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Securing Our Flank in Europe

Last week, the European Union decided to form a rapid reaction force to intervene in crises. No matter that the Europeans don't have the will and wherewithal to replace NATO. The Russians immediately invited themselves to join in. No matter that the Russians have little left to offer after Chechnya. Clearly, the Russian initiative is a move to split Europe from the United States and to weaken NATO.

Last week too, the Europeans met in yet another donors' conference to advance the prosperity and stability of the Balkans. They agreed to business as usual, namely indecisive intervention and insufficient assistance to address the Balkans' real problems.

Both events pose the same basic security questions – questions that have gone unanswered since the end of the Cold War. What is the EU-NATO relationship? Will NATO include all of Europe? Should Russia be a European power? Will the United States remain a European power? On all these questions, during the past decade United States' policies toward Europe and Russia have been characterized by episodic inattention, ineptitude, irresolution and self-delusion, as have Western European policies toward Eastern Europe and Russia.

A foundation of America's superpower status is that it is a European power, indeed the pre-eminent European power. America's position as a European power has rested on its special relationship with Great Britain. Yet, both the United States and the United Kingdom have marginalized that relationship on the most important European issues, thereby endangering its existence. The key issue they have not addressed is the EU's Common Defense and Foreign Policy and the formation of a European army, the logic of which is U.S. withdrawal from Europe. Another key issue that neither the U.S. nor the Europeans have addressed is the relationship of British and French nuclear forces to the EU.

The past decade has made it patently obvious that the security of Europe is not divisible and the U.S. is indispensable to that security. Yet, the U.S. has lost interest in the expansion of NATO, thereby allowing a Zwischeneuropa (Between Europe) to emerge, an in-between zone of conflicted nationalities, disdainful Western patronage, and resentful Russian troublemaking.

Yugoslavia characterizes the U.S. and European failure to complete and capitalize on the victory in the Cold War. The breakup of Yugoslavia was natural, inevitable and desirable. It could have been managed without wars. It is a scandal that after the sacrifice of Word War II the U.S. permitted easily preventable wars in Europe.

The most egregious example of self-deluding disinterest is the continuation of half measures toward Yugoslavia. Elections are to be held soon in Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia could have been won for the West a decade ago by a combination of overt and covert measures. Instead, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has survived, losing position but not power. Bosnia and Kosovo are exactly where they were when their conflicts began. Montenegro has taken all but the formal step of secession. Macedonia is in danger of disintegration. Romania's and Bulgaria's economic, and thus political, progress are penned behind Western policies toward Serbia. Yet the U.S. and Europe continue to march halfheartedly in slow step. It is obvious and certain that, so long as the border of Europe is not secured, conflict will continue in Eastern Europe, the Russians will meddle in its troubles, and the U.S. will be forced to police the area.

Although Russia no longer is a great power, it continues to be a troublemaker. Everywhere, the Russians reflexively oppose the United States, in continuity from the Soviets. They have milked vast amounts of money from the U.S. taxpayer. They have staged a kangaroo court show trial of an American businessman to ensure their people perceive the U.S. as an enemy. They have played upon France's great power pretensions and the European socialist parties' prejudices against the U.S. on many issues, but especially missile defense. Russia's armed forces are weak, but the Russians are conducting active measures against the Baltic States, undermining Ukraine's independence, unsettling Romanian territory in Moldava, meddling in Serbia, keeping troops in the Transcaucasus, subverting the "Stans" [such as Kazakstan] in the "near abroad," supporting Saddam, and transferring nuclear arms technology and conventional weapons to Iran and China. Russia's aims are clear: resuscitate its empire, nullify NATO, eject the U.S. from Europe, limit U.S. access to the Middle East, abet U.S.-Chinese hostility, and thereby reduce the United States from its superpower status.

In this new century, the main threat to the United States is China's emergence as a great power with interests, ambitions and entitlement expectations inimical to U.S. security. China too wants to reduce the U.S. superpower status. China is taking lessons from the skill and success of U.S. policy in Europe, where the U.S. is supposed to be paramount. It is past time that the U.S. became serious and secured its flank in Europe so that it can turn its undivided effort to the China problem.

Walter Jajko, a retired Air Force general and former assistant to the defense secretary, is a professor at the Institute of World Politics.