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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


The 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.

But surveillance 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... being bombed.

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.

Before 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 in Serbia.

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 imply.

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.

Whatever 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"

(End quote)

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Last revised: May 18, 1999