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News Releases on Europe

July 22, 1999

July 22, 1999 | News Releases on Europe

Kosovo Offers Lesson in How Not to Conduct a War, Experts Say

WASHINGTON, JULY 22, 1999-The Clinton administration has been touting Operation Allied Force as a clear-cut NATO victory, but unless policymakers draw the correct lessons from the American intervention in Kosovo, the United States risks becoming embroiled in other dubious, open-ended missions, says a new Heritage Foundation paper.

According to Heritage policy analysts James Phillips and James H. Anderson, the outcome in Kosovo can best be described as an uneasy peace achieved at great cost. Since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic wound up with a better diplomatic deal after the war than the one he rejected at Rambouillet in February-including legal sovereignty over Kosovo-a "sober assessment" is crucial, the analysts say.

For example, NATO's determination to avoid allied casualties at almost any cost severely curtailed the alliance's military options, they say-a problem highlighted by U.S. Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme commander, in the enclosed article. Although Clark says such a constraint was probably necessary to preserve a united NATO front, Phillips and Anderson say it reduced the campaign's effectiveness and protracted the war.

Another lesson to be drawn from the Kosovo conflict is that high-altitude bombing campaigns are ill-suited to achieving humanitarian goals-and may make them harder to achieve, Phillips and Anderson say. With no contingency plans in place, NATO could do little to stop the ethnic slaughter that continued unabated on the ground. "The Kosovar Albanians paid a heavy price in blood for NATO's miscalculations and mistakes," they write.

In addition, policymakers must realize that so-called "low-risk" air campaigns-especially ones that escalate gradually-cannot win wars, they say. President Clinton expressed surprise that Milosevic did not capitulate sooner after the bombing campaign began, but the Yugoslav army suffered relatively light losses until the final two weeks of the war.

At that point, the analysts write, "a bold offensive by the [Kosovo Liberation Army] flushed the Yugoslavian Army into the open so that a series of B-52 bomber strikes could inflict devastating casualties." Which offers another lesson: If the United States takes sides in any future civil wars, it should coordinate its attacks with indigenous forces willing to fight.

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