J. David Galland: Clueless in The Balkans

Why, and how did NATO, formed after World War II to thwart the spread of Communism into the Western World, become so entrenched in the Balkans? Initially, moral justifications drew the West into the Balkans. These were the prime reasons, with which NATO justified to the world, that they were compelled to intervene in the Balkan quagmire. NATO trusted that pursuing humanitarian goals was absolutely imperative.

At the same time, however, NATO did not appear particularly interested in dealing with atrocities and human suffering in Rwanda, Sudan, and a few other venues. NATO's lack of involvement, even in light of these countries being far more affected by inhuman treatment to others, than the Balkans, raises a valid question.

May others on the world stage were convinced that NATO's involvement in the Balkans was indeed justified, equally, by other than humanitarian interests. Long standing concerns about the European, and ultimately global wellness, with roots in the distribution of power, also lured NATO.

Primarily, and not on the top of the list, the need to keep local chaos in check was also the mandate. One ought not forget that NATO is largely comprised of Western European countries and governments. Far be it from them to stand idly by when their economies were challenged by European instability. With the seeds of uncertainty sewn in the Balkans, NATO would have been hard pressed to not use their "made-to-order" fighting force, adept at many forms of persuasion.

NATO's justification for Balkan domination, however, has motivations of less than a pure nature. As is predictable, military intervention intensified and complicated the conflict, and the entire world, collectively speaking. This was not what NATO had envisioned and certainly not what they wished to accomplish. In worldwide, past NATO interventions, it is obvious that actions based on correcting moral injustice, were successful, only when material interests were not threatened or were not likely to affect the West. In a best-case scenario, if NATO lived by it’s basically admirable tenants, it would be ideal if moral and material, i.e. economic and business interests complimented each other in justifying NATO’s actions.

In the scenario, where NATO’s primary objective had been to stave-off escalation of a local conflict, thereby thwarting the threat of a small regional conflict becoming a rapidly rolling maelstrom, goals can be clearly set and achieved with minimized ancillary effect. However, at the same time, such scenarios can be much better resolved through honest diplomatic negotiations and agreements. This lends credence to the argument that if military intervention is indeed, it shall constitute a last resort and ought only be used as such.

The United States must find a way to extricate itself from the Balkan instability. American soldiers have been firmly entrenched on European soil since their involvement in World War II. They served as, not only a conquering force, but a nation building entity under the generous and costly Marshal Plan. Clearly, the European continent would have not realized economic stability and a generally comfortable lifestyle for its citizens, without post war reconstruction.

Throughout the Cold War American Forces, mostly from the Army and The Air Force, served as the vanguard against Communist aggression in West Germany. They high-tailed it up the autobahn in tactical vehicles, from as far away as Mannheim and Heidelberg, to re-enforce Berlin, when the wall went up. For yeas, literally millions of American soldiers, to include myself, trained to fight the land European Scenario beginning, of the Third World War.

Now, more than ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and long after the immobilization of the Communist "adventure" in Eastern Europe, Americans still linger in Germany. This defies all logic, particularly since the United States has just displayed to the world how quickly it can muster a crushing military force, anywhere in the world, with diplomatic and military support from allies. However, the United States, in fact, has found a new reason to remain in its long established installations and Kasernes in Germany and it has nothing, militarily, to do with the wellness of Western Europe.

Today, the absolute primary focus of the American force in Germany is to serve as a forward operating base for its sustained operations in the Balkans. No, the spin-meisters in positions of quasi-authority, at your friendly public affairs office, will not admit this fact, but what other reason could possibly exist, big business?

Will the United States ever realize that it cannot remain, forever, in the European Continent, as a conquering force, or as a monitor of what course of action is acceptable for weaker countries? These are questions that must be asked. Are American Forces, by the thousands, still stationed in Germany, and other ancillary Western European Countries, because America still views the Russians as a threat?

Russia does not have the strategicor global power to sustain military operations anywhere. This may be difficult to believe, having had been perceived as the main adversary to freedom for so many years, but Russia is in rough shape, in many areas and it has numerous problems.

We should not forget, however, that sparks can fly and small disagreements can lead, quite dangerously, to lingering international friction. Sometime, with the slightest provocation. The reader will recall the doomsday panic response, of General Wesley Clark, when the Russians seized Pristina's airport, at the end of the NATO Air War, in 1999. Fortunately, more insightful British officers managed to put the damper on "Sir Wesley Clark's" less than brilliant actions and instructions. General Clark's erratic bumbling leadership! style brought NATO, and Russia, very close to an armed conflict.

Fortunately, General Clark was "Knighted" by the Queen to soothe his bruised ego and was invited to retire from the United States Army, shortly after this "near" fiasco. General Clark seems to have found himself a new home amongst the CNN news staff, as a military consultant. Hopefully he will not be in any position to make subsequent major decisions with global implications.

It is no secret that all military missions ought to have an exit strategy, exit being applied to non-domestic interventions exclusively. Particularly speaking, when military missions that have been undertaken that do not, in the view of many, justify a combat soldier establishing a good "sight-picture" with his rifle, in order to invoke freedom, or a similar facsimile thereof, soldiers ought not remain and linger.

With this in mind, and an understanding of military missions and procedures, it is! incumbent that NATO, and most specifically, The United States begins to research scenarios for exit, or end of mission focus planning.

I see a couple of exit scenarios from the Balkans, for the United States and none of them are good choices. Numerous experts agree, there is no easy or good way out of the Balkans. But one must ask, will we police the streets of foreign countries forever? The hard truth of what the United States has gotten itself into in the Balkans is that there is no exit option that does not purport a high cost in physical effort and a potential threat to America's international, generally, honorable standing as a benevolent people.

A country as large as the United States can easily absorb the physical effort needed to extricate from The Balkans. In reality, effort translates into a monetary cost. Notwithstanding, there then remains the issue of international honor and in short, future credibility. This is why exit strategies can be most painful, sometime.

The first option, and its associated problematic implications, would simply be to hand this problem over to the European Union. This is certainly a form of "cut and run", but this is the least favored method of dealing with our own folly of Balkan intervention. It is, however, only a bit more painful than the other options.

The option would be the proverbial road map, and execution order, that would achieve American withdrawal over period of approximately six months. This plan would not be implemented until a unilateral public promise, and a declaration established by the European countries, that policing themselves and their border countries is, basically, their own responsibility. A unique thought, indeed.

This would demand a tall order for persuasion from the diplomatic community. It would serve to re-define some professional relationships within the realm of diplomacy. As The European Community leans toward military autonomy, and a defense identity with a proposed sixty-thousand soldier strong, "Euro Army", this option may help to further energize the "Euro Army" concept to a point of fruition. Nevertheless, there are problems. As one may assume, if America waffles out of the Balkans in this fashion, European countries will not take this kindly. Particularly in view of their solid expressions of support for the Afghanistan mission, et. al. of the past month. In this scenario, I would predict that the European countries would simply follow the leader and depart the Balkans themselves. This would result in a diplomatic nightmare that would severely bruise long established stalwart ties and relationships. This scenario would likely cause the United Nations to have another "go" at the Balkan mission, where they failed miserably in the past.

Cumulatively speaking, the former American Presidential administration was, as we see now, extremely short sighted. All aspects of the Balkan mission were not considered other than to get in and stop the carnage. As the pace of America's recent Presidential Campaign accelerated, and potential long-term commitments were viewed in the Balkans, I honestly believe that Clinton hoped to hand a hot potato to an incoming Republican President. Far be it from former President Clinton to not play back-stabbing politics, if he has the time, and is not involved in, "not having sex", or some other office distraction with the daily bimbo. This thought flourishes in my mind, particularly after he was handed Somalia, when he took up occupancy in the White House.

An American withdrawal, phased over half a year, would have to include a stepped-up plan for accomplishing, heretofore incomplete, political transitions and implementations. These ought to, in theory at least, happen someday. It is my view that the United States still !does not have a clue as to what it really wants to do in the Balkans, which means, we should not be there. If the United States did know what it wanted to accomplish in the Balkans, why not just do it, and get out. Becoming an acceptable, and common sight, in the former Yugoslavian countryside, its cities and towns, is not what American soldiers are paid by American taxpayers to do.

In spite of everything good that has been done in the Balkans, any military withdrawal will insure that the killing will once again accelerate. In reality, this would render NATO's actions of the past six years, an absolute waste of time. I am not one who is yet convinced that this is not already the case.

The second, less than ideal option, is to stand back and watch another country dominate and basically, lead NATO. The problems here are grounded in the fact that the Bush administration is quite opposed to encouraging European military action outside the umbrella of the NATO mandate. Rather, following America's lead is the preferred policy. In Washington, this is seen as undercutting American superiority in the coalition known as NATO. In this fast moving world, it is doubtful that the United States is not going to get everything their way, or in the case of NATO vice non-NATO military action, both ways. It is clear that if The United States wants to be the heavy and call the shots in NATO, or at least, heavily influence policy and decisions, then America will have to remain at bat and bear the burden of this role.

The Bush administration, along with his team, will have to make choices. Maintain American dominance in Europe or establish an equitable power balance with the less powerful NATO countries. Should the Bush team choose to hold on to the primacy, that has been standard, then the United States needs to take assertive measures to settle the Balkans, now. Plans for a Balkan withdrawal can be shelved and the Balkan quagmire must be settled, in an aggressive fashion. To have had not done this, already, in six years, is a sad indictment to lack of NATO and American success in the Balkans. There must be an end-game.

The final exit scenario, which as the others, is fraught with less than great options, is, in fact, asserting new policy. This policy that ought be embraced is that we should only intervene in global conflagrations when the most probable gains far exceed probable expenses. The profound difficulty, however, is achieving an accurate estimation of these gains prior to execution of a mission. In an effort to keep the overall costs and commitment at a minimum level, this may require the compromising of American style moral principles. This would be facilitated by leaning more toward implementing a peace, over human justice, in the order of merit when it comes to achieving objectives that lead to a solution. More specifically, military actions that separate warring factions to provide tranquility, will face much less resistance and inherent obstacles, than those actions which impose Western standards of social and civil compliance on those who were intent on the other's death and destruction in the recent past.

Those who would lean toward the rejection of humanitarian based involvement, under this tenuous standard, would certainly be viewed as callous. Naturally, this policy would require that a great deal of relocation occur. Many of the displaced persons would simply have to forego ancestral and traditional links to geographic areas. NATO has shown that it is not adept at convincing the demographic fabrics and various complex personalities, in these fractious lands, to just get up and move to another neighborhood to ensure peace.

In the end, it is important for any government to understand that neither material nor moral interests, as a stand-alone justification, can ensure a foreign policy that is without bumps and ripples. Success in this arena shall always remain a large and challenging undertaking, and often with very long term commitments.

J. David Galland

Mr. Galland is a veteran of The United States Army, with over thirty-two years military service. Since 1969, Mr. Galland has been in Military Intelligence and is a distinquished graduate of the U. S. Army Intelligence Center & School, Fort Holabird, Maryland. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Panama and of hazardous duty positions in Ulster, Northern Ireland, Zagreb, Sarajevo, in the Former Yugoslavia, as well as various missions in Croatia and Bosnia.

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