|THE ART OF WAR|
June 16, 1999
Elizabeth Farnsworth interviews four former military leaders about lessons learned during NATO's conflict in Yugoslavia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we turn to four retired military officers: General Merrill McPeak, Air Force Chief of Staff during the Gulf War and currently Chairman of the Board of ECC International Corporation, which produces training and simulation equipment for the Defense Department; General Richard Neal, Assistant Commandant of the Marines from 1996 to 1998 and Deputy for Operations and Spokesman for General Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War; Lt. General Robert Gard, currently President Emeritus of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a former president of the National Defense University. He retired from the Army in 1981; and Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, whose last assignment before retiring from the Army in 1998 was emerging threats officer for Army Intelligence; he is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including, Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph.
|Can air power win a war?|
|ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: General McPeak, does Kosovo show that
air power alone can win a war?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, maybe not precisely, because a lot of instruments of national power were brought to bear here. The economic sanctions have been on it for years. Diplomacy -- diplomatic tools worked quite well, starring Madeleine Albright. So it wasn't just the military instrument alone that brought this successful conclusion but certainly air power played a very pivotal role, as it has in so many times since the invention of the airplane.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, in your view, were some of the nay sayers who said that air power just couldn't do this proved wrong?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Yes. A lot of defense pundits have egg on their face at this point, and they will find reasons for explaining away this -- this decisive use of air power. But there's no doubt that if facts have any power to convince, this was a victory for air power.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think it was largely because of the new precision weapons, the satellite-guided bombs, the Cruise missiles?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Yes. That played a big role, not the only military lesson learned but certainly that's one of them, and in this case I think the point is that we have decision munitions that are cheap enough that we can afford to buy them in large numbers, so that the preponderance of munitions used here was precision, as opposed to say the Gulf War where less than 10 percent were precision-guided munitions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colonel Peters, what lessons about air power do you take away from this war?
LT. COLONEL RALPH PETERS: Well, I certainly would want to acknowledge the heavy lifting done by air power. But, in fact, it's kind of discouraging. We fought this war with air power essentially a high-tech version of World War II, bombing civilian infrastructure, bridges, factories. It's very discouraging to me that after almost three months how few, how little destruction we were able to inflict on the Serb military. You see those columns of hundreds and thousands of unscathed vehicles coming back. For all our high-tech, we couldn't find them; we couldn't hit them. And certainly there's a lot to be said for air power -- as a former soldier I really like it -- but to keep things in perspective, it took NATO and the United States the bulk of our air power almost three months to get Milosevic to come to the table and accept a really good deal. We backed down on the Rambouillet provisions. So, again, compliments to our pilots. But I don't think we should jump to conclusions about air power winning wars based on a very one-sided and limited conflict.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: General Neal, where do you come down on this?
GENERAL RICHARD NEAL: Well, I think air power played, obviously, a vital role in getting Milosevic to the table, as did the missiles coming off the Naval ships, but I think, like Ralph Peters, I agree we kind of sent our military there as a one-arm puncher. I think the air power eventually did bring Milosevic to the table, but we've got to think about how -- what transpired during the time that we started on the 24th of March until we closed this down last week. There's a lot of ethnic cleansing that took place. The results are coming in daily, and it doesn't look very good or very pretty. We've created a refugee population of a million-plus people. And we've destroyed all of the infrastructure out there in the province. So we -- sort of a Phyrrhic victory in some sense. We destroyed Kosovo in order to win it.
|Developments in precision weapons.|
| ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And General Gard, your
view on this? I want to cite military historian John Kegan, who said that
he had not made allowance for the extraordinary developments in precision
weapons, that he had been wrong when he said air power couldn't win this.
Do you agree with that?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, there isn't any question that we have a revolution in military affairs insofar as the accuracy of aerial-delivered weapons is concerned. However, I agree with Colonel Peters when he said that, paradoxically, the Serbs actually got concessions in the G-8 plan under which we are now operating that were not offered at Rambouillet. So at the end of the bombing, he got a better deal than he would have had if he'd signed Rambouillet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And go on. Even given that, what is your view about the use of air power here?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, I think it depends on the war. And I think in this case, air power was quite accurate in dumping two bridges into the Danube and obstructing barge traffic and making things much more difficult for nations in that area. We can hit stationary targets with great accuracy. But I do not believe we did well against the Yugoslav ground forces until the KLA moved in in some strength and forced the dispersed forces of the Serbs to consolidate in order to fights the KLA. So not only were we the KLA's Air Force, the KLA served as our ground force and enabled our Air Force then to take out some of its military capability. This is very similar to what happened in Bosnia. We often talk about the fact that we bombed Milosevic to Dayton. The fact of the matter is that he was losing on the ground to the combined forces of the Croatians and the Muslims, and 200,000 Serbs were being evacuated from Crjina. And it was his losing on the ground, I believe, that "bombed him to Dayton." So I don't think we should put too much stock in what we can do solely with air power, depending on what our objectives are.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. General McPeak, please respond to some of these points, and especially the point that was just made by General Gard about the KLA really being the factor that pushed the Serb forces out in the open so that they could be hit by air power.
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, I think there's something to that. You know, this whole controversy about whether air power can do it alone is not one the Air Force wants to get involved in. Of course we'd rather use all the instruments of military power when we have to do it. Of course it's better to have our Army and our Navy fully engaged whenever the Air Force is engaged. So that's not the issue here. What is -- what's happened here is that so many people have predicted that air power would be ineffective if it's used alone that now they have to describe what's happened in this case as some sort of a defeat. Now, victory comes in many flavors, and this one will obviously not be to the taste of everyone, but the fact of the matter is, air power carried the day here. It had a lot of help in many ways, but at the end of the day, this was air power carrying the ball, and we ought to celebrate it.
|No American combat casualties?|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Moving on to another lesson, General Neal, can the lesson be drawn that it's possible to fight a war with no American combat casualties, and if so, what's the consequence of that?
GENERAL RICHARD NEAL: Well, I'm really concerned about that, the idea of talking about zero tolerance for casualties and zero collateral damage as criteria for how you conduct a fight. I think that the unified commander or the CINC or whatever force leadership there is has to be able to realistically on a case-by-case basis figure out how does he accomplish the mission as quickly as possible. If that means the use of overwhelming force of all of the different instruments of war fighting that the different services bring to the table, then so be it, and should be his -- that should be the way he's allowed to conduct the fight. But if you put some prohibitions on there -- obviously we don't want any casualties and obviously we want to minimize collateral damage, but to make those as actual criteria on how you conduct the fight, this really, in my way of thinking, it really limits the ability of the unified commander to carry the day.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colonel Peters, do you agree with that? It limits the ability of the commander to carry the day?
LT. COLONEL RALPH PETERS: Absolutely. I agree with every single thing General Neal said. And I'm very concerned because we are on the road to get into some very nasty knife-fight wars, bloody and in-close. And I think the American people are pretty healthy. They'll be able to deal with it better than our leaders. My concern is the gulf emerging between a leadership that's terrified of risk of any casualties of the least dent in the polls and an American people who are ultimately pretty sensible and tough. But I think at the end of the day, one thing we are seeing that's very positive as a result of this conflict-- we can disagree about air power and everything else-- but a generation of leaders internationally-- our own President, Prime Minister Blair, Joshka Fischer in Germany, Schroeder, of course, Solana-- all men who didn't serve, for whatever reason, have no experience in the military, and some of whom despise the military, are learning about the intricacies of employing the military instrument, the pluses and the minuses. And I think the good side is we may actually see a more sophisticated approach to employing the military in the future. At the end of the day, though, it's not a sophisticated instrument; it's a blunt instrument.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: General Gard, do you see the same gulf emerging, though?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Well, what I see is if we place our principle strategic priority on force protection, the safety of our own troops, at the expense of a greater risk of innocent civilians, then the strategy that we pursue corrupts its purpose, and the bombing produces the very results that it was designed to prevent. And I think that we attack targets in a fashion that was counterproductive to our purposes and inflicted casualties unnecessarily on innocent civilians.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: General McPeak, your view about this?
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: I think that was nonsense. I'm here in Southern Oregon attending the Shakespeare Festival, and last night's play, "Much Ado About Nothing," has a wonderful speech in the opening act welcoming soldiers from a battlefield success which was virtually bloodless on their side. Shakespeare has the character say, "A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers." Quite frankly, I don't know if Shakespeare was a combat veteran, but he had it right. I don't hear any airman complaining about the fact that we didn't lose pilots. And we didn't do it with a consequence that we killed a lot of innocent civilians. Almost 25,000 bombs and munitions and missiles were fired of various kinds in this conflict. There were about 20 instances of collateral damage that we know about. Now, that's not 1 percent of the bombs dropped. That's not one-tenth of 1 percent. That's not 100th of 1 percent of the munitions used in this war. The war was, in fact, a very remarkable occasion of restraint on our part, and we ought to be proud of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colonel Peters -- go ahead. I'm sorry.
GENERAL MERRILL McPEAK: Well, we did trade time in order to reduce the vulnerability to our air crews. But so what? 78 Days is not like the ten-year war in Vietnam. It means we were able to achieve our national security objectives at rather low risk with low collateral damage and very quickly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colonel Peters, what lessons should the army draw from Kosovo?
LT. COLONEL RALPH PETERS: It's sad, actually. The Army's got the best strategy of all the services for avoiding casualties, and that's the Army avoids combat. It can't get there. It's too heavy. It's obese. The Army has to trim down. It needs medium-weight forces that can get there fast. The name of the game for the future of our army isn't building the perfect division at Fort Hood; it's having deployable forces. And we need to learn lessons, frankly, from the Marines. You've got to be able to get there "fustest with the mostest." But if I just may add about General -- I was astonished to find myself agreeing with most of what General McPeak said, certainly about the precision with which we waged the air war. But he lost me at the end. General McPeak, we didn't accomplish our stated national strategic goals, which were protecting the Kosovar Albanians, avoiding ethnic cleansing and genocide. We took a long time. I would have pushed for a more aggressive air campaign, because all the mass graves we're finding, all the burned homes, all the refugees driven out -- I applaud what our air crews did, but that doesn't look like strategic success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, and General Gard, we have just a little time left. What lessons do you think the army should draw from this?
LT. GENERAL ROBERT GARD: I think I agree with what's just been said, but I would like to add that General Clark said, "We hit the train on the bridge because the pilot launched his weapon so far away he couldn't see the bridge." All I'm suggesting is that 1.2 thousand civilian casualties as a result of NATO bombing is not inconsequential. The proportion of civilian casualties in war has increased from about 10 percent at the turn of the century to 90 percent today. And I think greater attention needs to be paid to preventing what we euphemistically call "collateral damage" and the killing and wounding of innocent civilians in warfare.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Well, gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.