March 23, 1999
U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke left Belgrade for NATO headquarters after two days of talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yielded no diplomatic breakthrough. NATO air strikes now appear imminent. Terence Smith and guests discuss the alliance's military options.
TERENCE SMITH: The US and its NATO allies have been refining their plans for months. Already in place are nearly 400 aircraft from NATO nations, many based in Aviano, Italy. Some 200 US planes include F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers, as well as a dozen F-117 Stealth fighters. Also ready for action are eight B-52 bombers and two Stealth B-2 bombers. In the Adriatic Sea, the US Navy has four warships, including a guided missile destroyer. There are also two US and one British attack submarines offshore. They, too, are capable of firing Cruise missiles. The US Navy forces are part of the 6th Fleet, which is based in the Mediterranean. Today, Pentagon Spokesman Ken Bacon was asked about the objective of the NATO mission.
KENNETH BACON, Pentagon Spokesman: The primary goal of the -- of air strikes would be to arrest the ability of the Serbs to brutally attack the Kosovar Albanians.
TERENCE SMITH: On the ground, a NATO force of several thousand soldiers, including 500 Americans, has been standing by in neighboring Macedonia. Their mission is to implement a Kosovo peace agreement. On the Yugoslav side, the Serb Army has been building up its forces inside Kosovo and along the Kosovar borders. An estimated 30,000 soldiers have been deployed, backed up by some 400 tanks, as well as artillery and armored personnel carriers. Overall, the Yugoslav Army has an estimated 115,000 regular troops, plus another 400,000 in reserve. It is equipped with more than 1,200 tanks and nearly 250 combat aircraft. Pentagon Spokesman Bacon also talked about the Yugoslav Air Defense System that American and allied pilots might be facing.
KENNETH BACON: We have to pay attention to the fairly substantial and redundant air defense system that Yugoslavia has built up over the years, built up primarily with Soviet-era equipment, and therefore, we will take very seriously the threat posed by this air defense system and do our best to suppress that.
TERENCE SMITH: Bacon declined to be drawn into speculation on the length of any air campaign.
TERENCE SMITH: We four views now about the military options in Kosovo.
General George Joulwan was NATO commander when US forces were first
deployed to Bosnia four years ago. General Merrill McPeak was Air Force
Chief of Staff during the Persian Gulf War. Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll,
Former Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, is now with the Center
for Defense Information, a Washington think tank. And Daniel Serwer,
a Former Foreign Service Officer with extensive experience in the Balkans,
is now with the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.
General Joulwan, let me begin with you since NATO has now authorized the military campaign. What sort of a campaign do you envision?
What to expect.
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), Former NATO Commander: Well, I envision a very intense, very rapid response, air operation. I believe it will be initially directed at the integrated air defense structure. They will try to eliminate both the radars and the missile launcher sites, but it should be and I expect it to be very intense, very heavy in order to take those air defenses out. That will be followed by attacks against military targets to take away his military capability, and his ability to maneuver.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it your sense that the goals just outlined by Ken Bacon and by the president today can be accomplished by air power alone?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): Let's see what happens. Personally, I think you also should prepare good prudent planning for -- if it doesn't work -- for ground capability as well. My advice would be that you don't wait until the last minute to do that, that prudent planning should be done now -- and I would also say for both the permissive and non-permissive environment. We have gone so far down this road that not only is credibility on the line, but I think other nations in other parts of the world are watching the alliance and the United States in this situation, and I think we've got ourselves in a situation where we must act. I would do the prudent planning for ground force as well.
TERENCE SMITH: General McPeak, we've heard a great deal about the Yugoslav Air Defense System. How substantial a threat is it? How long will it take to disable it?
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK (RET.), US Air Force: Well, it's a non-trivial job to take it on. So -- and it can be interesting work, and exciting work. But -- so I wouldn't want to underrate it. We stand a risk of losing some people in the process. But in general, air defenses always look more formidable beforehand, sort of the reverse of what you want. They look like Superman before the fight and like Clark Kent after the fight. And we've had a considerable amount of experience in taking down air defenses, so we know how to do that job and can do it well. The one thing I think we want to avoid is have to take it down two, three or four times. That's our track record. Once you get the air defenses suppressed, then air crews get upset if there's a two-week pause while we have some diplomatic interplay, because air defenses can resurrect quite quickly, and then you have to take them down again. So at the outset, I hope we've made the kind of a commitment that says we're going to take these air defenses down, and once we get our foot on their throat, we're going to keep them down.
TERENCE SMITH: So you would argue for a sustained campaign.
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK (RET.): Yes. I don't think you need to draw bombs every day if there were negotiations going on, but I think you have to fly in there with rules of engagement that say anytime those air defense systems come back up, you're cleared to attack them because it's just - you know, we lost an awful lot of people -- Vietnam being a classic example where we had to go back and take those same air defenses out time after time.
TERENCE SMITH: Admiral Carroll, from your experience, do you think it's possible to achieve now military what so far has not been achieved diplomatically?
REAR ADMIRAL EUGENE CARROLL (RET.), Center for Defense Information: The situation in this tragic area is not susceptible to a military solution. Certainly from the air alone you're not going to be able to shape the environment for a political solution. You can be very blunt, you can be very destructive, you can injure, but you can't stop the Serbian forces on the ground from the air alone. As a result, I think that we should be, as General Joulwan said, thinking in terms of a more extensive engagement, but that is going to be very, very expensive. It isn't walking in with 50,000 troops. It's fighting your way in against a very formidable opposition. I recall in the days when the Yugoslavian nation was breaking up, it was estimated it would take a force of 400,000 troops on the ground to take over and to maintain pacific conditions in Yugoslavia. Certainly they don't have that level of resistance now, but you're not going to get a military solution no matter what you do. You're going to have to get a political solution that addresses the ethnic, the historic, the political issues in constructive ways.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Serwer, you've spent time in that area, can you imagine a military campaign like this one leading to that sort of political solution?
|From military campaign to political solution?|
DANIEL SERWER, United States Institute of Peace: I can't imagine that, especially if we're willing to deploy ground forces. I agree with General Joulwan and Admiral Carroll, that that's an option that now has to be looked at very carefully. It's easy to say, it's hard to do, it's hard to do politically in the United States. But I do believe that the failure to prepare for a ground force engagement is part of what allowed Slobodan Milosevic to resist the political pressure. The threat of air strikes has actually strengthened his hold-on power, which is what he really cares about.
TERENCE SMITH: By galvanizing the people?
DANIEL SERWER: Absolutely, galvanizing the people, in a non-democratic system, a system in which the people do not have real voice, but in which state-owned television, radio, newspapers really shape opinion. And I think it's entirely possible that air strikes alone will not be sufficient to convince him that his hold on power is threatened. And then we're in a tough spot indeed, and we have to look at these other options. And you have to look at them now because you have to prepare for them and deploy the appropriate forces.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it realistic to expect the military action to bring him back to the negotiating table?
DANIEL SERWER: It may bring him back to the negotiating table. I think he's probably always willing to come back to the negotiating table. The question is whether the military action will push his security forces out of Kosovo and stop the killing there.
TERENCE SMITH: General Joulwan -- yes, go ahead.
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): Well, I was going to say we've been talking a lot here about military options. And, though I'm a soldier, I would really want to see a full court press here. We ought to be engaging the international community at the United Nations level. We ought to be talking about economic sanctions -- in other words, a total comprehensive strategy here to put the heat on President Milosevic. He understands those sanctions. And so as we're talking about pulling the military trigger all the time, I think we need a much more comprehensive approach, diplomatic, economic, political, as well as military, with the international community. And I think that will have a tremendous impact on President Milosevic.
TERENCE SMITH: How long, this is a difficult question, I realize that as I ask it, how long an operation do you imagine might be required to achieve the goals set out by the president today?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): That is a good question. I would just tell you that in August of '95 and September of '95 in response to the shelling of Sarajevo, the North Atlantic Council really gave me the go-ahead to conduct bombing until we achieved our objectives. One of those objectives was stop the shelling of safe areas and reduce the siege of Sarajevo. It also was to stop the maneuverability of Mladic. We achieved those, in addition to supporting Ambassador Holbrooke in carrying out his Dayton mission.
TERENCE SMITH: And that lasted how long?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): It lasted for two weeks.
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK (RET.): Eleven days.
TERENCE SMITH: And so do you imagine something similar?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): I would think so. I think we have to be careful of time lines or pauses. You have to give the military commander the flexibility to carry out his mission to achieve the objectives. And I think we have to be clear in those objectives. But I would not put a time line on it, I would not talk pauses. I think creating uncertainty here is important, and -- but I would try all the other things that I discussed as well as the military option.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. General McPeak, does two weeks sound like the kind of sustained operation that you're talking about?
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK (RET.): I just think it's a mistake to put a time limit on it. I mean, Clinton got himself in trouble by doing that before, saying we'd be out of Bosnia by Christmas, and that's -- that gives away hostages to the other side that you don't need to. So I think we ought to avoid that. We have to have the will up front to sustain attacks for as long as necessary. And while I agree with George and others that we should never abandon the diplomatic tools and the economic sanctions and so forth, all of that should continue in parallel, certainly we've been trying that now for a long time. We have not resorted to coercion in this case as the first instance. It's sort of a last resort. I would also agree that there are a lot of things you can do with air power and some things you cannot. So we cannot expect by bombing to achieve ultimate political objectives here. But the president's been quite clear, as Ken Bacon said in the setup piece, our objective is to diminish Serb capabilities, and certainly we can do that with air power.
TERENCE SMITH: Admiral Carroll, look at the other side of that coin, which is, where does that leave them, the Kosovo Liberation Army, the other force in the field?
|The Kosovo Liberation Army.|
REAR ADMIRAL EUGENE CARROLL (RET.): This is the point that is so critical. Sustained bombing over a period of time is going to enhance the ability of the Kosovar Liberation Movement to move forward within the terrain. We're not there to stop them, we're probably not going to bomb them, and pretty soon you have the case of the Kosovars imposing their will on the remaining Serbians there. Instead of having ethnic cleansing going one way, you have ethnic cleansing going the other way, and we must confront the issue of the possibility of an independent Kosovo, which does not seem to contribute to the idea of security and stability in the region. Sustaining the bombardment is irrelevant in a way, it isn't going to solve the problem.
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): May I just intervene by saying that we had the same question asked in August of '95 and September of '95. Would the Muslims take advantage of the bombing that took place against the Serbs? And we made it very clear in my NATO hat as well as my US hat that both sides would be affected by this, and we put a lot of pressure on the Muslim side not to do this. So I think what we're looking at here is an approach that puts pressure on both sides. And I think that both the United States and NATO can do that.
TERENCE SMITH: Daniel, I wondered whether this sounds achievable to you, and whether it would end up in a desirable situation for this country, for NATO, to be supporting the Kosovo liberation forces to that extent.
DANIEL SERWER: I believe we'd be better off in trying to achieve our own objectives if we had forces on the ground. I think the uncertainty of the result of air strikes is enormous. But I want to take a step back from this immediate crisis and point out that this problem arises because of a failed democratic transition in Yugoslavia and that we have seen war after war in the former Yugoslavia as a result of that failed democratic transition. Now, we're quite right to focus on this crisis tonight, but it would be a mistake to lose site of the need to complete the democratic transition.
TERENCE SMITH: Are you talking about replacing Slobodan Milosevic?
DANIEL SERWER: No, I'm talking about the need to build up democratic institutions in Yugoslavia, open media, free trade unions, youth organizations, student organizations, alternative political parties. It's that failure over the last ten years that puts us in this very difficult situation of using a military instrument to achieve political objectives. But political instruments frankly don't work quickly enough. There's no immediate answer from the political side to the crisis we face. But if we don't start now to build up the kind of democratic institutions I'm talking about, we won't be there in another ten years either.
TERENCE SMITH: General Joulwan, let me ask you before we go, you referred first to the preparing of a ground force that could go in. Are you talking about a NATO force that would actually have to fight its way into the area, perhaps from Macedonia?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.): That all depends on what occurs. But look, we get paid to think ahead, and what happens in the political discussions, the political discussions take a long amount of time, and then they say to the military do something. I think you need to start thinking about that and explaining the risk of what sort of force would be required to go in a permissive as well as a non-permissive. You need to lay that out. And I think we need to make that clear as a "what if" drill of the second and third and fourth order effects of the bombing if it doesn't work.
TERENCE SMITH: Right, to least have that threat. Final word, General McPeak, what should we look for in the early stages of this to measure how well it's going?
GEN. MERRILL McPEAK (RET.): Well, job one is to take down that air defense network. I expect to see Tomahawk Missiles used, the F-117 and the B-2 perhaps in night attacks. The weather is not very good over there today, so you're probably going to be looking at bombing fixed installations, known facilities, radars, command and control facilities, that kind of thing. That's what we'll see in the first wave anyway.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, General. Thank you and thank all of you very much.