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Let’s assume that in the next few days the Kosovo peace negotiations
ripen into a settlement and hostilities cease. Where does that leave us?
Already, pundits are proclaiming this a major victory for Clinton. As
such, it will no doubt benefit those in his wake, namely: Al Gore and
Hillary. But the political dividends to Bill, Al and Hillary should not
divert our primary focus. The more important question is what will this
mean for the United States and its future role in international affairs?
Will NATO’s war aims have been realized? Its goals were to end the
ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians and re-establish autonomy for
Well, ethnic cleansing will have been stopped only after it was
accelerated and multiplied beyond our greatest fears. Kosovo’s autonomy,
for now, will be achieved. But this autonomy will wholly depend upon the
perpetual presence in the province of a 50,000-man international
peacekeeping force, including 7,000 Americans.
Whether or not these facts support the conclusion that victory was
achieved, the perception will be that it was.
There are two at least two problems with assuming that air power
First, it is not clear that it’s true. Secretary of Defense William
Cohen cautioned against such a conclusion, saying that Milosevic’s
capitulation was attributable to a combination of factors, including the
cohesiveness of the NATO alliance, Slobo’s political isolation and air
power. Don’t forget that just a few weeks ago even the most hawkish of
liberals were criticizing Clinton for recklessly promising not to deploy
ground troops and for believing that air power alone would be
A more important factor (and one that Cohen failed to mention) is
that there was a ground war going on in Kosovo that contributed mightily
to Slobo’s submission. The KLA, whose strength increased during the war
to 17,000 troops, was an indispensable partner to NATO warplanes. In
their absence, Slobo would not have surrendered.
Our generals admit that the KLA’s engagement of Serbian forces caused
them to emerge from their hiding places and mass together, making them
easy targets for our warplanes. The KLA ground forces were a factor in
Slobo’s quitting just as the advancing Croation ground forces were in
forcing him to the table in Bosnia.
In addition, NATO preparations to bring in ground forces
unquestionably persuaded Slobo of the inevitability of his defeat. He
was aware that our military had recently requisitioned 9,000 purple
hearts and other war casualty paraphernalia.
The second problem in assuming that air power alone won the war is
that it could lead to disastrous consequences. Our decision to use
military force should always be made in a climate of grave sobriety. War
must forever remain our last option. But there is now a danger that we
will be deluded into believing that we are invincible and that we can
intervene in any global conflict and prevail through air power alone
without any casualties.
This mindset could whet the war appetite of Third Way
internationalists for future mischief and make them even more
trigger-happy. Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, et al. will feel vindicated in
their conviction that the military exists to make warring peoples love
We must be careful not to allow the intoxication of our perceived
victory to obscure our judgment concerning the propriety of this
intervention or future decisions to employ military force. Victory does
not retroactively justify either NATO’s or the United States’ decision
to intervene. Might does not make right!
We should not be basking in the afterglow of this dubious military
enterprise. Instead, we should be asking ourselves some very hard
- What is the purpose of NATO in the post Cold War world?
- Should the United States remain a member, and, if so, to what extent
should it exert a leadership role?
- Should our strategic national interests guide our decision to use
military force in the future or should we allow those interests to be
subordinated to those of an international alliance whose interests may
be quite different from ours?
Before you assume this last question is facetious you should review
U.S. military history during the last six and a half years and
specifically the last two and a half months.
Isolationism is certainly not the prudent or proper course for
America. But neither is knee-jerk globalism. World history is strewn
with the carcasses of great empires that recklessly overextended