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Why Hasn't Europe Done More? THE BALKANS


Amid Washington's disgust over the continuing tragedy in Bosnia, the search for scapegoats has begun.

From the beginning, the United States considered Yugoslavia's break-up a "European problem," a recognition of the European Community's growing ambition to lead. Now, the verdict among American pundits is in: The European Community has failed its ** first post-Cold War test, and its drive for unity and global power status has been exposed as little more than an empty pretense. The implication is that the Europeans either can't get their act together or are a cowardly bunch of appeasers.

"Western Europe barely seems to care about what's happening in the East," wrote Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson. Adds the New York Times' Anthony Lewis, "Britain and France have been true to the tradition of Munich."

Contempt for the EC is on the rise in official Washington, too. Even after the Bosnian Serbs last week refused to accept a United Nations-EC peace plan, the European allies continued to resist President Clinton's proposal to arm the besieged Muslims. Europe's unwillingness to fall in line feeds nostalgia in Washington for the days when U.S. leadership in Europe was unquestioned.

Though perhaps emotionally satisfying, blaming everything on Europe is dangerously misguided. It assumes that the Europeans shirked their responsibility by not launching an "Operation Balkan Storm" and intervening with massive force.

The Euro-bashers overstate the disarray in the EC and ignore the Europeans' long -- and lately intense -- experience in the Balkans. And they reflect a simplistic view on European integration, as if Europe's current failings spell the end of the whole European project. If their attitude comes to dominate administration policy, it will obscure the very lessons the West needs to learn about this crisis and the reforms that are needed to avoid another failure in the future.

Europeans hardly need a chorus of self-satisfied Americans to remind them that their record in the former Yugoslavia has been less than impressive. Across Western Europe, the verdict on the EC is downright scornful. The loose talk of a "United States of Europe" encouraged exaggerated expectations about what the EC could accomplish. After watching the killing drag on for months, Europeans have concluded that "the Community's performance has been appalling," says Sir John Kerr, Britain's ambassador to the EC.

The crisis has also damaged the political fortunes of nearly every European government. Europe's roster of old, worn-out leaders readily admit that failure in Yugoslavia has diminished not only their own standing but support for the Maastricht Treaty, the next major step in EC integration. That treaty, signed in late 1991 but still unratified by Denmark and Britain, would improve the EC's ability to react to security problems. Yugoslavia has the Europeans wondering whether they will ever have what it takes to confront threats without U.S. tutelage.

Europe's pessimism over the Balkan tragedy couldn't contrast more with the mood of two years ago. In the summer of 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia unilaterally pulled out of the Yugoslav federation, the EC was eager to show that it could forestall the crisis with political pressure and financial incentives. The Community dangled $4 billion in aid before the debt-ridden Yugoslavs and warned them that entry into the Western system must be through the doors of decency and democracy.

"If anyone can do anything here, it is the EC," boasted Jacques Poos, the Luxembourg diplomat who headed the first team of EC negotiators in the crisis. "It's not the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. or anyone else."

Over the next two years, the EC would devote enormous energy and attention to resolving the war in its midst. EC ministers would make dozens of trips and learn the names of villages that even Marshall Tito would never have known. They would force the warring chieftains to drink toasts to cease-fires that would never take hold and to make promises that would never be kept. Finally, exhausted, frustrated and out of ideas, the EC asked the United Nations to step in.

It was a bitter lesson for the EC. Over the two-year-long course of the war, the Europeans came face to face with an age-old rivalry between Serbs and Croats that defied the rational, diplomatic, non-military approach of which the EC is so proud. One of the EC's achievements -- often ignored -- has been the damping of its own once-fierce nationalisms; the 12 concentrated instead on advancing their mutual prosperity through the plodding work of building a common market. The EC's language of values didn't seem to translate into Serbo-Croatian.

At every stage in the Yugoslav crisis, moreover, the EC's limitations as a world power became painfully obvious. It had no unified military command; the Western European Union, the EC's future defense arm, was still a bureaucratic shell with virtually no operational competence. If the Europeans had sent airplanes, they would have had to borrow radar and other logistical equipment from the United States. And if the EC found itself in a bloody confrontation, how would its cumbersome, veto-prone decision-making system have functioned under such life-and-death pressure? No one dared to find out.

To top it off, as the crisis progressed, every major European government was beset by political weakness and economic frailty. By the beginning of 1992, Europe was wrestling with nationalist violence, voter unrest and soaring unemployment. Under those conditions, no one could contemplate a bloody confrontation in a country that has a habit of igniting pan-European wars.

The EC's weakness was exacerbated by Germany. Pressured by its own political parties and Yugoslav emigres, the Germans bullied the EC to recognize the breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia, before terms of divorce -- including guaranteed minority rights -- had been assured. And this pattern of premature recognition was repeated with Bosnia, this time with the United States on board as well.

But it wasn't only institutional shortcomings; Europeans feel that they had good reason for their caution. A consensus evolved that intervention in Yugoslavia would become a quagmire, more like Vietnam or Lebanon than the war with Iraq. And Europeans were particularly worried about setting off a full-scale Balkan war, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey, Greece and Albania.

Philippe de Schoutheete de Tervarent, Belgium's representative to the EC, says stopping the Serbs would require significant force: "It's not Iraq. They're Serbs, not Arabs. They're tough guys who like to fight, like to kill and do it well."

While such explanations are undoubtedly self-serving, they nonetheless come from two years of hard experience on the ground. EC governments got daily, on-the-scene reports from their more than 11,000 peacekeeping troops. (The United States has sent a medical unit of about 360.) Americans, by and large, have given short shrift to the depth of this EC experience.

The European perspective on the Yugoslavia crisis is not the most uplifting, and the American press and pundits have seemed to relish the EC's ineffectiveness. "I'm under the impression that there's a certain Schadenfreude in America about the Community's inability to act on Yugoslavia," says Bernhard Zepter, a foreign policy adviser to EC Commission President Jacques Delors, refering to American smugness.

But before the blame game gets out of hand, the Clinton administration needs to recognize that the EC's failure in Yugoslavia has been a failure for the entire Western community. If there is one lesson of this adventure, it is this: The United States needs a stronger, more reliable partner in Europe. And until the EC has the political and military tools to play such a role, it will need close U.S. support and guidance. Instead of hunting for scapegoats, the United States should reaffirm the American post-World War II policy of supporting Europe's political and economic integration.

The progress of the last half century must not be lost in this confusing period of transition. Fundamentally, the European Community was developed to prevent another pan-European war. And in this task at least, the EC has succeeded. European powers have not lined up against each other in Yugoslavia; 1993 is not 1914. That may be little comfort to the Bosnians, but it is no small achievement for a continent that spawned the two great wars of this century.

Mark M. Nelson, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, covered the EC and the early days of the Yugoslav war for the Wall Street Journal. Thomas Omestad, the associate editor of Foreign Policy magazine, recently interviewed officials in Brussels and Strasbourg.

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