You played a big role in this event. You've talked about frustration a
couple of times, and the need to push things forward and keep the process
moving and focused on Milosevic. Are you proud of all that?
I'm very proud. I went through some tough times. People thought that we'd
made a mistake, they called it 'Madeleine's War'-- not in a complimentary way.
But I think that we would have been judged very, very harshly had we not
stepped up to this. I believe in learning lessons, and I felt at the time that
we were much too slow in responding to what Milosevic was doing in Bosnia. It
is not often that you get a second chance. And I believed that it was very
important to make clear that the kinds of things that Milosevic does--which is
decide that because you are not his ethnic group, that you don't deserve to
exist-- is unacceptable. And it is not just a lesson for for Kosovo. But it
is not American to stand by and watch this kind of a thing. That doesn't mean
that we can be everywhere all the time, but where we can make a difference.
And with an alliance that works, we should. And so, I am very proud of what
What is the most important thing we've done?
I'm really proud of this new technique of talking to the allies, keeping us all
together. I'm very pleased at our ability to work our way through five major
democracies, to work our way through difficult problems by talking to each
other very frequently.
General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO's forces, faced a
difficult job and has come under some criticism from people. But he figured
out how to work this new system, this multi-national approach...
I think he did a great job, and I think he deserves a tremendous amount of
credit. I think the thing you have to remember, we celebrate NATO, and it
clearly was the glue that kept the alliance together, kept us all strong
during the cold war. But NATO never fought. And all of a sudden, the end of
the cold war, there are people who are questioning the relevance of NATO, and
it was able to pull itself together, and fight a war.
And, as I said earlier, this is a war in which there are 19 democracies.
Democracies respond to their people, and, deal with the whole concept of public
opinion and elections, and refugees, pictures of refugees and people suffering.
And the political aspects of fighting a war, blended with the fact that you
have a military composed of a number of different countries, just think about
the difficulties of that. And General Clark did a terrific job of working his
way through this. What I was concerned about was trying to create the space
for him, so that he could take military decisions that would not be tied down
by political difficulties.
But that's sometimes diffult, because it may not be the most efficient
military application of force, but it's the necessary political application of
Well,I think you can't have an alliance of democracies and not expect that you
have to work your way through some of the political aspects of it. And
President Clinton spent a great deal of time with his counterparts. We worked
this on so many levels, and the President's leadership, in terms of keeping,
er, the alliance together, and then allowing the military to go forward, and
making, you know,
I guess we could have done this unilaterally, if you think about it. But we
decided that we had the allies on the ground in Bosnia, the President cared
tremendously about NATO as a concept, and keeping it vibrant, which is why he
wanted to expand NATO. When you talk about important things we've done, I
think that the expansion of NATO is right up there as one of the major
accomplishments of this administration. And it was the ability to take an
organization that had been set up to fight communists--where there was one
single threat that everybody agreed on. And then, allowing it to evolve into
an organization in which there were more democracies dealing with a much more
complex, harder to absorb threat.
I was quite struck, afterwards, by the number of people from different parts of
the world who saw me and said 'Look, it was important that you did that.' And
it was important. Not just that NATO, once they'd delivered a series of
demands and said it would back them up with force, did indeed deliver those
demands and the realization of them. But also, that that type of ethnic
cleansing was not allowed to continue unchecked. ...
... Because you had to decide what the consequences of losing would be. And
the consequence of losing would not just be appalling for the people in Kosovo,
those refugees would have stayed. Heaven knows what would have happened to the
region.. But NATO's credibility would have been incredibly damaged, and then
the next time, if Saddam gets out of his box or somebody like that, and we say
we're going to take action, people would say, 'well, prove it.' ...
I think what's important is always to go back to first principles in
situations like this. And I always used to go back to this question, 'if we
didn't act, then what?' Then he ethnic cleanses Kosovo and the whole region
really is then totally destabilized. Europe and NATO are shown to be powerless,
a terrible act of barbarity has taken place with nothing happening from the
international community. There are some pretty consequences of those things.
Is this over? Did we win?
Do you think it's over? Do you really think it's over, or do you think that
our people on the ground put into effect a peacekeeping apparatus that is
holding age-old ethnic cultural religion hatreds in check?
Do you think that, if we left tomorrow, it's all OK? If you do, then I've
got some land in Florida for you.
Was it worth it?
Of course it was worth it. There would have been a campaign of ethnic
cleansing against the Kosovo Albanians if NATO had done nothing. It would have
resulted in more devastation, more deaths, ... and it would have also
discredited the international community further. It was the only thing that
could be done and it was precisely what we had to do.
You know Milosevic well, and he didn't buckle. I wonder if you really did
misread him, or whether it was the politicians who misread him?
I always thought there was a chance that he could concede early. But there was
no guarantee of it. He talks tough a lot of times. When he says 'Kosovo's
more important than my head,' you have to ask--does he really mean it, and with
what degree of determination? He ranges all the way from being a fragile
bluffer, to being a very strong and resolute opponent and you never know for
sure where on this actually he's going to fall. So was it reasonable to think
there was a chance, that after a couple of days he would toss in the towel?
Yes, it was reasonable to think that. There was no evidence that would have
totally, absolutely ruled this out because the only evidence is what Milosevic
himself might think.
Was this a war worth fighting?
I still think it was worth to do it. The alternative would have been to
tolerate ethnic cleansing in Europe. And I think that's no alternative you can
accept. For that reason I think it was the right thing to do it.
The alternative perhaps was to let the conflict work its way out. Okay,
there'd be ethnic cleansing, but there would be a more lasting peace.
No doubt we have to stay committed for many, many years to come and they just
completed phase one of the Kosovo conflict. They are in phase two right now,
and we don't know the outcome yet. Whether we'll succeed to get them into a
multi-ethnic society or not is a wide open question for me. But the
alternative to accept ethnic states in the Balkans could open the door to so
many other conflicts, that I think it's still the better way to do it like we
do it right now.
In the end, is it a victory for coercive diplomacy? For incrementalism and
No, in the end it's not a victory for coercive diplomacy. Anyone who believes
that the lesson here is to engage in incrementalism, to engage in making
frequent threats and not follow through, to slowly and gradually increase the
level of pressure and then, by-the-by, pick up a strategy to win, forgets what
happened here. What happened is that ten thousand, if not more, Albanians were
killed. And that many, many more Albanians had their lives disrupted in the
most horrible way, including eight hundred thousand people being kicked out of
their country. And that we had engaged in 78 days of severe bombing, dropping
23,000 bombs on Serbia in order to achieve our objectives. That's not what you
want to do when you engage in a strategy of coercive diplomacy, which is when
you want to achieve your objectives without having to use force, and to achieve
them without causing the pain on those who you are trying to protect.
Who won here, NATO, Milosevic or the KLA?
In essence NATO, Milosevic and the KLA won. Milosevic stays in power, which is
what he cares about most. NATO won because it showed that if it uses force it
can do so for a sustained period of time and in fact achieve the objectives
that ultimately they agreed upon. And the KLA won because they basically run
So what does that mean, the Albanians are running Kosovo? That's not
exactly what we set out to do in the beginning.
What it means is that from the very beginning in this conflict there were three
fundamental choices. One, we could have allowed the Serbs to do what they
wanted to do and said it's their country, they can do what they want to do. We
could have done what we're doing with Chechnya.
Second, we could have said, 90% of the population is Albanian. They deserve
our support. They are unarmed innocent people, they want independence, we
should support them. And we could have backed them to the hilt, and then
achieved an independent Kosovo.
And if we didn't want to do either of those things, because in fact we
didn't--because we didn't want to have Milosevic create a humanitarian disaster
and we didn't want to have an independent Kosovo--we had to do the third
possibility, which was to establish an international protectorate inside
Kosovo. The only way to do that is to have done it with ground forces from day
one. To threaten it, and then be willing to go in on the ground.
In the end we did it ugly. We did it through 78 days of bombing. We did it
without necessarily thinking through how we were going to get out. But we did
it. We established an international protectorate. We could have done it a
year earlier if we had had a more convincing strategy and if we knew what it
was that we were going to achieve--which was to prevent the Serbs from doing
great humanitarian damage, to prevent an independent Kosovo. It would require
a NATO international protectorate in Kosovo. We got it, but we got it the ugly
...There is no question that one of the lessons here is that if possible,
Europe needs to develop its own capability within NATO to deal with situations
like the one in Bosnia and Kosovo before they reach the point that triggers the
need for the United States to cross the Atlantic once again and come in and
sort things out.
I think another lesson of Kosovo ... and it's related, is that Europeans need
to develop more of a capability in terms of the defence capacity of individual
countries to deal with these situations. But this was a collective action and
I think it was a real test for the alliance in several respects. One, could we
live up to our rhetoric about it being a new alliance with a new mission? It
wasn't easy, but we did. And the other test was--could we do this while
maintaining the essence of a co-operative relationship with Russia? And that
certainly wasn't easy, but I think in the end we did.
Did this Kosovo conflict have implications for other situations, such as
There is no question that one of the reasons why the Russians were so upset
about NATO military action against Yugoslavia over Kosovo was because they knew
that they had on the territory of the Russian federation, Islamic populations
who were increasingly militant in their resistance to rule by Moscow. Now we
had made clear throughout--before the bombing, during the bombing and after the
bombing-- that we think that Yugoslavia should remain intact on the map. We
have never supported violent sectionalism in Yugoslavia or anywhere else. So I
think we were able to lay to rest or at least we should have, if the Russians
were paying attention closely, they should have heard us lay to rest their
concerns that there was some kind of a Kosovo precedent with implications for
But there is no question that this was much in their minds, and they used to
talk about it from time to time. And this of course was before the latest
round of horrific violence in the North Caucasus. But the Russians still had a
vivid memory of the last round of horrific violence in the North Caucasus which
was 1994 to 1996, and they frequently cited Chechnya when explaining to us
their own opposition to what was happening in Kosovo.
There's a continued, historical debate about limited warfare and the
application of limited means to achieve political objectives. But isn't it
true that the difference today is that the U.S. is the sole superpower? The
U.S. never has been in this place before.
Well, keep in mind a couple of relevant counterpoints or points to be
considered alongside the one that you make. The United States, while it
played a predominant and decisive role in the military action, was not acting
alone. This was the alliance as a whole working as an alliance. But there is
no question that one of the lessons here is that if possible Europe needs to
develop its own capability within NATO to deal with situations like the one in
Bosnia and Kosovo before they reach the point that triggers the need for the
United States to cross the Atlantic once again and come in and sort things out.
I think another lesson of Kosovo ... and it's related, is that Europeans need
to develop more of a capability in terms of the defence capacity of individual
countries to deal with these situations.
But this was a collective action and I think it was a real test for the
alliance in several respects. One, could we live up to our rhetoric about it
being a new alliance with a new mission. It wasn't easy, but we did. And the
other test was, could we do this while maintaining the essence of a
co-operative relationship with Russia, and that certainly wasn't easy, but I
think in the end we did.
I think we've accomplished something fundamental. I think that in the last
year of the 20th century the bloodiest century in history, when a demagogic
leader set about to truly eliminate an entire people from his country--and
that's what he was doing--the international community in the form of NATO--19
democracies-- stood up and said, 'no, this will not happen, this will not
So I think that the importance of Kosovo is that a situation when our
interests, because of the danger of wider conflicts, and our values as human
beings and as Americans were at stake, the United States and NATO took a stand,
had the determination to stick it out and prevailed.
And it's worth at the end keeping an American presence there?
I think there needs to be a presence there for some time. I think they will
probably come down in size. Clearly, there is now a certain Albanian violence
against Serbs, and it is reprehensible, and we need to try to stop it. But I
don't think we should equate the two. Killing is killing, but the acts of
revenge that are going on in Kosovo now, well, they're er, condemnable, and
while they are against everything we believe in, it's fundamentally different
than a government deciding that it is going to systematically expel or
exterminate an entire people. And this time at the end of the 20th century,
the world said 'no.'
What about the larger question about 'war by committee?' If the U.S. is
going to be putting our people at risk-- flying most of the technology, our
aircraft--does this mean that we're just having to, by necessity of the new
world order, we are buying into incrementalism, to gradualism? is that's a new
military doctrine now?
No. As a matter of fact, the lesson's just the opposite. Incrementalism should
not be the chosen course of action. Just the opposite. In this particular
circumstance, since NATO had never really acted in this fashion, in an
offensive way as opposed to a defensive alliance, it took some time to sort
out the responsibilities and how the air campaign should be conducted. So
it's not a lesson for the future, that this is the way to conduct an air
campaign. We were very good, we were very lucky. But this is not a game plan
that should be followed for the future.
If you're going to take coalition action-- and, again, our policy should be we
should always be willing to work with our allies wherever possible--but reserve
the right to act unilaterally whenever it's necessary. In this particular
case, we could not have carried out an air campaign unilaterally. It was
simply impossible. So we had to make the compromises we did. We were
successful ultimately, but there were lessons to be learned from all of
Can you talk about your visit to Camp Bondsteel. That's this 700 acres on a
hilltop which, in reality, represents not only our U.S. presence there, it
represents an open-ended commitment in Kosovo. And,that's something that you
were concerned about from day one.
Well, I certainly hope it's not going to be an open-ended commitment. In
Bosnia, by way of comparable example, we have had a real substantial reduction
in the size of our force. I'm hoping that we can go even lower, consistent
with the security concerns. But I don't want to see an open-ended commitment.
Bondsteel does represent a significant commitment for the housing of the troops
that are there. And we want to make sure that we provide as much of a quality
of life while the forces, both active and reserve, are deployed to that region.
But I don't want to see an open-ended commitment to Kosovo.
And the fact that we've built this thing to last, does it represent the
ending as you would have liked to have seen it?
Well, it shouldn't be seen, as far as I'm concerned, as a permanent
commitment, whatever facilities are there may be taken over by others in the
future. But what I would like to see is the political reforms
institutionalised within Kosovo so that we can see a settling of the disputes
through civilian judicial means as opposed to open conflict. But it certainly
will provide the kind of care for our forces that will be necessary during
this interim period. How long it's going to take remains to be seen. But I'm
hoping that we can accelerate the reduction of the size of that
You've mentioned the observations of Winston Churchill about victory. Could
you recollect that for us now?
Well, there was a quote that I gave--I don't think I can paraphrase it right
now--but in essence, what Churchill always said is that there was no substitute
Why does it apply to Kosovo, is the question.
Well, Churchill did say that victory is certainly far more agreeable than
defeat, but doesn't necessarily provide any satisfactory answers.
We still see a situation in Kosovo in which we have achieved a victory over
Milosevic's forces and yet we can see also that the animosities, the ethnic
hatreds--people would rather dig fresh graves than heal old wounds. That still
remains. So we've given the people in Kosovo an opportunity to return to a
level of self-government and autonomous action. Whether they take this and
build upon it, or whether they squander it--that remains to be seen.
We have given them that opportunity, we have saved hundreds of thousands of
lives, we have given them an opportunity to enjoy freedom and to exercise
democratic self-government. Whether or not they ultimately pursue that course
of action remains to be seen.
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