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« Resetting the rule set on this Long War | Main | China's U.S.-like time machine »
Sunday
Jul162006

What America should have learned from Balkan wars

This week I spoke at Croatia Summit 2006, an international conference exploring future security challenges for southeastern Europe. Held in the gorgeous resort city of Dubrovnik, this gathering of heads of state served as a celebratory reunion for diplomats who, a mere decade ago, strained to stamp out a series of wars in the Balkans.

The U.S.-led military interventions into Bosnia and Kosovo evoke few memories back here in the States. Remember the anti-war movement? The acrid public debates?

Of course you don't. Those wars barely registered outside of the Beltway and for good reason: Our combat casualties were basically zero, and together with NATO, we put enough troops on the ground to secure the peace.

Nonetheless, at the time, both interventions felt like draws. Sure, we stopped the genocide but way too late. Plus, Yugoslavia dissolved into a handful of weak states, all of which have since struggled mightily to grow beyond that violent divorce and seek integration with a larger Europe.

And yet, 10 years after the Dayton Accords, the Balkans look a whole lot better than Iraq does three years after President Bush declared, "Mission accomplished."

What does that tell us?

American military power must be employed within a global rule set that is both recognized and supported by other great powers.

I believe that essential rule set was revealed by our Balkan interventions.

Here is how I would define that six-part system for processing such politically bankrupt regimes as the Afghani Taliban, Saddam Hussein's Iraq or wherever America goes next in this Long War.

First, the regime must be indicted by the global community in the form of the U.N. Security Council, which typically passes resolutions in response to some atrocity committed.

This was done in spades for Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Serbia and - by the way - Saddam's brutal dictatorship.

But that just gets the ball rolling - nothing more. Waiting on the United Nations to approve invasions is unrealistic. It didn't work in the Balkans, nor has it worked throughout Africa's genocidal conflicts of the past decade, in which millions have perished.

Second, some functioning executive must step up to issue warrants for the rogue regime's arrest, thus translating global will into great power action. In the Balkans, NATO performed this role nicely, but with Iraq, the Bush administration never quite achieved a quorum, leaving us desperately shorthanded for the postwar occupation.

Looking ahead, NATO simply cannot play this role on a regular basis, as the Europeans loathe venturing militarily outside their continent. Instead, I see such an executive decision-making role falling more to the G-8 powers, which over time will inexorably grow into the G-20 community set up by President Clinton in the late 1990s to incorporate such rising powers as China, India and Brazil. These 20 powers represent nine-tenths of the global GDP.

Once you've got the go-ahead from the 20 with the money, send in the U.S. Leviathan to topple the regime and/or round up the bad guys. Think about U.S. interventions stretching all the way back to our snatch-and-grab of Panama's Manuel Noriega, and you'll spot the clear historical pattern.

Fourth, once the postwar begins, we need to flood the country with peacekeepers or what I like to call a multinational "system administrator" force chock full of police and reconstruction personnel. We met that minimum ante in the Balkans but not in Afghanistan or Iraq - and it shows.

Fifth, we need a dedicated international financial institution - imagine an IMF on steroids - to step in and supervise the nation building. In the Balkans, that took the form of ad hoc cooperation among such entities as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. In Iraq, America basically chose to go it alone - and again, it shows.

Finally, funnel the captured criminals toward some credentialed judicial court. Here, the Balkans experience proved seminal, as the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia, located in the Netherlands, became the model for the subsequent International Criminal Court. Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial in the Hague and, quite frankly, that's where Saddam should be on trial today.

When presidential candidate John Kerry spoke in the 2004 election about wanting a global test for the use of military power, this six-part system is basically what he was reaching for - whether he realized it or not.

Making that dream a reality should be our takeaway from the Balkan wars.

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