Ever since the United States led more than 30 countries to
victory over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, use of multilateral
coalitions to defuse crises has become a hallmark of its strategy
for global stability.
Washington's emphasis on collective action, especially in the
United Nations, is evident on both diplomatic and military fronts.
These range from US-authored intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina and
new Asian and African security initiatives to plans to expand the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Eastern Europe.
But this year, the Clinton administration has found itself at
odds with coalition partners over crises in Iraq and Yugoslavia.
The disputes have forced the US to compromise, leaving it short of
its policy goals while stoking frictions with key allies.
As a result, some experts question whether coalitions are
helping or hindering US foreign policy. Some believe the US has
become more concerned with averting the humiliation of a coalition
collapse than with using its political and military muscle to
extinguish threats to US interests.
"A deal is not worth anything if it undercuts the objectives
you are trying to achieve," a Pentagon consultant says on condition
of anonymity. "We want the appearance that a coalition is working.
But that gives the weakest sister ... the power to coerce other
members to change policy."
Not much glue left
Feuds between the US and its coalition partners are
inevitable, say some experts, citing the absence of a common foe,
greater economic competition, and a perception of American
arrogance of power.
"There is no massive threat to provide cohesion to any
coalition over the long term," says Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato
Institute, a libertarian group in Washington. "Nations are
increasingly pursuing their own interests and in many cases, they
do not overlap with Washington's interests."
Anger is especially sharp in Congress, where some lawmakers
perceive a failure or reluctance of European nations to work in
concert with the US.
Even senior US officials acknowledge being frustrated by the
outcome of the recent Iraq confrontation over weapons inspections,
and by the international response to unrest in Yugoslavia's Kosovo
province between Serbs and ethnic Albanians seeking independence.
In Iraq, the US failed to win much support among its Gulf War
allies for the use of force to compel Saddam Hussein to come clean
on his weapons of mass destruction. Despite the UN-brokered accord
that defused the standoff, many US officials expect Saddam to stage
new confrontations over his nuclear, biological, and chemical
weapons programs. …