Battle for Kosovo Shows Europe Still Needs U.S.
Military: Air campaign demonstrates NATO's heavy reliance on American
firepower and high-tech prowess.
By JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG, Times Staff Writer
RUSSELS--As the Balkans began their descent into war
eight years ago, Luxembourg's veteran foreign minister
proclaimed, "This is the hour of Europe, not the hour of the
Americans"--meaning that Europeans could solve their own
The calamities that ensued--wars in the independence-minded
Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,
the last of which cost more than 200,000 lives--showed the
rashness of the forecast by Jacques Poos, the foreign minister.
And what's been happening for the past month in the skies over
Yugoslavia shows just how junior a military partner Western
Europe remains, paradoxically at the time when the Europeans have
been clamoring for more decision-making power and a "defense
identity" of their own.
"If anything, what we're doing in Kosovo proves that Europe
can't handle war without the Americans," said a European official at
NATO headquarters in Brussels. "Peacekeeping operations the
Europeans can do, but not war-fighting."
As NATO's 19 members prepare for the alliance's 50th
anniversary summit in Washington beginning Friday, what was
supposed to be a celebratory birthday party is shaping up as a
"Kosovo is clearly going to be a main theme--perhaps the main
theme," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea has said.
For Europeans in particular, some of the lessons now coming
out of the Balkans have been jarring. The air campaign against
Yugoslavia "has underlined the range of capabilities where Europe is
too dependent on U.S. help," British Defense Minister George
Robertson said in a speech Friday at Harvard University's John F.
Kennedy School of Government.
"If Europe is serious about shouldering more of the burden in
future conflicts like this, it must improve its capabilities," Robertson
Few expect a quick fix.
The label "NATO campaign" that has been affixed to Operation
Allied Force, in fact, masks its great asymmetry. Of the roughly
1,000 aircraft committed to or requisitioned for the campaign of
airstrikes against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's army
and police, about 700 are American, NATO sources say.
The operation is under the command of a four-star U.S. Army
general, Wesley K. Clark. And U.S. armed forces, military analysts
say, have contributed assets no others can match: B-1 strategic
bombers, F-117A Stealth fighters, and two types of tank-hunting
attack aircraft, the fixed-wing A-10 "Warthog" and the AH-64
A British Royal Navy submarine in the Adriatic, the HMS
Splendid, has fired a grand total of five cruise missiles since
Operation Allied Force began March 24, a NATO source said
over the weekend. U.S. warships have launched Tomahawks by
"The fact is, without the Americans, without their airplanes and
ships and command-and-control structures and all the other things
they bring to the order of battle, we can't win this," said the
European NATO official, speaking on condition he not be
To some on this side of the Atlantic, such U.S. preeminence is
humiliating in a year that has seen creation of a common European
currency, and one in which the 15-nation European Union is
supposed to name its first common representative on diplomatic and
security affairs. Many hope that the European trade bloc will turn
out to be the skeleton of a future Pan-European government.
"It's one thing to intellectually know that Europeans are
dependent on Americans; it's another to see it. Here, now, we're
seeing it," Franklin Dehousse, a professor and specialist in
European affairs at Belgium's University of Liege, said in a
Jane Sharp, defense analyst at the Institute of Public Policy
Research at King's College in London, predicted that the imbalance
in capabilities bared by the Kosovo conflict will galvanize Europe's
NATO members to do more in the future.
In particular, she said she believes that it will energize a
pioneering effort undertaken by Western Europe's two nuclear
powers, France and Britain, to sketch out a military role for the EU.
In June 1996, NATO foreign and defense ministers agreed to
build a separate "European Security and Defense Identity" inside
NATO--jargon for allowing the Europeans to use alliance assets for
missions that the United States doesn't object to but where it found
no compelling reason to get involved itself.
Planning, however, evidently has run away from hard reality.
Since the end of the Cold War, estimated one German official at
NATO, military capabilities of the European allies have been drawn
down by a total of 30%. During Operation Desert Storm, in what
must have been a humbling moment, a detachment of the French
army, once Europe's largest, had to be supplied by a U.S. logistics
unit to stay in the line of battle.
"If people want a European defense identity, they need to get
used to the idea that they are going to need to spend money," Ben
Fiddler, defense-sector analyst with the London-based bank
Dresdner Kleinort Benson, told the European Voice, a Brussels
The level of defense expenditures, however, is just one measure
of European weakness. In many cases, European countries still are
paying to maintain hardware designed for the Cold War, when the
threat was a massive invasion of Soviet armor. "It's like keeping up
a 12-year-old Mercedes, when for the same amount of money, you
could get a new one," a NATO official said.
According to the British Defense Ministry, European NATO
members have more than 4,000 warplanes between them. But
many are old, lack infrared and laser guidance systems, or aren't
carrying the kind of "smart" bombs or other munitions needed for
the precision attacks that the alliance is trying to carry out over
After NATO's earlier peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, and
growing talk about the need to use ground troops in the current
crisis, "the Europeans now realize the need is for mobility and
sustainability--to go in quickly, in force, and to be ready to stay," a
senior NATO official said.
Defense specialists rate the European allies as particularly
deficient in long-haul and massive airlift capability, in their ability to
get troops rapidly to a battle zone and in warplanes that can take on
a gamut of combat missions.
For West European policymakers, the fallout from Kosovo may
be enough to change one anomaly: the fact that more than four
decades into the process of European integration, defense
operations and industries still are a jealously guarded national
"The European Union countries [11 of which belong to NATO]
collectively spend on defense a bit more than 60% of the U.S.
defense budget," said Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the Center
on Security Policy, a Geneva-based think tank. "But out of those
60-and-some percent, we don't get 60% of your force projection
capability, we don't get 60% of your military intelligence-gathering
capability, we don't get 60% of your theater command-and-control
After the conflict in Kosovo is over, Heisbourg predicted, there
will be a "very significant push" for better Europe-wide coordination
in defense planning and spending.
Western Europe's slowing growth and high joblessness-- 16.3
million people are out of work in the 15 EU countries alone--are
added incentives to squeeze everything possible from each pound,
mark or drachma spent on defense.
Unless the Old World starts playing catch-up with the New, a
two-speed NATO may be the result. In the future, "those without
U.S. technology may be flying blind in relation to those with it,"
David Wright, Canada's permanent representative to the alliance,
NATO's Washington summit is expected to chart a future for
what is known as the alliance's "European pillar." A debacle in
Kosovo could fuel demands already aired by some Europeans for a
greater say in what they consider an organization overly subject to
U.S. influence. But even critics of NATO as it is currently
constituted don't think that's happened yet.
"What's been wholly demonstrative in this war is that the
Europeans have acted in the framework of NATO alone, inside
NATO structures under NATO command, and have applied
NATO plans," said Paul Marie de la Gorce, a prominent
left-leaning defense analyst in France.
In any event, as the makeup of Operation Allied Force shows,
Europe's hour is yet to sound.
"Europe must do more to contribute to the alliance's capabilities.
But in the real world, this will take time," Robertson, Britain's
defense secretary, said Friday. "America, as the alliance's principal
power, must play the role assigned to it by history." -- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222