The news Friday that Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, is ready to talk about pulling U.S. and eventually NATO troops out of Bosnia, is welcome indeed. It would be more welcome if it presaged a strategic reconsideration of the U.S. policy of stationing troops around the world, but we’ll take an intelligent move whatever the reason.
Burns’ comment that “we can see an end to the NATO mission” was made during talks in Colorado among NATO defense ministers. It comes in the wake of an offer from the European Union to take over the Bosnian mission, with personnel more police-like than military, and ongoing pressure from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to free U.S. troops for other duties, especially in Afghanistan.
Bosnia and Herzegovina President Dragan Covic said last month that he was not eager to see NATO forces leave. But he did offer evidence that Bosnia is starting to emerge from its long civil war, is rebuilding its economy and is even in a position to seek foreign investment.
Our view is that the sooner foreign forces leave, the sooner Bosnians will take on fully the responsibility of running their country intelligently. Foreign troops can provide a material and psychological cushion that allows local leaders to delay making necessary choices and hard decisions.
Unfortunately, rethinking the Bosnian commitment — eight years after the Clinton administration assured Americans that U.S. troops would be there for a year at most — seems to be a response to imperial overstretch elsewhere.
We’d prefer rethinking the whole idea of inserting Americans into conflicts far from U.S. borders or core interests.