All Commentary
Thursday, March 1, 2001

NATO’s Empty Victory edited by Ted Galen Carpenter

An Excellent Place to Learn the Facts about the Kosovo War

Cato Institute • 2000 • 194 pages • $9.95

Our “triumph” in the Kosovo war has left a sour aftertaste. Last year’s Senate effort to cut off funding for American “peacekeeping” there shows that thoughtful political figures of both parties understand the ominous consequences of this ill-conceived war. The effort failed because then-candidate George W. Bush asked his Senate allies not to pursue it in an election year. However, the fact that such senators as Robert Byrd and John Warner felt it high time to call a halt to this adventure is proof the “bully little war” in the Balkans has not lived up to the Clinton administration rhetoric.

An excellent place to learn the facts is the Cato Institute’s NATO’s Empty Victory. In 13 topical essays, various experts expose the origins of a failed policy, the mistakes of its implementation, and what lies ahead, such as:

  • The administration completely miscalculated Serbian policy and resolve, and then blatantly lied about its own expectations and intentions.
  • The terrorist, drug-dealing Kosovo Liberation Army conned Washington into giving it the air force it lacked (namely, ours) by deliberately provoking Serb atrocities against its own civilian population.
  • There was no humanitarian tragedy remotely on the scale claimed by NATO (still less genocide), and the killing on both sides paled next to the bloodshed in other crisis spots not worthy of American attention (where the victims were not white).
  • The air campaign deliberately targeted Serb civilians, because we could not find enough military targets within NATO’s rules of engagement and because Washington was sure Belgrade would capitulate quickly. We then bombed civilian targets because we had to bomb something.
  • The major burden of the war fell on innocent regional neighbors (especially Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania), where fledgling efforts at economic development were dealt a body blow (in particular by destruction of the Danube bridges) with only palliative words from Washington as compensation.
  • By going to war without resort to the U.N. Security Council, we confirmed the world’s worst fears of American hegemony, made a mockery of NATO’s written pledge to Moscow that NATO-Russia cooperation would not undercut the role of the Security Council, and primed the Chinese to believe our blunder in destroying their Belgrade embassy was deliberate (something they will not forget).
  • Pursuit of a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo as a NATO colony will fail, because the ethnic groups don’t want it and the KLA is run by a bunch of thugs.

The most essential chapter of all is Stanley Kober’s erudite examination of the constitutional issues when the White House initiates war without so much as a “by your leave” to Congress. Here is the question of questions: what happens to the American Republic in our conduct of Madeleine Albright’s “virtuous power”?

Such a slim volume obviously cannot be comprehensive, but some important themes do need more attention:

The “free agent” diplomacy of Richard Holbrooke was almost designed to convince Belgrade that Washington was looking for a fight rather than a solution. Given Holbrooke’s imperial pro-consular style and his orchestration of the failed Dayton accords, one could scarcely find a worse emissary- unless Washington really wanted a fight rather than a solution.

General Wesley Clark persuaded some congressional visitors to his headquarters that he was pursuing a personal grudge match with Milosevic and not properly balancing military means and ends. Even the administration felt Clark was over the top and replaced him as a soon as political spin allowed.

Finally, the roles of our European allies warrant more discussion, in particular that of the French. While Britain talked a good war, France alone actually carried a major part of the air campaign (more than the other Europeans combined).

Washington’s decision-making process on Kosovo was disturbingly similar to Britain’s during the Suez crisis: an amalgam of ignorance, arrogance, personal pique, and inability to think through the use of military power. Britain never fully recovered from its Middle East fiasco. The American “hyper-power” can still afford such follies as our recent Balkan adventure, but that is no reason why we should engage in them.