War in Yugoslavia

U.S. Backs Down from Evaluation of Kosovo Victory

Stratfor - 19990629

In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations on June 28, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright said NATO’s air strikes in Kosovo should not be used as a precedent for intervention in other conflicts. "Every circumstance is unique," said Albright. With regards to NATO intervention in future conflicts, Albright added, "I would caution against any such sweeping conclusions." She called NATO a European and Atlantic alliance and expressed the hope that NATO intervention in Yugoslavia would deter future conflicts.

Albright’s comments reflect an evolving analysis, in Washington, of the Kosovo conflict and its ramifications. Washington’s public spin of Operation Allied Force was that NATO, unanimous in aim and approach, successfully bombed Yugoslav forces into submission. And while this unmitigated victory temporarily aroused hostility in Russia and China, both Moscow and Beijing have more to gain from cooperating with the West than from confronting it, and will soon come around. The reality now tacitly acknowledged by Albright is somewhat different.

First, NATO most certainly was not and is not unanimous regarding either the goals of the Kosovo campaign or the methods employed to achieve it. Washington waged a constant, behind the scenes struggle to keep NATO in line, and its military strategy was frequently constrained by opposition from within NATO. Greece opposed the bombing campaign from the start. Italy and Germany wanted it to end long before it finally did. Italy, Germany, Hungary, and Greece all opposed a ground invasion. And France, Italy, Greece and Germany struggled to keep Russia actively engaged in resolving the conflict. Now that KFOR has entered Kosovo, Italy and Greece are uncomfortable with the idea of a KLA dominated independent Kosovo, while Germany, France, and Greece continue to seek active cooperation with Russia in Kosovo.

Far from a show of NATO unity, once convincing NATO to intervene, Operation Allied Force was a case study in Washington’s ability to contain dissent within the organization until the U.S. could achieve something it could call a victory. As soon as the last bombs stopped falling, NATO’s European members began announcing that never again would NATO take the offensive without a clear UN mandate. Even before the bombs stopped falling, NATO’s European members accelerated plans to create a European defense alliance outside of NATO and without U.S. involvement.

Washington has been forced to reconsider its official spin that NATO successfully bombed Yugoslavia into submission. Bomb damage assessment inside Kosovo has shown just how little damage NATO inflicted on Yugoslav forces, raising the question of just why Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic did capitulate. The point is, Milosevic did not capitulate, but rather accepted a compromise settlement that NATO later successfully, if duplicitously, spun into an unmitigated victory in Kosovo. Had Milosevic not accepted the settlement, NATO would have been forced to attempt a very bloody ground invasion, provided half of NATO did not first break ranks over Washington’s apparent preference for continued warfare over a negotiated, if less than all victorious, settlement. Washington can not trust that it will be so lucky in the future.

Finally, Russia and China – each with a host of their own "Kosovos" in which Western involvement would be most unwelcome, are not simply "getting over" their hostility to U.S. hegemonic behavior in Kosovo. Far from it, the two have accelerated plans for their strategic alliance. In Russia, the political hard liners now have the active support of elements in the Russian military. Russia is moving quickly to counteract Western influence in the Caucasus and the Baltics. And Western lenders have neither the desire nor sufficient resources to counterbalance this trend.

Judging from Albright’s comments, U.S. policymakers have begun to formulate post-Kosovo strategy based more on these realities than on their own spin.