Why has Secretary of Defense William Cohen chosen to criticize the level of defense expenditures by European members of NATO now [op-ed, Dec. 6]?

His remarks may reflect more concern about our European allies' reaction to Kosovo than about their inadequacy during the "campaign." The U.S. approach of offering a rigid ultimatum at Rambouillet--when considerable latitude for negotiations remained--was not taken well in Europe.

Many Europeans also do not share Mr. Cohen's enthusiasm for "precision guided munitions to hit targets with high accuracy and low collateral damage." Collateral damage was not small in Kosovo but on the order of $30 billion. The economy of that part of Europe will be affected for years, because bridges and other utilities do not serve only Serbs.

Mr. Cohen's people-friendly munitions proved fairly ineffective against the Serbs' heaviest weapons, a fact that was admitted implicitly during the latter part of the bombing as great attention was paid to infrastructure with unavoidable civilian deaths. In all-out war, civilian infrastructure is generally regarded as a military target, but was Kosovo supposed to be all-out war?

To date, despite all the generalizations about mass killings, the known civilian deaths inflicted by NATO exceed any verified accounting of Serb atrocities. Something on the order of 1,500 people were killed, and many more maimed and hurt. Yes, the expulsion of the Kosovars was a terrible act, but it was Yugoslavia's ill-considered response to being threatened by an ill-considered ultimatum from the world's most powerful country. And the situation in Kosovo today is dreadful. Albanian Kosovars have proven to be quite ruthless in expressing their desire not to live with Serb neighbors.

So, what was Kosovo all about? That is unclear to this day. But not everyone is enthusiastic about the capability to kill without being killed, to impose one's will without any depth of commitment, to destroy with minimal political impact at home. And it has set our European allies thinking about a more independent military course, and this almost certainly is an important part of the reason for Mr. Cohen's remarks.

JOHN W. CHUCKMAN

Portland, Maine