Article Published in the Sea Power Magazine
In 1968, French journalist J.J. Servan-Schreiber published a hugely influential book called The American Challenge that argued Europe was falling behind. It wasn’t the Soviet Union that worried him so much as the American economic and technological “colossus” (as he called it), whose multinational corporations were invading Western Europe. Unless Europe transformed itself into a truly integrated regional economy capable of keeping up with America in computers and aerospace, he warned, it would be permanently relegated to second-class status.
Today, a third of a century later, the Soviet Union is gone and the European Union really is beginning to resemble a unified market. The European consortium Arianespace leads the world in commercial space launches and Airbus has surpassed Boeing in commercial aircraft sales. But as the western alliance’s spring air offensive over former Yugoslavia demonstrated, whether Europe can keep up with America is still an open question.
Servan-Schreiber’s book was the most seminal study of transatlantic relations in his generation because it crystallized the misgivings of many European policymakers and intellectuals about America’s expanding global role. Today those misgivings have grown even greater. The value of American security guarantees is less apparent to many Europeans, while the global influence of the United States seems to be approaching something akin to hegemony.
The Clinton Administration has been careful not to overplay its hand – – especially in Europe – – but it is hard for Europeans to overlook how dominant the U.S. has become on the world stage. It spends as much on defense as all the countries of Europe combined (Russia included); from biotechnology to the internet, it dominates virtually every new technology of the digital era; two-thirds of global trade is conducted in dollars; and American culture is routinely assailed on every continent for overwhelming traditional values with materialism and sensuality.
European nations are no less susceptible to the appeals of chauvinism and envy than other
countries. Indeed they may be more susceptible because it was not so long ago that some of them dictated global economic, technological and cultural standards. With the waning of Russian military power and Japanese economic influence there is no external force more useful to serve as a rallying point for a common European identity than the great democracy to the West.
Just as the threat of communist aggression provided the impetus for a common alliance among the previously fractious countries of Western Europe fifty years ago, so the fear of being subverted by American power and values now gives urgency to the European pursuit of a common persona. In Servan-Schreiber’s day the impulse was tempered by awareness of the
looming danger to the east; with that danger now dissipated, fears of the American challenge can have free rein over the popular mind.
Against this backdrop, some of the goals the Bush and Clinton Administrations have pursued in Europe in the post-Cold War era look rather implausible. The notion that European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would provide suitable partners for coalition warfare was cast into doubt by the experience of the Kosovo campaign. The theory that defense research and production activities should be rationalized on a transatlantic basis has been disproved by the business strategies of industrialists on both sides of the ocean. And the belief that open trade in military goods could be achieved within the alliance has gradually run aground on the twin shoals of American security concerns and European economic protectionism.
The last year of the American Century provided considerable evidence for the thesis that NATO without a Soviet threat is a questionable proposition over the long run. Despite some remarkable diplomatic and military successes during the year, the undertow of transatlantic doubt and resentment seems to be running ever stronger, while the currents favoring common action are weakening. That is the main focus of this review, and the obvious place to begin in exploring it is Operation Allied Force – – the Kosovo campaign – – which unfolded over former Yugoslavia during the spring of 1999.Coalition Warfare in the Balkans
It was supremely ironic that NATO held a Washington summit in April of last year to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the alliance’s founding in the midst of the first major European military campaign the allies had ever jointly prosecuted. After a decade of trying
diplomatically to contain the efforts of Slobodan Milosevic to fashion a Greater Serbia out of the
ruins of former Yugoslavia, the allies finally resorted to the collective use of force against his military and political apparatus. Operation Allied Force began on the third day of spring with a gradually expanding bombing campaign, and by the time it was successfully concluded eleven weeks later, the last spring of the second millennium was nearly gone, along with much of Serbia’s infrastructure.
The Kosovo campaign was a remarkable operation, not just because of the military prowess it exhibited but also because of the ability of the Clinton Administration to hold together an ambivalent alliance – – even when many of the campaign’s military assumptions were proved wrong, and even when it became apparent Republicans in the Congress would not follow the tradition of muting partisan criticism in wartime. There is no need to recapitulate the partisan
rhetoric surrounding U.S. involvement, but it is useful to review how wrong much of the alliance’s reasoning for the campaign turned out to be.
First of all, few alliance leaders anticipated the air campaign would last longer than a week. Having seen the wily Serbian dictator repeatedly back down when confronted with Western threats, it was widely assumed that a few demonstration strikes would be sufficient to prove NATO resolve, and Milosevic then would seek some sort of accommodation. But Kosovo turned out to have such heavy symbolic importance for Milosevic – – whose post-Communist political
career had been based largely on appeals to renascent Serbian nationalism – – that he did not retreat.
Quite the opposite: Serbian military and paramilitary forces in Kosovo seized the initiative by greatly accelerating the “ethnic cleansing” of the province. This was the western alliance’s second miscalculation. Its carefully sequenced plan of gradually escalating bombing had no ready answer to the forcible expulsion of nearly a million Albanian Kosovars, raising the specter that Milosevic’s moves would present the West with a political fait accompli in the form of a thoroughly “cleansed” Kosovo.
After a week of light bombing impeded in equal measure by poor weather and political micromanagement, the alliance resolved to expand the air campaign. The number of aircraft committed was doubled to 900, while the range of targets was broadened. By mid-April, fourteen of NATO’s nineteen nations were contributing planes to the campaign, and four dozen European bases were actively supporting the air war.
But as the bombing expanded to tactical military targets in Kosovo and infrastructure targets around the Serbian capital of Belgrade, new problems with the a
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