When President Clinton delivered his State of the Union address, he drew applause when he stated that U.S. troops were performing well as peacekeepers in Bosnia. Commentators neglected to point out that they were supposed to have come home two years ago. Now, without a formal vote of approval in advance from Congress, the president is on the verge of sending several more thousand troops to Kosovo, another part of the former Yugoslavia.
A problem developed when it was disclosed that our European allies would allow us to keep the number of U.S. troops in Kosovo to a few thousand only if we agreed to put them in a NATO ground force under foreign command. The Washington Post noted that the issue of putting U.S. troops under foreign command “has always been red hot for conservative Republicans and others.”
But State Department spokesman James Rubin quickly threw cold water on that fire, telling reporters at the department that this was much ado about nothing. Asked about foreign command, he gave this confusing response: “we will have to look at what the mission is, what the circumstances are, what other countries are prepared to do, including and especially European countries, and we?ll continue our consultations with Congress.” He went on to say that whatever the nationality of the Kosovo commander, he would report to an American Admiral who would, in turn, report to the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, American General Wesley Clark. Rubin said there is a “clear chain of command” to Clark.
But it?s really not so clear. Rubin?s doubletalk obscures the fact that Clark comes under the authority of the supreme governing body of NATO, known as the North Atlantic Council. This is the group that makes all political and military decisions. It authorizes NATO military commanders to take action. It is composed of representatives of all NATO member countries but its chairman is the NATO Secretary-General, a Spanish socialist named Javier Solana. This is the highest position in NATO. So, technically, all of our troops in NATO are ultimately under foreign control, if not foreign command.
The administration would likely counter that Solana is just a figurehead, that he is mainly responsible for promoting and directing the process of consultation and decision-making in NATO. It?s true that he can?t order military action on his own, but his position carries with it inherent authority and he is still identified at the top of the NATO structure. Any doubters should consult the NATO web site at http://www.NATO  .int. Solana was known as a hard-core leftist in his native Spain and his selection as NATO Secretary-General was criticized at the time by some members of the U.S. Congress who said he had been too sympathetic to the Communist government of Fidel Castro.
There has been some other misleading reports about whether NATO will have to get the permission of the U.N. before engaging in military action. This is beside the point. NATO describes itself as an alliance established in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. It will be intervening to ensure compliance with United Nations resolutions.