THE AIR AND MISSILE OFFENSIVE AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA
Defence Associations (CDA)
Some analysts have hailed the outcome of Operation Allied Force as a definitive foreign policy victory that vindicates the concept of humanitarian security that places the right of the individual above the respect for territorial sovereignty of the state, as well as a military triumph that affirms the primacy of air and missile power.
Some, after the war, even spoke of a Clinton Doctrine that would commit the United States, and hopefully its allies, to using force to halt ethnic cleansing wherever and whenever it occurred.
Despite the positive outcomes of Operation Allied Force - NATOs seventy-eight-day air and missile campaign against Yugoslavia in support of the Kosovars- preliminary analysis are revealing some uncomfortable truths for soldiers and politicians seeking lessons from these operations.
The NATO victory in Kosovo, notwithstanding the one-sided nature of the military contest, was not clear-cut. The campaign was far more prolonged than its planners visualized, and it clearly failed to avert the humanitarian disaster which it was aimed to prevent. The campaign also provided the Serb leadership a pretext to accelerate and intensify their ethnic cleansing campaign.
The decision to avoid allied casualties, by keeping most aircraft sorties above 15,000 feet and by foregoing a ground invasion, not only limited the campaigns ability to stop Serbian aggression against the Kosovars, but resulted in increased collateral damage, including that to the Chinese embassy, which cast the humanitarian nature of the aim into doubt and turned the question of zero-casualty on its head. How many Yugoslavs are worth the life of a single Americans?
The diplomatic cost of the operation was severely strained relations between the West and China and Russia. And the resulting fragile peace has done nothing to resolve the long term issue of Kosovos status, leaving both the Serbian aim of Yugoslavian sovereignty and the Kosovo Liberation Armys aim of independence for the territory legitimized.
Lesson 1 Alliance solidarity - a must
displays of frustration by individual allies, the cohesion shown, by the nineteen-member
Alliance, was not only impressive but also essential to the success of the war. Alliance
cohesion left Belgrade isolated in Europe, and established NATO and its US leadership as
the indispensable security organization in the Euro-Atlantic region. Whether that cohesion
would have prevailed, had the ground offensive option been tabled in Brussels in early
June, will remain the great unknown.
Threats of military force against determined adversaries rarely succeed
The US and its allies assumed that they had sufficient
military power in the area to impose their will, and so NATO painted itself into a
rhetorical corner by repeatedly threatening Yugoslavian President Milosevic without taking
meaningful action. NATO was hoping also that Milosevic would cave in without having to
take these meaningful actions.
Convinced that these threats were just bluff, Milosevic escalated his repressive actions in Kosovo. This left NATO with only one option military intervention to restore its credibility.
The Alliance finally resorted to bombing on 24 March for what President Clinton at the time said was a clear purpose: to deter an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians in Kosovo and, if necessary to seriously damage the Serbian militarys capacity to harm the people of Kosovo.
The U.S. and its allies,
however, ruled out the use of ground troops and prepared only for three days of bombing -
it is worth remembering that there were about 360 NATO aircraft in the region when the
operation began of which only about 80 were combat aircraft capable of attacking targets -
in the belief that Milosevic would agree to NATOs terms after a few days.
NATO, having thus underestimated Milosevic determination to resist military pressure, faced a mismatch between its strategy and the means to prevent the mass expulsion of Albanian Kosovars, the prevention of which was the core of NATOs stated aims.
Air campaigns alone dont to win wars
NATO leaders were surprised when Milosevic did not fold after the first wave of cruise
missile strikes on 24 March. Failure to
anticipate Milosevics willingness to respond by accelerating his own campaign led to
an ad hoc air campaign, reminiscent of the discredited incremental approach to air power
demonstrated in the Vietnam war.
Self-imposed targeting restrictions permitted the Serbs to disperse and conceal their troops and equipment and to carry out their ethnic cleansing campaign.
As a result, post-war analysis indicates that, despite 38,000 air sorties, the Allies failed to substantially degrade the Yugoslav army in Kosovo and to shape the situation on the ground. Strategic bombing of infrastructure targets was more successful, but there was no coherent anti-infrastructure plan, and targeting was severely constrained by the political leadership.
It would be premature, therefore, as some analysts have done, to conclude, that President Milosevic agreed to the June peace deal solely because of the air campaign.The respected British historian John Keegan wrote that for the first time in history, air forces won a war.
Such a conclusion would overlook the other two main factors which greatly influenced his decision: the strong possibility of a ground offensive at the end of May and early June, and the pressure applied on Milosevic by Russia, who by that time had come to believe that a ground offensive was eminent.
The air campaign, conducted in isolation, is not a fair test of air power, nor should its apparent success lead to asymmetric bases for future strategy and force structure. In fact, air power alone failed to meet its prewar promise. Also, Yugoslavia provides a unique example of asymmetric power which future adversaries are unlikely to match, and also showed that asymmetric strategies can be countered in other areas.
In summary, air power can increase the cost of holding territory, but it cannot control territory. In the final analysis what got the Serbs out of Kosovo, NATO troops in, and the Albanians back, was the threat of a concomitant ground offensive. Because this axiom was ignored until the tail-end of the war, the people of Kosovo paid a stiff price.
Lesson 4 Air campaigns are unlikely to achieve humanitarian objectives
One of the stated purposes of the war was to deter
an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians in Kosovo. It became apparent in the early stages of the
operation that NATO air strikes could not achieve that objective. President Milosevic took advantage of the air
attack against Yugoslavia and of NATOs concomitant promise to abstain from a ground
assault, to launch an even bloodier offensive.
Unfortunately, the main victims between NATOs desired objective and the military means made available to its commanders, were the Kosovars. Serbian forces killed thousands of ethnic Albanians, uprooted more than 1.5 million from their homes, expelled more than 800,000 refugees from Kosovo and put to the torch some 500 Albanian communities.
Despite its best
intentions, Operation Allied Force demonstrated that air power has only limited ability to
prevent humanitarian abuses.There is no
reason to believe that any similar air operation has any other than very limited
capability to prevent these and other humanitarian abuses.
Lesson 5 Casualty avoidance reduces military effectiveness
Operational restrictions to limit NATO casualties which forced NATO pilots to try to distinguish between military and nonmilitary targets from 15,000 feet undermined the operation, it severely limited NATOs ability to curb Yugoslavia ethnic cleansing within Kosovo and finally, contributed to mistakes in the bombing campaign. In effect the air operation implicitly accepted civilian casualties to prevent military ones.
Kissinger has said that NATO undertook the Kosovo operation, at least in part, in
reaction to public repugnance at television footage of refugees; but a similar fear of the
pictures of allied casualties caused them to adopt a military strategy that, perversely,
magnified the suffering of the population on whose behalf the war was ostensibly being
Not only did the efforts to keep aircraft away from effective anti-air weapons increase the likelihood of collateral damage and prolong the campaign, it denied NATO commanders the use of forces, such as Apache helicopters, which could have been effective against Serbian ground forces engaged in ethnic cleansing.
The unique character of the air campaign, with no combat deaths, also means that Kosovo is likely to be as unreliable a guide to future interventions as the Gulf War and the short-lived new world order were in 1991.
A widespread belief exists in the foreign policy communities of the Western industrialized world, but particularly in Washington, that the public will not support military intervention where there are, or are likely to be casualties.
Interestingly enough, a recently conducted survey, by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, indicates that Washington leaders may be out of touch with the American population on this issue. Collectively, the survey results suggest that a majority of the American people will accept deaths- so long as the mission has the potential to be successful.
will need to start listening more closely to the general population who seem to understand
better than their leaders that war is a messy business which puts our own troops into
jeopardy and may therefore involve casualties.
Self-sacrifice and mission accomplishment is the essence of military service. Casualty-free operations have not been a feature of past conflicts, nor will they be a feature of future wars.
Lesson 6 Military intervention must be linked to
clearly defined political goals.
While there may be little doubt about the scale of the immediate victory, there is great doubt about its future strategic consequences. NATO effectively exchanged a 78-day air and missile war for a ground-oriented peacekeeping mission of unlimited duration. Effectively NATO has assumed responsibility for both control of Kosovo and the stability of the whole Balkan peninsula.
Evidence indicates that NATO, and the KLA and its successor organization, whose objectives are diametrically opposed , may be on a collision course in the territory.
To support the KLAs aim of an independent Kosovo would probably lead to a movement toward a Greater Albania, uniting Albania with Kosovo and parts of Macedonia., leading in turn to destabilization of the entire Balkan region. On the other hand, efforts to fully disarm the KLA could lead to a full-fledged low intensity conflictwith KFors peacekeepers in the middle of a shooting war and the likely collapse of NATOS policy of bringing stability to the region.
highlights a central political-military lesson: the
ability of the modern military to project destructive power abroad has far outraced the
ability of political leaders to use that power to achieve political goals and manage
Lesson 7 The conditions of coalition war and the
principles of military operations should be reconciled
air campaign effectively demonstrated the
great potency and precision of modern air weapons, but the restraints imposed by the
political leadership of the nineteen member nations were seized onto by several analysts
as having contributed to the initial ineffectiveness of air operations.
But the basic tenet of democracies that the military must be subject to civilian control is incontestable. Nor can one expect the political leadership simply to set the restraints then turn the conduct of the battle over to the generals and admirals.
The most controversial decisions - the incremental pace of the bombing, the question of committing ground troops to Kosovo and the decision to attack the economic infrastructure in heavily populated areas - all had important political and psychological implications far beyond the question of whether destroying an electric power grid would help bring about Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevics capitulation.
These wider implications are properly the responsibility of elected political leaders in NATO countries and not professional military officers.
military operations have political consequences, as Karl von Clausewitz
underlined in his well-know observation that war is merely the continuation of
policy by other means....Therefore there can be no question of a purely military
evaluation of a great strategic issue, nor of a purely military scheme to solve it.
Consequently the conduct of operations in Kosovo took place against the overarching constraint of keeping the alliance together. In the final analysis, the very essence of the NATO alliance demands the primacy of political decision. On the whole, NATO is truly remarkable in how much it actually does accomplish through the unanimity of nineteen separate governments.
being said ,
the question as to whether this campaign was conducted in the most effective political and
military way, has not yet been fully answered and will be debated long after the end of
One can hope, as U.S. Defence Secretary Cohen noted, on 9 September, that the Kosovo conflict highlighted the need to shift more authority to military commanders in the field for maximum flexibility. In the future, NATOs political structure will need to remain as adaptable as its military structure.
Lesson 8 There exists a need for better burden-sharing
The war revealed deep ambiguity at the heart of NATO. At one level, the dependence of Europe on American capabilities was brutally underlined in the air campaign. The US provided some 80 percent of the air assets and most of the precision-guided munitions.( The Canadian CF-18s did better than most European, flying 10 per cent of the total strike missions and hitting their targets 75 per cent of the time.)
A glance at the expenditure figures is very revealing. The US spends $36 billion on defence R&D, compared with some $10 billion by the remaining 18 NATO nations combined. It also spends 3.2% of its gross domestic product on defence, representing more than $250 billion, compared with an average of 2.1 % for the European members and less than 1.2% for Canada, for a total of approximately $160 billion.
at another level, American political leadership during the operation was uncertain. The lesson for NATO is clear: America remains crucial to Euro-Atlantic peace and
security, but Europe (and Canada) must assume more responsibility for their own defence.
Unfortunately European, as well as the Canadian Governments have not, since the end of the Cold War, been very serious about defence. Over the past decade, most European nations, along with Canada, have sharply reduced their defence budgets, their weapons spending and the size of their armed forces to cash in on the peace dividend made possible by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Transformation of current forces into more flexible and better adapted forces proves most difficult in a climate of defence under funding.
The Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo have all shown that the capabilities of the European nations and Canada in the fields of intelligence, strategic reconnaissance, tactical air power, transport, command and control and smart weapons, to name a few, are so lacking as to render them powerless to act militarily without the United States.
In his May farewell press conference, General Klaus Naumann, the outgoing Chairman of NATOs Military Committee commented bluntly on . . . the growing gap of capabilities which we see inside NATO . . . The military capabilities of the European nations and Canada must be improved. We require action and not just paper declarations.Yet, paper declarations is a field where European governments continue to excel. At each meeting of the European Union and Western European Union, ministers mouth their commitment to developing European defence capabilities and Europes security and defence identity.
But, as spelled out by Admiral Venturoni, the new
CMC,unless there exists a real European resolve to acquire the necessary resources,
the European Defence and Security Identity will remain nothing more than a noble
Europeans and Canadians must be prepared to assume a greater share of the burden. Perhaps the Kosovo crisis will lead Europe to devote more resources to the security dimension of its new identity. Europeans must, however, be ready not just to spend somewhat more on their military capacity, but to spend it on forces that are relevant to the post-Cold War world.
9 Military shortcomings need to be addressed
As a fifty-year old alliance dedicated to the defence of Europe, NATO shows unacceptable failings in military infrastructure, notably in command, control, communications and intelligence. This was highlighted by the lack of secure voice interoperability between the US and the remaining allies. Interoperability remains a must if NATO nations are to work together effectively.
The allies also lack stand-off weaponry for its air forces, and forces able to project power from a distance. As well, the lack of stand-off weapons in a modern battlefield environment places European aircraft at unacceptable levels of risk. Hopefully, the recently launched NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative will correct some of these shortcomings.
Among the few highlights were the performance of
unmanned aerial vehicles and the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to Air Missile.
Comment China and Russia rethink their security after Kosovo
Russian President Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang
Zemin, at their 25 August meeting, underlined their nations hostility to further
NATO eastward expansion and to the alliances actions in Kosovo. The Moscow-Beijing axis will likely be reinforced,
as will their determination to confront what
they see as American world domination.
In my recent visit to the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies, in Beijing, defence analysts repeatedly voiced the same message. The U.S. has only one goal: the hegemonic domination of the world. In their view , the U.S. plan to control the world is based on two prongs - NATOs eastward expansion and close defence ties with Japan.
NATOs air offensive against Yugoslavia and, particularly the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, proved particularly useful to Chinas hard-liner because the bombings allowed them to fan Chinese fears that a vast expanding Western alliance might attempt to limit Chinas power in Tibet, in the restive northwestern province of Xinjiang or in Taiwan.
As for Russia, three issues in particular have given Moscow an interest in improving its relations with China: their concern about missile defence, the entry of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO and promised further expansion, and the frustration particularly felt by the Russian military and the sense of powerlessness in Moscow at NATOs intervention over Kosovo and Russias inability to do anything except to go along with the Wests plan.
see the Kosovo intervention as a dangerous precedent which could be used to justify other
interventions around the world without UN authorization.
They will likely resist any further weakening of the tradition of non-intervention
in nations internal affairs.
Is Kosovo a precedent for military humanitarian intervention?
I would suggest that, despite President Clintons
sweeping statement at the June G-8 meeting of the U.S. willingness to intervene in cases
of racial- or religious-based genocide anywhere that . . . it is within our power to
stop it . . ., Kosovos value as a precedent will be limited.
Other members of the US administration quickly made it plain that three conditions will have to be met before a U.S. military intervention takes place: first, there must be a clear moral justification for using force; second, the area must be of strategic importance; and third, the operation must be mountable without exacting a heavy price. The most undermining condition attached to intervention may be the implied avoidance of U.S. casualties.
Hence, Kosovo may deter some dictators , but not all witness the recent massacres in East Timor but whether it has really forged a new form of moral internationalism seems rather doubtful.
One reason is that all the rhetoric aside the U.S. and NATO allies did not intervene in Kosovo primarily for humanitarian purposes. If U.S. foreign policy was driven mainly by such concerns, the U.S. would, for example, have sent a few thousand troops to Rwanda in 1994, when massacres on a much wider scale took place.
tipped the balance in Kosovo, as in Bosnia in 1995, were two concerns: that the conflict would spread to other areas of
the Balkans and beyond, and that the American leadership of NATO would be thrown into
question. The Kosovo operation was in part
meant to prove that NATO was still relevant in a post-Soviet Europe. None of this applies outside of NATO-Europe.
In practical terms after having narrowly escaped the strong possibility of launching a bloody ground invasion, and with some 80,000 peacekeepers now tied down in the Balkans for the unforeseeable future, there will be little appetite in NATO capitals or in Washington for a similar venture elsewhere in the world anytime soon.
Secretary of State Albright has cautioned against any notion of precedent, and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany and Prime Minister Chrétien have issued similar cautions.
more bluntly, it means the Kosovo model applies to Kosovo and probably nowhere else.
The very limited U.S. response to the crisis in East Timor, for instance, is a clear indication of the gap between principle and reality. East Timor, and for that matter, Chechnya, are not Kosovo. A similar humanitarian situation now exists in the Caucasus as occurred in the Balkans, yet a NATO-led armed intervention is, to say the least, highly unlikely
The message from Washington is clear: The U.S. cannot respond to every humanitarian catastrophe in the world, we cannot do everything everywhere.said President Clinton at the UN. Hence, U.S.-led crusades of the Kosovo, Somalia and the Gulf variety are unlikely to be the rule in the next century. Regional powers France, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, India, Nigeria, to name a few had better plan to take regional security issues into their own hands.
That being said, NATO, by its humanitarianintervention in a sovereign country, has established a precedent for others to follow. Human rights violations, for instance abound in the former Soviet Union. NATO may have thus provided a justification to Moscow hard-liners for interventions in areas where Russia has the upper hand and NATO has few options.