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Macedonia Peacekeeping

August 22, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: For more on NATO’s mission in Macedonia, we turn to General George Joulwan, who was Supreme Allied Commander when NATO sent troops into Bosnia; Kori Schake, senior research professor at the National Defense University– she’s worked on U.S. defense policy in Europe for the Defense Department and was a member of the Joint Staff for Strategic Planning under General Colin Powell; and Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to save Kosovo.” He’s served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration. General Joulwan, let’s start with– well– where you start. Once those troops get off the planes, take up their positions, what happens next?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): Well, first of all, the mission itself is, to use General Ralston’s term, “limited in scope and duration.” The troops are there to collect weapons, not to go out and find weapons in the countryside. So that is a very limited mission, and 3,500 troops as was mentioned– 1,800 British– the rest come from now 12 nations that have joined this coalition. So you are going to have a force in there for 30 days to collect weapons. Hopefully that will lead to some sort of political movement and political settlement with both sides.

RAY SUAREZ: Has the design of the mission put NATO into a situation where it’s really what the Macedonians do, not what NATO does, that dictates whether this is going to be a success or not?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): Well, I think that what you need to get in 19 nations within the alliance is consensus. And that consensus led to this mission, which is very narrow. I think the political demonstration, the political will demonstrated by that decision is extremely important on both sides, on the warring factions, and I think it will be that political pressure that will bring about some sort of settlement, not just the collection of weapons; this is to hopefully start meaningful negotiations and a meaningful negotiations in Macedonia.

RAY SUAREZ: Has NATO learned any lessons about whether the two parties really are at peace with each other before you interpose yourself, whether the situation on the ground is such that you can get a success out of this?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): We seem to be relearning all the lessons that we had in Bosnia, and I don’t want to sound pessimistic here, but there are a hell of a lot of weapons in the former Yugoslavia. Tito had factories making weapons and these still exist. So there are a lot of weapons. Whether 2,000 is going to be enough or not, I’m not sure, but I think the momentum is to try to move to some sort of settlement. The key will be, can it be done in 30 days, and then, what happens if it goes, or if it’s a requirement to go longer than that? That is going to be the challenge.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there enough troops to do it?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): I think there are enough troops to do it, and I’ve been told that they do have robust rules of engagement, which is extremely important in this case. These are not easy missions, and sometimes we tend to think that they are. They are very, very difficult missions. But there is a unity of command. The integrated command structure is at work, and there are robust rules of engagement to protect the troops. And, remember, we only have 300 to 500 troops, and they’re primary support and intelligence in air, but a very important part of this operation. Most of the troops will be European.

RAY SUAREZ: Kori Schake, what do you make of the design of this mission?

KORI SCHAKE: I think it’s both worth doing and doable. I agree with General Joulwan’s assessment that the Macedonian government and the Macedonian rebels have made a set of choices that ought to make this possible to do. I don’t think it’s going to be done in 30 days with any sort of finality, but I think setting a 30-day timeline is an important threshold because the parliament of Macedonian has got to agree to the sweeping changes to the constitution that will really enfranchise the minority. And if they don’t get a good start on doing that in 30 days, we shouldn’t have troops there to help the government.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, taking your argument that 30 days creates a sense of urgency, doesn’t it also create an artificial deadline for western troops in there, that once passed, then you get into a whole set of different political problems?

KORI SCHAKE: Yeah. I certainly think that is a risk, but I think as you said, Ray, that the important point is to get the Macedonian government moving on the set of political changes that are going to be necessary. They have to create peace there. We’re helping on the margins to build confidence that the Albanian rebels will give up their weapons. But we’re not going to remove all the weapons from Macedonia. We haven’t removed all the weapons in Kosovo, but it’s an important confidence-building measure that the government is not giving up something in order to get nothing.

RAY SUAREZ: Ivo Daalder, important to do?

IVO DAALDER: Sure. It’s very important for NATO to go in. It was the promise of NATO troops that got these parties to the table; that got them to sign this agreement. But let’s talk about the mission. This mission makes no sense for the situation that prevails in this part of the world. Here are two parties who are daily shooting at each other, and we are having 3,500 U.S. and other NATO and European soldiers go in to collect weapons, not to take them away, but to collect weapons that are freely going to be handed over to them. This is a mission that you and I with a truck can do in 30 days if, in fact, the weapons are being handed over. If they are not handed over, 3,500 troops with the current operational parameters are not going to be able to do this. This mission is either too little or too much. It’s too much if it is just a weapon collection exercise and it’s too little for what is required on the ground. On the ground, the peace is fragile. What it needs is the kind of reassurance that NATO is trying to give, but that requires more troops, and it requires a longer duration and it requires a different mandate, which says, “we are here to enforce the cease-fire that you as the parties have agreed upon. We’re here to help you, the Macedonians and the Albanians, settle your differences in a peaceful, diplomatic way,” which is what they want. 

RAY SUAREZ: But, given what General Joulwan said a few moments ago about consensus among the 19 allies, could there have been a bigger mission designed, given the political limitations?

IVO DAALDER: Clearly this is a mission that is designed because of the political circumstances at home here in the United States and at home in Europe. It’s not clearly a mission designed by what is required on the ground. And that leads to the question, who is leading this alliance on this particular issue? Well, it’s not us. It’s not the United States. We said from day one if NATO wants to do this, we won’t stop it. In fact, we might even give you some support troops, but don’t count on the United States to be part of this operation. In fact, we have a government that came to power pledging to withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans, this is not a government that is about to lead a new peace-keeping operation, even if that is required. And without U.S. leadership, as we have known for so long in the Balkans, these kinds of missions don’t work.

RAY SUAREZ: Was it important to have the Americans on board, Professor?

KORI SCHAKE: Absolutely.

RAY SUAREZ: I mean, with trucks and logistical support, this is something the Czechs could have done, the Portuguese, any number of members of NATO, no?

KORI SCHAKE: Well, there are important things the U.S. will be contributing that others couldn’t — most important, intelligence, theater air reconnaissance, those kinds of things that General Joulwan could speak to better than I, but it was also important politically because Europeans would be unlikely to step forward and take a leadership role in managing this problem if they didn’t have confidence that we were going to be alongside helping. They are still seared from the experience of Bosnia from ’91 to ’94, where we were not on the ground with them and had a different approach to solving the problem, so, yes, even though we are there largely in a support role, I think it’s enormously politically important and it’s militarily important, because we are doing the things in these pieces of the operation that we are good at, that others may not be able to do; whereas, I think the British are very good at the piece of the mission that they are leading and the other nations are contributing to.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about rules of engagement. It has been mentioned that it’s not altogether clear that the shooting has totally stopped. What happens if either of the combatants do open fire?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): It’s a good question. I’ve been assured that the troops can defend themselves. They can take action if fired upon to fire back and defend themselves. But what’s unclear is how long they’ll remain there after being engaged. Look, these are never simple deployments. That is what I said. They’re very complex. We’ve done it in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now, Macedonia. I think we need a much more comprehensive look at the region. But the robust rules of engagement that the troops have, I think, are sufficient to defend themselves. Whether they will stay there once taken under fire is another issue. Remember now, our troops, U.S. Troops are primarily in the rear in supply and intelligence work. So it will be other nations, the other 11 nations that will be involved.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you had sounded a little dubious about this earlier. What happens, in your view, if shooting starts?

IVO DAALDER: We can’t be shot at and then run away. This is the greatest alliance in the history of all alliances. This is an alliance that came in under General Joulwan’s leadership in 1995 to take over from a failed UN mission that had shown that if you don’t really go in with overwhelming force and robust rules of engagement, willing to do the job, then nothing is going to happen. And what are we doing? We’re sending in a bunch of 3,500 very well-trained soldiers on a mission that if they are shot at, we’re being promised we will move away. We are telling the people in this part of the world that “if you shoot at us, we leave.” That is not the kind of thing that NATO does. And, in fact, that is not the kind of thing that NATO will do. If we’re shot at, we’ll reinforce, we’ll make it a bigger mission and we have mission creep built into the very operation that we’re starting. Why not start out the right way; why not send in enough forces to do the right thing and to make absolutely sure that anybody who shoots at us is immediately taken care of?

RAY SUAREZ: Why not?

KORI SCHAKE: I would never want to argue against overwhelming force, but I do think that in this situation that we are in a very limited role of helping stabilize a fragile peace that has been agreed to by both the government and the rebels, and one that is absolutely in both of their interests. So it depends on who does the shooting. If the rebels do the shooting, then that is one set of circumstances. If the government does the shooting, that is another set of circumstances. But I’m skeptical that we need to go in and conquer the country in order to help stabilize a fragile peace. I think that would be more than perhaps our interests dictate. If the parties to the conflict don’t want to solve this problem as conquering the country, I think it’s probably not the solution.

RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): What I was going to say, the difficult part here is there a plan “B”? For example, if plan “A” doesn’t work, is there a plan “B”? And that is a tough question, because that is going to require political decisions and hopefully political decisions before the fact — not once you get engaged. That is very difficult. So I would hope there would be some contingencies here that if something did occur, we would be able to at least think through a plan “B,” which includes rules of engagement. And to get the political will before the fact we did there in Bosnia, early on after Srebenica, and I think the political and military leadership have got to try to come together and understand the what-ifs in this operation and I’m not as well aware as I should be of the what-ifs, but I’m not sure they’re being asked right now to the degree that is needed so that the mission, NATO, cannot fail in this operation.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, all of you agree the 30 days isn’t going to happen, it sounds like. Are we look at something that is open-ended?

KORI SCHAKE: It depends. I think it depends upon whether the Macedonian parliament demonstrates the political will to make this tough set of domestic policy choices about further enfranchising the Albanian minority. If the government shows no willingness to build public support and take the difficult choices, then I think I would disagree with Ivo. That would be the signal that we ought to let the government manage this problem without our help.

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all.