Nato must head for door marked exit:
air power has failed and the allies' only real option is to get out
[British] General Sir Michael Rose
The Times of London,
April 18 1999
tragic accidental bombing by Nato of civilians in Kosovo will not surprise
those who understand the difficulties aircrews face flying missions over
Yugoslavia and the limitations of Nato air power. Its weapons systems
were designed for general war against the Warsaw Pact - not for the limited
type of engagement taking place over Yugoslavia.
Think back to February 1994,
when Nato issued another ultimatum. Then the United Nations brokered an
agreement between the Bosnians and the Serbs to establish a 20-kilometre
exclusion zone around Sarajevo; Nato said it would launch airstrikes against
any heavy weapons that remained within the zone.
aircraft found it impossible
to determine accurately whether there were any tanks or guns in the exclusion
zone. On one occasion, air reconnaissance identified a Serbian mortar
position that turned out to be a collection of haystacks. Nato had to rely
on UN military observers on the ground to verify possible targets.
It is not easy for pilots
flying at more than 400mph over broken country to identify the sort of
targets that will have to be destroyed if Nato is to succeed in Kosovo.
The lesson that can be drawn from the sad incidents
that have occurred so far is that air power is a blunt weapon, wholly inappropriate
for use by itself in this form of conflict.
Without soldiers on the ground
able to verify targets and direct airstrikes, the terrible mistakes (the
bombing of a passenger train and refugee convoy) that occurred last week
will inevitably continue to happen.
Such a lesson is not clearly
understood by Nato. On April 14, at the daily press conference, Jamie Shea,
the alliance's press spokesman, said Nato had chosen a modus operandi in
line with its policy not to be at war with the Serbian people. The alliance,
he said, wished to avoid inflicting "unnecessary pain on the Serbian
people or their economy". Within a few hours many Kosovo Albanians
had been killed and wounded by Nato airstrikes.
Expressions of regret, however
sincere, coupled with bland assurances that Nato is doing all it can to
avoid such mistakes... are an insufficient response to these mistakes.
Civilised people will not stand by for ever and watch
the Serbian people, who have already been reduced to the edge of survival...
One of the more worrying characteristics
that has emerged during the first month of the war is the degree to which
rhetoric has taken over from reality. Daily,
we are being subjected to increasingly irrelevant accounts of military
actions being routinely undertaken by Nato against civilian and military
targets in Yugoslavia - without any real analysis as to whether what is
being done is delivering the stated objectives.
Instead, we get the sort of
fairy tale told by Shea that "every morning
President Milosevic wakes up and realises that in the last 24 hours he
has become weaker, he also sees that Nato is becoming stronger".
These musings are usually
accompanied by emotional descriptions of the terrible things that are being
done by Milosevic's brutal regime - as if their repeated telling would
somehow justify the continuation of a Nato strategy that has already failed.
long, the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo will be halted - not because of anything
Nato may have done, but because there will be no Kosovo Albanians left
The alliance's credibility
is already hanging on a thread. Clear thinking coupled with firm action,
not words, are required if it is to emerge intact from its war in the Balkans.
We urgently need to find a way for Nato to extricate itself with some vestige
of honour from this increasingly messy situation.
Assuming it is now too late
to prevent Milosevic from achieving his objectives in Kosovo, Nato will
be left with the options of continuing the air campaign for the foreseeable
future, escalating the war to include the use of ground forces, or seeking
a political compromise.
Nato and the Americans seem
to favour the first course of action. This would reinforce failure, leave
the initiative to Milosevic and assume the continuing unity of the alliance.
But success would still not be guaranteed.
The second option, while making
military sense... still seems to be ruled out by most of the contributing
countries; they are either too worried about the possibility of military
casualties or do not believe they have armies properly equipped or trained
to fight a ground offensive in Kosovo. Such an option would also require
the presence of combat troops on the ground for many years.
Most armies have been drastically
reduced in size since the end of the cold war, and it is unlikely that
they could undertake the sort of commitment still being met in South Korea
by the American army almost 50 years after the Korean war ended. At present
levels of operational deployment, tour intervals in the British Army are
less than 12 months. This is unsustainable even in the short term.
The third and, in my view,
the most likely option is that Nato will agree a political compromise through
the mediation of the Russians and the UN. It would meet some, but not all
of Milosevic's political aspirations... [H]e would probably judge that
by ceding part of Kosovo to the Albanians he would be ridding Serbia of
a big problem for ever.
The long-term benefits of
this would greatly outweigh the loss of territory that a partition would
He has done so before: in
1994 he struck a secret deal with Franjo Tudjman to quit Krajina in return
for an early end to the war in Bosnia.
the outcome of the war, Nato cannot continue to ignore the fact that it
has suffered a strategic
defeat. It cannot
go on using words to conceal the absence of a suitable exit strategy from
the increasingly counterproductive war in
which it is now involved. Above all, it is worth reminding the political
and military masters of Shea, who recently described life in Kosovo as
"nasty, brutish and short", that Thomas Hobbes also wrote that
words were "the money of fools".
General Sir Michael Rose is
a former commander of the UN in Bosnia and author of "Fighting for Peace"