NATO ground forces for Kosovo necessary for alliance victory

April 09, 1999|By William Pfaff

PARIS -- Evacuation to Guam, Guantanamo, Germany or Turkey provides no solution to the Kosovo refugee problem. It represents denial of the fundamental problem, which is the war, which is being lost.

Resettlement abroad means collaboration in Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. His fait accompli is ratified. The only acceptable resolution for the refugees is to be escorted back to their homes (those homes that survive) and provided with the security in which they can rebuild their lives.

The only solution, then, is a NATO military victory.

If there is no NATO victory over Serbia, there will no longer be a NATO. And now, no victory is imaginable without a land campaign. The debate over intervention is no longer a dispute over the means to an end. It is a debate over abandoning NATO and the American claim to international leadership.

Forget about NATO

If the United States vetoes a land intervention -- which is supported by majority French and British opinion -- the United States can forget about NATO. Events since March 24 have already weakened confidence in American-assured collective security in Europe, or anywhere else.

Polls conducted April 1-2 in Britain found that 66 percent of those surveyed expressed support for British participation in a NATO ground attack on Serbian forces -- up 19 percent in a single week. Only 27 percent were opposed (with 7 percent undecided). A poll taken April 3 in France found 58 percent support ground intervention.

The pressure against ground intervention comes primarily from Washington. Congressional opposition is very strong, although Newsweek magazine says 54 percent of the U.S. public would send troops "to help bring peace."

Washington policy-makers still see Kosovo through the distorting glass of the presidential campaign. Every act is weighed for its putative effect upon the American electorate. What defeat would do to American opinion worldwide is ignored.

This moral isolation is by now characteristic of Washington, and is potentially lethal for U.S. national interests.

NATO planners cannot have neglected the intervention contingency. The forces exist. Air-mobile forces are available from the United States, as are British and French airborne regiments, rapid-reaction formations and special forces.

Gen. William Odem, now of the Hudson Institute, has proposed an armored thrust from Hungary -- a new NATO member -- toward Belgrade, to dislodge Mr. Milosevic's government. This is politically tricky, as it could compromise the Hungarian minority in Serbia.

However, the size of Serbia and Kosovo together is less than that of Kentucky (some 39,700 square miles). Kosovo is the size of greater Los Angeles. A tank column can cross it in an hour.

NATO could certainly confront Serbian police and troops, not only with armored invasion from the north and breakout by the NATO troops now in Macedonia, but also with an airborne landing, sustained from Albania (less than 90 miles from central Kosovo) to launch operations in the center of the country, severing Serbian lines of communication. It is time for speed and improvisation.

The NATO military task is to drive organized Serbian forces out of Kosovo, destroy them and the present Serbian government, and restore order and authority in Kosovo.

Much is said about the Serbian guerrilla potential, which is real. There is, however, no apparent reason why re-armed and re-trained forces of the KLA could not clear surviving Serb irregulars from the Kosovo mountains. NATO should not attempt to occupy Serbia, once its army is destroyed.

Catastrophe scenarios, citing the Vietnam example, consistently neglect the fact that NATO forces would operate in Kosovo against a hated Serb invader, with support from the population and the KLA.

No Vietnam

In Vietnam, the United States supported a government actively or passively opposed by a popular majority, against the armed opposition of the most dynamic politico-military force in the country. There is a difference.

The Kosovars wanted freedom, and the tactics of their KLA precipitated this crisis. Until now the Western governments have wanted Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. That no longer is possible. The Balkans are already profoundly destabilized.

NATO should support Kosovo independence in the hope that this might eventually be ratified as part of a larger Balkan settlement, negotiated with Kosovo's neighbors and a successor government to the present one in Belgrade, with Russian participation.

NATO and the United States, at this writing, continue to substitute palliative but morally hypocritical gestures -- refugee airlifts and "temporary" resettlements -- for military choices that would cost NATO lives.

Death, however, is part of the military contract. France's former commander in Bosnia, Philippe Morillon, has said of America's illusions on this subject, "who are these soldiers who are ready to kill and not ready to die?"

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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