Article

The United States in the Balkans: There to Stay

Ivo H. Daalder and Michael E. O’Hanlon

As the first anniversary of NATO’s victory against Serbia approached this past spring, Congress moved to memorialize the event by legislating a pullout of U.S. troops from the Kosovo peacekeeping operation that followed the successful conclusion of the war. Although the immediate effort to mandate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Kosovo was narrowly defeated on the Senate floor, the debate in Congress suggested widespread unease on both sides of the aisle about the open ended U.S. commitment to the Balkans. This growing unease reflects the pervasive belief on the Hill and elsewhere that an inadequate European effort in Kosovo after the war is needlessly prolonging the U.S. presence in the region. In some quarters, it also comes from a conviction that our allies needlessly interfered with, and prolonged, last year’s air war. Finally, many members of Congress believe that, with the war over, Europeans should now be able to handle a problem that is, after all, in their backyard.

We reject these views on all counts. In some ways, they originate from a belief that the Balkans do not really matter to U.S. national interests a belief we consider ill advised on strategic grounds. But in other cases, they are simply wrong factually. Whatever the faults of NATO’s strategy prior to, during, and after the Kosovo war and there were many none of them can be blamed on the allies alone. At each step of the way, Washington was a willing participant indeed, the dominant character in the unfolding drama. U.S. armed forces deserve most of the credit for the military victory of Operation Allied Force, but U.S. policymakers deserve at least their fair share of the blame for mistakes made en route to that victory.