This is not just because American boys are risking their lives there, though a hundred sudden body-bags would finish off Al Gore's presidential campaign. The reason people talk about it here far more intensely than in London is because they know it could yet be a strategic disaster: and, if it is, they'll be inclined to blame the Europeans. America won the war, Europe was meant to make the peace. That's how Washington sees Kosovo, a year on from the miles-high bombing. "It's a serious crisis now," a senior state department official told me. On the Hill, they're less circumspect. "There's real anger with Europe," said a congressional aide.

Europe hasn't done well. Even Britain, worried about over-stretch, has been pulling troops out of Kosovo, as the US continues to put more in. Pledges on a civilian police force are woefully unkept. The infrastructure isn't being rebuilt anything like fast enough, for reasons that are as much fratricidal as external. But the external failures enrage the Senate, where half the latest US pledge, for $2,000m, may be made conditional on the president certifying that the other allies are meeting their commitments. If they don't, there's talk of US withdrawal from Kosovo in 18 months' time. The Great Hegemon is selective in the responsibilities he wants to undertake.

It's less bothered than it was about the Europe's own defence policy (ESDP). After a year of wrangling about the ambitions Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac set in train at St Malo, Washington's alarms have subsided. Tory spokesmen, who toured here last autumn and came back saying not a single American favoured ESDP, have been confounded. Patient diplomacy, notably by the British, has produced words to satisfy the US that Nato's mission survives intact. Hardly anyone still says we had our pockets picked by the French, enfeebling the alliance. Everyone I spoke to now wants ESDP to work, which wasn't always so.

What troubles them is: will it? What troops, exactly, will make up the 60,000 that have been nominally committed? What about the back-up, the heavy lift, the communications, the air power? Where's the meat on the table? There's no sign of Europe spending more on defence, especially the biggest bit of Europe - Germany - where defence takes only 1.4% of GDP and Chancellor Schröder is promising tax cuts. The Pentagon watches with sceptical interest. "I note that France and Britain are in budget surplus," said a senior source there. In a capital where defence spending is on the rise, there's real fear - as there is in parts of Europe - that ESDP will turn out to consist of more brass-hats, more offices, more committees, not getting very far in their reinvention of the wheel.

Europe can't afford to let that happen. It would be calamitous for Nato, especially in Washington, and of this calamity Europe's sluggardly show in Kosovo is in danger of being a harbinger. There are people here, especially new-generation Republicans, who have no instinctive belief in the Atlantic alliance. If Europe bottles out in Kosovo, and then shows that all the flam about ESDP has been little more than Blair proving his European credentials and Chirac scoring cherished points against the US, the disillusionment will be close to terminal.

It wouldn't, I think, be instantaneous. If there had to be a Nato war for Montenegro, the US would surely step up to the task. The stability of Europe is still seen as a vital US interest. But we're not living with the cold war any more. The structures of threat and power have changed. Political seepage will at some stage begin to erode support for a Europe that cannot find the collective will to do enough for itself. Worse than no ESDP will be one that turns out to be an empty pretence.

Fears of a European army - that vaporous construct of the erratic President Prodi - are beside the point: a hallu cination of which Washington seems to have rid itself sooner than simple-minded William Hague. The danger is that Europe won't be able to assemble even a regiment fit for the tasks it has solemnly laid on itself.

At its worst, this could turn out to be the pre-history of a slow decoupling: not yet conscious, certainly not desired, sincerely disavowed in the Pentagon and State department, but in danger of becoming a consequence of hegemonic attitudes in the dominant world power. These are, after all, already on vigorous display. Land mines, Kyoto, the international criminal court, Nato enlargement, the test ban treaty, United Nations dues: all attest to the frailties of a world order only available on American terms - America exempting itself whenever it wants. Europe faces the difficult choice of lying down in front of this, or, where it can, doing something for itself.

The hardest challenge may come from America's national missile defence (NMD) plans, discussed here on Tuesday. The US looks as though it will deploy a system Europe thinks unnecessary and unworkable. Fylingdales could become a target. This could itself make Europe more vulnerable if Iran or Iraq got long-range missiles. If US policy required another war against Iraq, would Europe, in those circumstances, join in as willingly as in 1990? If the US went to war notwithstanding, what protection would she offer London or Paris against Middle East nuclear attack? In short, how can anyone be sure, as they begin to decipher the calculus of NMD, that European and American security interests will remain the same?

One answer is to say that Europe must fold itself into the protections of NMD: missiles as well as radar on the moors, the scrapping of vital treaties with Russia, redoubled coupling. If NMD turns out to be technically more feasible than now suspected, that is a logical option. But who can believe in the greenish Germans and separatist French, or even the acquiescent British, agreeing to such an American escalation on their soil, even for their speculative benefit? From where would the Euro-billions for NMD suddenly become available?

The moral is that at least Europe has to provide the resources for ESDP. It is the only route to credibility on the field that matters most to the continent, its own back-yard. From being deeply suspect, as a source of US-EU distancing, a serious European defence policy has now become the minimum guarantee of a sustained alliance. It is also a back-up if coupling begins to wane. The people running Nato, not least George Robertson, know this very well. The challenge is to national leaders. Not even Blair is willing to talk honestly about higher defence spending. But that is what must come. The peace dividend was taken, in spades. Now some repayment has to start, to keep the Hegemon happy and simultaneously prepare for his retreat.

Original article