April 16, 1999
National Security Adviser Samuel Berger discusses NATO's military strategy and the accomplishments of the continuing air strikes against Yugoslavia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH, NewsHour Chief Correspondent: Thank you for joining us.
SAMUEL BERGER, National Security Advisor: Good evening, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: At this stage after three weeks of bombing and given all the developments that Spencer Michels went through, what has the air campaign accomplished in your view?
|Meeting NATO objectives?|
SAMUEL BERGER: I think the air campaign has been very effective. We have-- as we knew from the beginning, our first task, because of the very elaborate air defense system that the Serbs had, was to degrade that system so that we could fly in Kosovo and throughout Serbia with minimum risk to our pilots. That was our first task. We've now done that. There still is an air defense capability, but it's degraded to the point where we're now able to fly 24 hours a day and really unrelenting attacks as long as the weather is good.
Second of all, we have substantially diminished his command and control capabilities so that his ability to really maintain control of his forces is degraded. You've seen from these pictures what we've done already to the infrastructure, to the bridges and the lines of communication, which enable him to resupply his forces in Kosovo. We've destroyed 100% of his fuel refining capability, and we know that there are now fuel shortages in Serbia. We've destroyed a good part of his modern air force. And we're now able to go into Kosovo and go after the Serb forces that are in Kosovo on a much more systematic basis. So I think enormous amount of progress has been made. This has always been seen as a sustained campaign. As a phase campaign that would move from air defense to his ability to sustain his forces to the forces and the command and the national command structure itself.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Berger, the ante is upped with more aircraft and call-up of reservists. Were not enough called up at the beginning?
SAMUEL BERGER: No, at the beginning the military people had an initial job to do which was, as I say, was to degrade his air defense system. I think we said from the very beginning, the president said the night this began, they had a very challenging and sophisticated air defense system. We could not send American and other planes into the environment until we had substantially degraded now. Now that we've done that, we can fly not just at night. We can fly 24 hours a day. That enables a substantial number of additional planes to be used. That requires obviously a significant number of additional personnel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So it isn't that in the beginning the assumption was that Milosevic would fold quickly.
SAMUEL BERGER: No, I don't think anybody thought that was a likely scenario. We had hoped, as the president said, by striking him that we might deter him from the kind of brutal assault that we've-- your earlier film highlighted again. But the president said, again on that first night, if we were not able to stop it, then we were going to systematically destroy his military capability. And that's what we're engaged in doing. And that's going to take time. We just have to have the patience, the determination, and the maturity as a nation to see this through. I believe NATO is united. I know we're determined and I believe the American people support are seeing this to a successful conclusion.
|The role of the reserves.|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think this is the first and only call up of reservists or do you think this might be one of several?
SAMUEL BERGER: We have to see what the commanders in field feel they need. This is a serious conflict in which we're engaged. And the president has been very responsive to the requests by his commanders, General Clark, General Shelton and Secretary of Defense, to what they think is necessary. We have not yet received a recommendation from the secretary of defense with respect to reservists. But when we do, we will act on it promptly. And if down the line they believe further activation is necessary, we will obviously consider that very favorably. I think the American people need to understand that unlike years ago when the reserves were sort of off on the side and didn't really have an integrated function, we've known as we downsize the military over the last ten or 12 years, integrated the reserves into the ready army in a way in which there are many functions that we rely upon the reserves to carry out. So they are very much a part of our overall military.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Berger, how would you define victory at this point?
SAMUEL BERGER: I think the President has very clearly said what the goals are here. And that has been-- those have been adopted and echoed by the 19 NATO countries. Number one, to see the Serb forces leave Kosovo. Number two, to enable the Kosovar Albanians, the Kosovar refugees to return home. And number three, to have in Kosovo an international security presence that would enable the Kosovar people to live with security and self-government and hopefully in peace.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can this be done with Milosevic in power or has his removal become a precondition for peace in the region? Some of what was said yesterday by various administration people including the president, seemed to indicate this has now become the case.
SAMUEL BERGER: What the President has said is that he cannot imagine in the context of looking down the road to what this region will look like, that the region can really thrive and enjoy the kind of prosperity that other parts of the former Soviet bloc enjoy unless there's a democratic Serbia. That's something we've supported for many months and years, support of a democratic opposition and free press and, et cetera. So that is certainly a goal. But Mr. Milosevic--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sounds like you're saying--
SAMUEL BERGER: If I can just finish what I'm saying. Mr. Milosevic can say tomorrow-- he has a fundamental choice here, it seems to me. Number one, he can either see his military and his country's infrastructure continually diminished every day to the point where he will not be able to exert control over Kosovo. We saw the KLA in your film getting stronger. He will lose control over Kosovo. On the other hand, if he doesn't recognize that accepting the conditions that I outlined before, is the better course, it allows Kosovo to remain part of Serbia, although in a self-governing protected fashion. And I hope he makes that choice.
|A larger and stronger KLA?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Speaking of the KLA, yesterday you and others, you here in San Francisco referred to it as having increased in numbers and you seemed to indicate it is a key part of strategic thinking at this point. Is that the case?
SAMUEL BERGER: No, what I was saying is that there are two ways in which this really can end. One is that Mr. Milosevic can recognize that every day his military is driven deeper and deeper into a hole. It is diminished further, and he winds up with every day that goes by, with less and less; and therefore, come to the realization that he ought to accept a situation that the Kosovars can come back and his forces leave with an international peacekeeping force. But if he doesn't, he's going to face a growing insurgency in Kosovo because he hasn't destroyed the KLA. We know something about guerrilla wars. He hasn't destroyed the KLA. There are more now than there were before and they are stronger now and the balance of power is going to shift every day and every week. And he is going to lose control of Kosovo if he lets this bombing continue. So in many ways, the better choice for him is to end the bombing by agreeing to allow the Kosovars to come back with an international force.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Berger, yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Shelton acknowledged that the air war might fail to achieve some of the goals that you just laid out. He said with bombing alone, we could continue to degrade his capabilities but Mr. Milosevic may still not negotiate or withdraw his troops. Secretary Cohen said "if we were acting alone, the United States, we would do things differently." What would the US do differently?
SAMUEL BERGER: Let me go first to General Shelton's comment. As I said, this can end in two ways. Either Mr. Milosevic can realize that every day he loses more or--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's assume he doesn't.
SAMUEL BERGER: If he doesn't--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's assume the bombing does not achieve the result. What next?
SAMUEL BERGER: What I'm saying is the bombing will achieve de facto that result because he will lose his arm necessity Kosovo. He will lose his ability to control Kosovo, and with a balance of power shifting Kosovo will no longer be within his ability. So it can end either by him agreeing or him losing control of Kosovo. And I think that's what General Shelton meant by that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, he seemed to be indicating that something else might be necessary, and I'm assuming it might be ground troops. Is that out of the question? What is the status of planning for ground troops now?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, in the fall NATO looked at a number of ground options, they assessed the various non-permissive options. They made some judgments about what the numbers would be that would be involved. That planning could be updated if we need do that and if the commanders believe it's necessary. I think that we all believe at this point, that we should stay with the air campaign, that it's working, that it's going to take sometime. We need to be, as a nation, I believe, mature and patient and recognize that not everything is a 30-second commercial or a one-hour made-for-TV movie. That these things take time. The Gulf War situation took months.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is the planning being updated?
SAMUEL BERGER: The planning could be updated. There's not at this point consensus in the NAC for a ground option. And I think there is a view that it will not be necessary.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This brought up something Senator McCain brought up. He complained "the vision of political leaders in Washington studying operational plans and eliminating targets brought to mind a painful analogy to Vietnam."
SAMUEL BERGER: I'm really glad you asked me that question because I watched your show last night and I heard him say that, and I-- it was one of those situations where you just wish you could jump into the television. I have great respect for John McCain but he is just wrong about this. Target selection is not done by political leaders. The president has delegated that those decisions to his secretary of defense, to his chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to General Clark, and only when there are particular sensitive target issues that the American people would expect the president of the United States to review--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Like what?
SAMUEL BERGER: Situation where-- I really don't want to get too much into targeting, but a situation which might affect another country, a neighboring country. Or a situation that might have some other kinds of effects. Only in those rare situations does General Shelton or Secretary Cohen ask for the president's concurrence. But he has-- he's not choosing targets. The president understands that the military here ought to make those decisions. I'm glad I have this opportunity even a day late, to correct the record from my friend John McCain.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If you watched the show yesterday, you know there was-- and you probably read it, too, a lot of skepticism in Congress about this operation. How do you in the administration read congressional sentiment on this matter now?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I spent all of Tuesday or Wednesday-- I can't remember now-- on the hill with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton. We went to the Democratic and Republican caucus in the Senate and House, all four of them. We probably saw 80% of the members. We listened to their questions. I think there is broad bipartisan support. For what the United States is doing and the military is doing. I think there are always questions, legitimate questions. Obviously people would like to see is this move to a resolution. And so we were asked-- and a lot of-- a lot of the members have been gone for a few weeks and I think they had a lot of questions. But what are the alternatives here? The alternatives was to turn away, to watch this huge travesty that you've documented so well on your show, just one of the more pitiful chapters of our century, to watch that and to not-- and to have not responded. That was one option. Another option, another extreme would have been to marshal a ground force and march into Serbia. You know, see saw in the Gulf that takes months to do. We would not even be close to being ready to doing that now. Or third, to launch a systematic unrelenting painful air campaign which every day takes a further piece out of his machinery of repression. I have no question that if we have the will to sustain this, the will of a nation, and the will of an alliance, that we will prevail.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Berger, thank you for being with us.
SAMUEL BERGER: Thank you, Elizabeth.