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Pandora's Box Reopened: Ethnic Conflict in Europe and Its Implications

Authored by Dr. William T. Johnsen. | December 1994

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Conclusion and Recommendations

Given current U.S. foreign policies, America will remain engaged in European affairs.157 Because of the ability of ethnic conflict to place U.S. interests in Europe at risk, the United States will continue to be involved in the prevention and resolution of ethnic conflict. To respond effectively to these conflicts, the United States must develop a coherent approach to dealing with ethnic conflict within Europe. This will require the U.S. Government and the U.S. Armed Forces to undertake a number of initiatives:

  • The United States must clearly define, and more importantly clearly articulate to the American public, U.S. interests in Europe, how ethnic conflict endangers those interests, and the consequences of intervention or abstention.
  • Policymakers must have a clear vision of not just what the United States can do, but what the United States is willing to do.
  • Political leaders must establish clear, achievable political objectives that permit the development of military objectives, plans, and operations to achieve those political goals.
  • The American public and its elected representatives in Congress must be persuaded to fund programs that provide long term benefit, without necessarily seeing short-term results. This must be accomplished in a time of shrinking budgets, when Americans will undoubtedly question such expenditures. Nonetheless, these steps, however difficult, offer the greatest likelihood for long-term resolution of ethnic conflict, and are much more cost effective than later military intervention.
  • U.S. policymakers must improve their knowledge of ethnicity and ethnic identity and understand the critical role these ideas play in determining internal, foreign, and security policies in Europe.

While each conflict is unique and therefore requires its own unique solution, policymakers must understand that events in Europe are interrelated and require a holistic approach that integrates individual issues. When tackling these challenges, therefore, U.S. policymakers must take a broad, encompassing approach to what appear to be separate and unrelated conflicts. Taking each crisis as a single and unrelated entity frequently results in a disjointed approach that inhibits development of a coherent U.S. European policy.

This will also require the United States to define other, far-reaching policies beyond the relatively narrow, but important, confines of ethnic conflict in Europe. For example, the United States must not only concern itself with ethnic conflict in the Transcaucasus, but also with larger issues: how should the United States treat Russian "peacekeeping" activities in the so-called "near abroad"? Or, more generally, what should be U.S. policy toward Russia? Equally important for the prevention of ethnic conflict in Central and Eastern Europe is the question: at what pace should NATO membership expand into Central and Eastern Europe? Which nations should join and in what priority? Similarly, while U.S. participation in efforts to resolve the ongoing civil war in Yugoslavia are important, what is the U.S. policy toward the Balkans, as a whole, and how is it integrated with policies for the remainder of Europe? (For example, U.S. policy in the current crisis in the former Yugoslavia extends far beyond the borders of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Relations have been strained with our allies in Western Europe [British, French, Dutch], critical allies in Southeastern Europe[Greece and Turkey], and new friends in Eastern Europe [Russia, Ukraine].)

In developing policy options to address these issues, policymakers must carefully integrate all elements of national power. This will require a thorough blending of diplomacy and force; these two elements cannot be artificially divorced. Policymakers, for instance, must not rely too heavily on military options, and must be willing to pursue alternatives that integrate all elements of national power. Political leaders must be willing to take the time necessary for these initiatives to work. At the same time, while recognizing that military force alone will not resolve the underlying causes of the conflict, the military must be willing to use force to complement or reinforce diplomatic activities. If U.S. policy concerning ethnic conflict in Europe is to be a success, it must rely to a degree, at least, on the use of military power.

The United States cannot afford ad hoc and improvised responses to crises.158 To prevent "ad hocery" the United States must develop a sound and rigorous policymaking apparatus and process, and adhere to it. The inter-agency process must be made to work routinely in an effective manner. This organization and process must ensure the coherency of policies and assure that one policy initiative does not upset the equilibrium of U.S.-European relations in another portion of the Continent. Finally, analysts must prepare now for the next crisis. They must identify potential fracture zones or ethnic hotspots, develop and assess potential policy options, and conduct risk analyses.

Europe is a large and diverse continent, and the United States does not have the resources to do everything, everywhere, every time. Policymakers, therefore, must establish priorities for U.S. action. Ethnic conflict (actual or potential) which would place U.S. interests at gravest risk is most evident in Central Europe, Southeastern Europe (to include the Balkans), and Eastern Europe. Precluding the spread of the ongoing war in Yugoslavia and peacefully resolving that conflict, while deterring ethnic violence in other portions of the region, rank high with the current administration.159 Stability in the emerging democracies of Central Europe is a major interest. Obviously, promoting stability by avoiding ethnically based conflict in the European portions of the former Soviet Union, particularly Ukraine and Russia, also is in U.S. national interests.

Moreover, priority should go to peaceful amelioration of conflict. This will require proactive initiatives on the part of the U.S. Government, as well as forward thinking in the Washington policy formulation apparatus and a considerable degree of diplomatic finesse.

Proactive Policy Initiatives

The brief, illustrative example that follows elaborates on proactive initiatives that might be available to U.S. policymakers. The example assumes that ethnic tensions in Ukraine between Ukrainians and Ukraine's substantial ethnic Russian population are rising.

On the diplomatic front, the United States could support peacemaking efforts under the auspices of the CSCE or the UN. U.S. support could include strategic and theater level airlift, logistics, C4I, or, if conditions warranted, ground forces. The United States could also mediate critical issues such as the division of the Black Sea Fleet, the dispute over Crimea, and Ukrainian-Russian differences over transfer payments. At the same time, the United States could press Ukrainian compliance with existing arms control treaties--particularly START I and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty--which would ease Russian concerns about Ukrainian intentions.

On the economic level, the United States could encourage Ukrainian compliance with International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements for reform of the Ukrainian economy. In return, the United States could encourage the IMF to be more forthcoming with aid. Concomitantly, the United States, in conjunction with its European allies, could offer Ukraine further credits or loan guarantees. Equally important, the United States and it EU trading partners could offer Ukraine trade incentives that open their markets to Ukrainian goods. Finally, under U.S. leadership, concerned states could broaden Ukrainian sources of energy related products.

Should peaceful efforts at conflict resolution fail, U.S. interests may call for the use of military force. Prior to committing military force, however, policymakers need to consider the following key questions:160

  • Is there a threat to regional or international peace and security?
  • What are the desired political objectives to be achieved?
  • What is the desired end state?
  • Have viable alternatives to the use of military forces been pursued?
  • What are the appropriate military ends, ways, and means to achieve the political objectives?
  • How long and to what extent is the United States willing to commit forces to the region?
  • Will the American public continue to support such a commitment if it includes the prolonged deployment of ground forces?
  • Is the United States willing to engage sufficient forces to achieve decisive military and political results?
  • Are the political objectives in balance with the potential expenditure of national treasure and lives?

If these questions cannot be answered adequately, U.S. forces should not be employed. And, even if policymakers initially ascertain satisfactory answers, these questions will require continuous reexamination throughout the deployment of U.S. forces to ensure the continued coincidence of U.S. national policies and the military means to achieve them. If such a reexamination does not occur, a strong possibility exists that a strategic cleavage between political objectives and military ends, ways, and means will result, with the potential policy failure a likely result.

In the end, U.S. participation in ethnic conflicts in Europe is fraught with difficulties and dangers. Nonetheless, U.S. interests may drive the United States into engaging in such ventures. When preparing to participate, whether politically or militarily, in efforts to resolve ethnic conflict, the best thatU.S. policymakers can probably hope to accomplish is to:

  • Recognize where ethnic conflict may arise in Europe.
  • Establish what, if any, U.S. interests are at stake.
  • Assess the importance of those interests versus potential expenditure of American lives and national treasure.
  • Identify steps or policies that might deter violence.
  • Build coalitions to implement policies.
  • Contain the violence and achieve conflict termination at the earliest opportunity if violence occurs.
  • Devise policy options that integrate the political, economic, diplomatic, and military elements of national powerthat seek to redress the underlying political, economic, and societal, sources of ethnic conflict.
  • Recognize the limits of the United States and its allies, and understand that, occasionally, there may be little that outside intervention in an ethnic crisis or conflict can accomplish.

Endnotes

157.See, for example, NSS; and PDD-25.

158. See, for example, Charles Gati's criticism in "Post-Communist Blues," The American Enterprise, Vol. 5, No. 4, July/August 1994, pp. 41-43.

159. NSS, pp. 21-23.

160. Several of the following points are taken or adapted from Report of the Secretary of Defense to the President and the Congress, Washington: Government Printing Office, January 1994, pp. 65-66.