Who'll pay the tab?

October 10, 1990|By The New York Times

THERE'S increasing reason to hope that Saddam Hussein will have to withdraw from Kuwait and accept restrictions on Iraq's military power, either because of the embargo or battlefield defeat.

One way or the other, the United States will pay the biggest share of the costs, in blood and treasure. That's unfair and unacceptable.

If fighting breaks out, Americans will suffer far greater casualties than any of the allies. With its forces approaching 200,000, the United States will have more than three times as many troops in combat as all its partners put together, including Saudi Arabia.

And even if there is no fighting, the U.S. already finds itself paying twice, once to defend Iraq's neighbors and again for oil at twice the July price.

Saudi Arabia, whose oil profits are expected to jump by about $50 billion a year, has pledged $12 billion this year to reimburse Washington for its gulf-related military operations and to help defray the impact of the embargo on its poor neighbors. But that doesn't begin to cover the bill.

The allies may deploy between 25,000 and 40,000 troops (mostly Egyptian and not counting 40,000 from the Saudis). But that doesn't reflect their relative interest in stopping Iraq or their dependence on oil. Western Europe and Japan buy more oil from the gulf than the U.S.

How did this gross imbalance of responsibilities occur? And what can be done to right it?

The answer lies in the mindset of America's leaders and in the established expectations of our allies.

Almost reflexively, the Bush administration took over the crisis as if it were part of the old Cold War confrontation with Moscow. Only the U.S. can do the job, administration officials argued.

To set this situation right, Bush and allied leaders have to reappraise mindsets, manpower and money.

First, Washington has to demand much more from the allies, and they have to expect far more from themselves.

Second, every allied nation should deploy more forces, either in addition to Americans or as replacements.

Third, the allied steering group already established to coordinate economic aid should meet immediately to discuss increasing the $20 billion already pledged, principally by Germany, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

This amount is grossly insufficient, especially for the Saudis.

Without such reappraisal, Americans will come, rightly, to bridle at the unfairness and will hesitate about future U.S. contributions to collective security.

With these steps, Bush and allied leaders can truly establish a new model for post-Cold-War peacekeeping.

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