06 March 1998
(Civilian and military officials defend allied support) (810) By Jacquelyn S. Porth USIA Security Affairs Writer Washington -- Member after member of the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed dissatisfaction March 6 with the level of support given by U.S. allies to military operations designed to keep the squeeze on the Iraqi regime in Baghdad and maintain peace in Bosnia. Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (Republican, Alaska) opened a hearing at which Defense Secretary Cohen and General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Clinton administration's supplemental defense budget request by declaring, "If our allies expect and rely on our military protection, they should be full partners in the mission." They must understand the resolve of Congress, he said, insisting that "we are not going to pay this bill alone." Stevens announced plans to lead the committee on a trip to Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, and Belgium.They will be carrying the message that "we control funding," he said, suggesting there may be a congressional call for withdrawal from some operations if the United States doesn't get more help. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the committee's senior Democrat,argued that if U.S. friends and allies "can't send manpower, they can at least send money." He noted that chemical and biological weapons in Iraq pose a threat well beyond the immediate area, and urged that countries such as Japan and Saudi Arabia lend more assistance. Senator Thad Cochran (Republican, Mississippi) said the administration must insist that NATO and coalition allies boost financial participation. "We are no longer going to shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial responsibility for conducting these operations," he said. Cohen and Shelton appeared before the panel to seek $1,850 million in emergency supplemental funds for contingency operations in Bosnia and Iraq. Most of the money, $1,360 million, is sought for operations in Southwest Asia where the secretary said U.S. forces will remain "as long as necessary." Cohen said the U.S. has had strong allied support in its effort to contain Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Some 25 nations have pledged support, he said, including 13 of the 16 NATO members. The secretary also said U.S. Gulf allies have been supportive, are "very pleased" that the U.S. was willing to do all necessary before endorsing possible military action against Iraq, and have indicated a willingness to back the United States in the event the Iraqi government does not live up to its commitments with respect to U.N. weapons inspections. "If it comes time for a military option, we will have the support of all concerned," he added. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Republican, Colorado) noted that not enough has been done over the years to keep the earlier coalition together. He also suggested that it might be useful to put a bounty on Saddam Hussein's head as a way of expediting his removal from power. Cohen noted that keeping the Gulf coalition alive has been complicated by the fact that some Arab countries do not believe the United States has been pushing sufficiently hard on resolving the issue of the Middle East process. While acknowledging that U.S. allies should do more to help in both the Gulf and Bosnia, he also pointed out that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait provide $326 million in annual support, and both Britain and France are giving key help in maintaining the no-fly zones in Iraq. He said he was impressed that 25 nations, including Canada and New Zealand, have stepped forward to support Gulf operations. Shelton noted that the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia is backed by 37 nations. In his prepared statement, he also said the U.S. contribution "can be smaller while still reflecting the key role we play in NATO and in SFOR though the European nations will shoulder increased responsibilities." On another issue, Senator Dale Bumpers (Democrat, Arkansas) warned that Kosovo is aÿ20potential tinderbox for the international community. As Albania put military forces on high alert in the north, he warned, tensions in Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and Serbs pose a potential for becoming an even bigger nightmare than Bosnia. The committee is expected to act on the supplemental request March 12. This would enable the full Senate to consider it before an upcoming recess. Cohen said it would be "calamitous" if the FY 1998 non-offset emergency supplemental appropriations request is not approved. He wants Congress to dispense with it by early April. "Without timely action," he said, "the significant costs of continuing our presence in Bosnia and responding to the crisis in Southwest Asia will begin to hurt force readiness," particularly as so many U.S. military forces are currently deployed in major operations.