- NATO's victory was due to a brilliant
diplomatic tour d'force. Having blundered into the war with insufficient
preparation or planning and having prosecuted it amateurishly, NATO's political
leaders ended the war by giving a clinic in diplomatic cunning. Of course,
the prize NATO has won is control over Kosovo, a dubious trophy at best.
We wonder what was second prize? In addition, the war has opened a deep
rift inside of NATO and intensified the anti-reform process in Russia.
Along the way, it also drove U.S.-Chinese relations to the lowest level
since Nixon first met Mao. That is a large price to pay for assuming responsibility
for the Balkans. In fact, responsibility for the Balkans is not something
most sane people would want. But this much must be said: even if NATO
won a booby prize, the concluding diplomacy was a wonder to behold.
- NATO has won the 1999 Serbian War. Of
that there can be no doubt. There are two questions to be asked. First,
how did it manage to win the war? Second, what are the ramifications of
this victory? NATO did not win the war militarily. It won the war with
a breathtaking diplomatic performance in the last week that was duplicitous,
disingenuous, and devious--precisely what brilliant diplomacy is supposed
to be. Yet, at the same moment that NATO's diplomacy snatched victory
from the jaws of military stalemate, its very characteristics have set
the stage for an ongoing and perhaps insoluble problem not only in the
Balkans, but within the councils of NATO and ultimately, in the global
- The issue of whether NATO won the war
militarily will be debated for many years. The question of air power's
efficacy is always debated with religious zeal. In this case, the question
comes down to this: why did Slobodan Milosevic agree to the G-8 accords
during his meeting with Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari? Was it because he
could no longer resist militarily? Was it because the cost to Serbia
of the air campaign had become unsupportable? Was it because he felt that
he had achieved all that he could achieve militarily to that point? In
other words, did Milosevic think he was capitulating or did he think he
was reaching a satisfactory political settlement?
- Certainly, the ability of Serbia's ground
forces to resist a NATO invasion of Kosovo had not been degraded sufficiently
to permit NATO to enter the "permissive environment" it required.
When Serb military negotiators broke off talks on June 6, NATO forces
milled about along the Kosovo border awaiting Serb permission for NATO
forces to enter. When French forces entered Kosovo a week later, they
reported formidable defenses along the Albanian-Kosovo border, and expressed
relief at not having to face them. Thus, unlike the Iraqi war of 1991,
there can be no argument that NATO's air power had defeated Serbia's ground
forces in Kosovo or elsewhere. Serbia's ability to resist NATO's entrance
into Kosovo remained intact.
- The next question about air power is
whether it had imposed strategic and economic costs on Belgrade that were
unbearable and whether these forced Milosevic to capitulate? This is an
important question, since air power theorists since Douhet have argued
that air power could achieve this goal, yet conventional air power appears
to fall consistently short of achieving this mission. Since military strategies
and budgets depend on how this question is answered, interpreting the origins
of Milosevic's actions is far from an academic issue. It is an important
and difficult question.
- This is hard to answer because, in part,
it depends on what was going through Milosevic's mind when he agreed to
the G-8 terms for ending the war. But the very nature of the question we
pose points us in the direction of the answer. Since we need to wonder
what went through Milosevic's mind, it is clear we are trying to figure
out the reasons for his actions. Implicitly, the very question means that
Milosevic had a choice. If he had a choice that means that the weight
of the air war was not so unbearable that he could not endure it. At the
same time, maybe Milosevic chose not to endure it. In other words, air
power had not broken Serbia's will, but the price may have been too high
to endure, particularly when alternatives were available them.
- This is, we believe, the best case that
can be made for the success of the air war. That any case exists is remarkable,
since the air war was badly architected and conceived from the beginning.
There were insufficient forces in theater to carry out the sort of overwhelming
strike that NATO air planners felt was required even to open the possibility
of shattering Serbia's will to resist. The buildup of air forces went
too slowly. At no point did available forces begin to approach the forces
available in Desert Storm, in spite of the fact that terrain, weather,
and the correlation of forces required larger, rather than smaller, forces.
The air campaign was controlled by civilians who triggered it without
sufficient planning and preparation, without providing minimal resources,
and without permitting a target set and tempo of operations capable of
fulfilling the mission. The Kosovo air campaign was not and can not be
a fair test of air power.
- That said, it follows that the more extreme
claims being made for the success of the air campaign are unreasonable.
The air campaign did not in any sense conform to air power theory. Assertions
that in spite of all of its defects, it compelled Milosevic to capitulate
are, oddly enough, attacks on air power theorists. If this air campaign
was enough to break Milosevic, then air campaign strategists themselves
have vastly underestimated the impact of air power. The Kosovo campaign
was the polar opposite of what an air campaign, in theory, required. Air
power theorists have no reason to defend this campaign and defending it
undermines much of their theory.
- The critical point is that the air campaign
did not leave Milosevic without options. There is no doubt that he could
have endured the campaign that was underway for many months. Milosevic
did not act as he did because the air campaign had crippled him. Milosevic
acted as he did because it appeared to him that a satisfactory diplomatic
resolution was available and because he believed the geopolitical situation
had developed in an unfavorable direction. Given that the broader strategic
environment was moving against him and a diplomatic option was available,
it made no sense to prolong the war.
- The shift in the strategic environment
was, obviously, the fall of Primakov and the increasing unreliability of
Russia as Serbia's patron. The diplomatic solution was the G-8 compromise,
which was understood to differ fundamentally from the Rambouillet accord.
As the G-8 was written, Milosevic's acceptance of it did not mean a capitulation
to NATO, but the acceptance of an international peacekeeping force under
UN control, enabled by a UN Security Council resolution. Since Serbia
had accepted the principle of a foreign presence in Kosovo, but objected
to a purely NATO presence, the G-8 accords seemed to achieve Milosevic's
- NATO, mainly the U.S. and U.K., went
into action the minute Milosevic accepted the compromise. First, NATO
created a public atmosphere in which it successfully portrayed Milosevic's
acceptance of G-8 as its own victory. What began as a public relations
campaign designed for domestic consumption, was rapidly transformed into
the accepted reality. In a brilliant, global public relations campaign,
the U.S. and U.K. convinced even the Serb public that Milosevic had surrendered.
Milosevic found himself trapped in a reality created by NATO.
- Behind the atmospherics, there was a
defining military reality. NATO could not enter Kosovo unless the Serbs
permitted it. However, once NATO was in Kosovo, the Serbs lost their ability
to resist. NATO had to convince the Serbs to allow it to enter Kosovo,
past their frontier defenses. Once inside, Serb troops were immediately
helpless, having given up not only their terrain force multipliers, but
also having their lines of supply and communications shattered and their
forces enveloped in mobile operations. The key was to get the Serbs to
- From the collapse of the border negotiations
with Serbian generals on the evening of June 6 until the entry of NATO
forces on the morning of June 13, NATO diplomats brilliantly manipulated,
by completely confusing, the situation. For example, they agreed to enable
the Security Council resolution called for by the G-8 accords. They agreed
to give the UN control over civil administration. They agreed to extensions
in the Serb pullout. They agreed to a Russian presence in Kosovo. They
agreed with everything, yet gave away nothing. Their goal was simple:
to get NATO troops into Kosovo. NATO understood that once that was achieved,
NATO would run Kosovo, regardless of agreements.
- The critical part of these maneuvers
was to keep the Russians under control. It was, after all, the intervention
of a Russian officer that scuttled the June 5-6 discussions. NATO knew
that nothing it did would satisfy all of the Russians. Therefore, its
goal was to split the Russians into as many camps as possible and to isolate
hard liners. NATO simply had to impress on Milosevic that the Russians
were not prepared to enforce the accords they had themselves negotiated
in Bonn on May 3.
- Milosevic and his generals, helpless
amidst the political forces unleashed by NATO, reached out to supportive
Russian factions for help. This led to the Russian intervention in Pristina
and NATO's diplomacy's finest hour. Rather than treating the intervention
as a dangerous crisis, NATO carried on with its basic three-part program.
First, it declared the intervention unimportant, and once again, image
became reality. Second, it isolated the Russian force strategically, tactically,
and politically. Surrounding countries refused to permit overflights,
NATO troops rolled around them, and NATO's allies in the Kremlin hemmed
in NATO's foes. Third, and most important, by ignoring the Russian intervention,
NATO got what it wanted: its troops passed into Kosovo, behind the mountains
and minefields that had blocked them.
- Indeed, the Russian intervention actually
helped NATO to get in. Serb military leaders, with misplaced confidence
in the Russian military's will to confront NATO, committed a fatal error.
They permitted NATO troops to cross the border on schedule. In fact, they
were eager for NATO troops to enter, expecting a confrontation between
them and the Russian forces. This would give Serb troops the opportunity
to join with reinforced Russian troops and compel NATO to face war or retreat.
- Instead, NATO used its influence in Moscow
to limit the Pristina force to a symbolic gesture. NATO then proceeded
to surround, isolate, and ignore the Russians. Russian forces at Pristina,
rather than becoming the trigger of a NATO-Russian confrontation, became
benignly treated hostages. NATO forces, now deep in Kosovo, proceeded
to impose the NATO occupation that Milosevic had resisted and that the
G-8 accords seemed to have avoided. Once NATO got Serbia to allow a "permissive"
entry into Kosovo, NATO was in control.
- This was brilliant diplomacy. The simple
fact is that having blundered into a war they didn't really want, without
a prepared military force or a coherent strategic plan, Clinton, Blair,
Albright, Berger, Cook, Robertson and the rest in the end ran a clinic
in diplomacy. They turned a badly stalemated military operation that was
going nowhere into victory. The end game provides a textbook in the use
of diplomacy for retrieving poor strategic positions. Even more than a
victory for NATO, this was a victory for the Anglo-American coalition that
drove this war.
- And therein lies the tale. Everything
has a cost. The first price that NATO must pay is the victory itself.
It now controls Kosovo. That is a booby prize if there ever was one. Second,
NATO is now responsible for the stability of the whole of the Balkan peninsula.
What the Austro-Hungarians and the Turks found undigestible NATO will now
try to digest. The Balkans is a region whose very geography breeds insecure
states without room for viable compromises. It can be done, but the mission
is, in the long run, always exhausting. On the bright side, NATO now has
a full-time mission to keep it occupied.
- NATO's greatest price will be paid in
NATO itself. Gerhard Schroeder has tried to put a good face on it, but
the Germans were and remain appalled by the risks the Anglo-Americans forced
Germany to accept in relation to the Russians. Schroeder insisted on Friday
that Russia should be treated with "respect," a code word for
avoiding another such confrontation. Germany cannot afford another episode
of Anglo-American diplomatic brilliance. Thus, when Schroeder said last
week that: "Human rights are and should be inviolable," but
that "we have to look at issues very closely and in fact differentiate
between different situations," he was announcing that it would be
a long time before Germany tried this again. He went on to say that NATO
action should be "confined to its own territory and that should continue
to be its way." After Kosovo, a compliant Germany within NATO simply
should not be taken for granted any longer.
- The Kosovo affair carries with it another
price: it has intensified the process in which reformers are losing out
to communists and nationalists. Kosovo was beyond Russia's reach. There
are areas that are very much within its reach, such as the Baltics, Ukraine,
Central Asia, and the Caucasus. NATO has established a precedent: it can
intervene in other countries so long as human rights issues justify it.
Human rights violations abound in the former Soviet Union. As hard liners
inexorably increase their power in the Kremlin, NATO will have provided
them with full justification for intervention in areas where they have
the upper hand and NATO is without options. If suffering humanity is a
justification for war, NATO just gave Russia the moral basis for reclaiming
its empire. And it should be remembered that Russia may not be able to
take on NATO, but Lithuania or Uzbekistan have a different correlation
of forces, to say the least.
- NATO has clearly won a victory and the
diplomats have been instrumental. However, it is a victory in which the
price will be, we think, higher than anyone anticipated or would have been
willing to pay at the beginning of the war. NATO came out of the war internally
weaker than it went in. Russia and China came out of the war more, rather
than less, hostile. The stability of the Balkans is now a permanent and
impossible responsibility for the West. It was a victory. A few more
victories like this and....
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