war in europe
how it was fought

HOW IT ENDED  Evaluations of achievements and lessons learned in the Kosovo conflict:  Madeline Albright, Sandy Berger,Tony Blair, William Cohen, Ivo Daalder, General Claus Nauman, General Charles Krulak

how it was fought
ethnic cleansing
for moral values?

photo of madeleine albright
She became U.S. Secretary of State in late 1996 and quickly emerged as the Clinton Administration's chief hawk on Kosovo. Albright identified herself so strongly with the push for intervention that critics have called the conflict "Madeleine's War." Some observers have pointed to Albright's personal history to explain her forceful stance; born in Czechoslovakia, Albright was twice a refugee herself, forced to flee both the Nazis and Stalinism.

(read the full interview)

Madeleine Albright

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 happened.

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 force.

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.

In the war in Kosovo, British Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged as the most hawkish of NATO's leaders. As he explains in this interview, he was concerned that NATO's air war against Milosevic might not succeed and he pushed hard to keep the option of a ground invasion alive.

(read the full interview)

Tony Blair

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.

Until June 30, 1999, Gen. Krulak was the Commandant of the US Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(read the full interview)

General Charles Krulak

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.

photo of General Wesley Clark
He was appointed NATO Supreme Allied Commander in 1997. When Milosevic did not fold quickly after NATO began bombing on March 24, Clark started to push the alliance to begin ground troop planning and to deploy Apache helicopters to increase the pressure on Belgrade. While such moves ultimately may have helped end the war, they also alienated Clark from more reticent commanders back at the Pentagon and may have contributed to the Clinton Administration's decision after the war to replace Clark several months before his NATO term ran out.

(read the full interview)

General Wesley Clark

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.

photo of general klaus naumann
Until early May 1999, Germany's Gen. Klaus Naumann served as NATO's Military Committee chairman, and answered directly to NATO's political representatives.

(read the full interview)

General Klaus Naumann

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.

photo of ivo daalder
From 1995 to 1996, Daalder served as director for European Affairs at the National Security Council and coordinated U.S. policy in Bosnia. He is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

Ivo Daalder

In the end, is it a victory for coercive diplomacy? For incrementalism and gradualism?

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 Kosovo today.

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 way.

He is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and the Clinton administration's chief link to Russia. In a series of marathon meetings, Talbott, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin hashed out the war-ending deal that Milosevic finally accepted on June 3, 1999. Following the surprise deployment of Russian troops into Kosovo at the end of the war, Talbott also negotiated the details of Russia's participation in the KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

Strobe Talbott

...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 Chechnya?

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 Chechnya.

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.

photo of samuel berger
As U.S. National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger is clearly the first among equals in terms of access to the President. A trade lawyer turned global strategist, Berger's caution and political sensitivities informed much of the government's early policy toward Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

Sandy Berger

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 stand.'

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.'

photo of william cohen
When he served as a Republican Senator from Maine, William Cohen criticized the Clinton Administration's policy in Bosnia, and the lack of an "exit strategy" for US peacekeepers there. As Secretary of Defense, Cohen cited the lack of consensus at home and within NATO for his resistance to the deployment of ground troops in Kosovo.

(read the full interview)

>William Cohen

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 this.


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 commitment.

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 for victory...

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.

home . interviews . how it was fought . ethnic cleansing . fighting for morals . video . discussion
facts & figures . readings . chronology . links . map
synopsis . press . tapes & transcripts . FRONTLINE . pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation