- NATO's bombing campaign against
Yugoslavia had almost no military effect on the regime of President Milosevic,
which gave in only after Russia withdrew its diplomatic backing.
- This is the gloomy assessment of a private, preliminary
review by Nato experts of the alliance's 78-day Operation Allied Force
bombing campaign against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.
- At the same time, British diplomats have concluded that
Milosevic had no intention of honouring any diplomatic agreement which
reduced his hold on Kosovo - despite his vaunted willingness to enter the
negotiations at Rambouillet and the peace talks in Paris which preceded
the bombing campaign. The experts nevertheless judge that, diplomatically
and politically, the operation was a success because the 19-member alliance
remained united throughout and left Belgrade so isolated that it was forced
to submit to Nato's terms.
- Despite the outcome, preliminary inquiries into the war
are revealing some uncomfortable truths for soldiers and politicians seeking
lessons from the Kosovo operation. Their findings will shape new military
and diplomatic approaches as to how the West deals with maverick leaders
and rogue states which confront them in future.
- The main finding of the Nato inquiry is that despite
the thousands of bombing sorties, they failed to damage the Yugoslav field
army tactically in Kosovo while the strategic bombing of targets such as
bridges and factories was poorly planned and executed. Changes are being
considered within Nato, including the radical overhaul of how strategic
targets are identified and considered for attack.
- Any future operation by Nato is likely to involve heavier,
more ruthless attacks on civilian targets such as power stations and water
treatment plants at an earlier stage of the campaign. There is also an
urgent operational requirement for more sophisticated surveillance equipment
including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to find small hidden tactical
targets such as tanks and artillery pieces. As it was, by parking a tank,
for example, in the ruins of an old house, the Serbs made it invisible
from the air.
- A team of Nato bomb damage experts is yet to complete
its work on the ground, but so far the assessment is that only a handful
of tanks, guns and armoured personnel carriers were damaged. Military sources
said that it was likely that the damage would have been greater had the
Serb forces been actively engaged on the ground by the Kosovo Liberation
Army and forced into the open.
- Without adequate surveillance assets, including low-level
UAVs such as the British Phoenix system which only arrived in the Balkans
in June, Nato was simply unable to spot well-hidden Serb military units
in Kosovo. A wave of new air-launched missiles, including the RAF's Brimstone,
will give Nato jets a more sophisticated missile for destroying targets
on the ground.
- The second part of the campaign was the strategic bombing
of military targets, including air defence systems, as well as the civilian
infrastructure of Yugoslavia and the Milosevic regime. Military experts
now concede that by breaking down this part of the campaign into phases,
the alliance made a serious error.
- The political leaders of Nato wanted to threaten Belgrade
with bombing and believed that a series of steps would be most effective,
because it would gradually increase the pressure on Milosevic to negotiate.
The Yugoslav leader was told at the outset of the bombing that Phase I
targets such as command bunkers would be hit and that, if he did not comply,
he could expect Phases II and III - which would be wider bombing.
- Nato sources now concede that this was an error as Phase
I did not cause any significant military pain to the regime - all the main
military assets and personnel had long been evacuated from obvious targets.
Furthermore, Milosevic was able to use the state-controlled media to prepare
the wider Yugoslav public for a long campaign, kindling a sort of Blitz
spirit that reduced public opposition to his rule.
- Nato believes that the bombing in the latter weeks of
Operation Allied Force against bridges, factories and other civilian targets
was more effective but it could have been much more so had it been done
- On the diplomatic front, Foreign Office officials have
concluded that Milosevic never had any intention of co-operating with the
outside world to find a solution to the Kosovo problem that would reduce
Serb control of the province. The undertakings he gave to the American
special envoy Richard Holbrooke last autumn which averted an earlier threat
of Nato punishment were worthless.
- They now accept that the numerous ultimatums issued to
Milosevic during the course of the Kosovo crisis should have been backed
up with the credible threat of force. Like Nato, they judge that Russia's
withdrawal of support played a significant part in Milosevic's capitulation,
along with other factors including the realisation that invasion was a
real possibility if he remained defiant.
- Nato plans for ground war options which included a full-scale
occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia were drawn up a year ago and updated
throughout the crisis. Diplomats now say that with Nato's credibility at
stake, a ground war was inevitable if Milosevic had not caved in. They
believe that pressure from his cronies in the demi-monde that controls
Serbia's disintegrating economy also played a part in his decision.
- British officials concede that the Kosovo problem should
have been dealt with at the 1995 Dayton talks which ended the Bosnian war.
One said: "Unfortunately, it got put in the 'Too Difficult and Not
Absolutely Pressing' in-tray." They are now hoping that the alliance's
ultimate willingness to go to war in Kosovo will convince future troublemakers
that it does not pay to defy international opinion.
- But despite the talk of the need for urgent pre-emptive
action in future crises, they conclude that the innate reluctance of democracies
to project power means that history is likely to repeat itself.