Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals Meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields

Overview

A delicate peace threatens to break every day: the powder keg of the world continues to be in the news and on our minds day in, day out. The Balkans present an ongoing challenge for Americans -- not only to understand and impossibly complex web of allegiances and rivalries, but also to determine what the role of the United States should be in keeping the peace. In Kosovo Crossing, David Fromkin takes on these difficult, timely questions, and examines them in the context of a changing political landscape and a ...
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Overview

A delicate peace threatens to break every day: the powder keg of the world continues to be in the news and on our minds day in, day out. The Balkans present an ongoing challenge for Americans -- not only to understand and impossibly complex web of allegiances and rivalries, but also to determine what the role of the United States should be in keeping the peace. In Kosovo Crossing, David Fromkin takes on these difficult, timely questions, and examines them in the context of a changing political landscape and a long, war-torn history. From the award-winning, bestselling author of A Peace to End All Peace comes a provocative, important book on a hair-trigger topic.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Elliot
The author brings to his subject both learning and a delightful prose style.
New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An expansion of a March Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, this effort suffers from the speed with which it was crashed into print (see Hot Deals, Apr. 19). Fromkin, chairman of Boston University's international relations department and author, most recently, of The Way of the World, ultimately, if timidly, defends NATO's bombing war against Yugoslavia. After rapid recaps of American military intervention abroad since WWI and of Balkan history, Fromkin finally addresses the current Kosovo conflict. While he concedes there was no direct vital U.S. interest at stake in Kosovo, he argues that "there was a good case to be made that the risks [of intervention] were worth running." That case involves hearkening back to Wilson's 14 Points, which, Fromkin observes, affirmed two contradictory principles: the right of nations to self-determination, and the inviolability of national borders. The Kosovars wanted to determine their own fate, but their insistence on independence violated the sanctity of Yugoslavia's borders. Fromkin sees Clinton and NATO policy (trying to reverse Serbia's ethnic cleansing while stopping short of supporting independence for Kosovo) as a good faith effort to negotiate the tension inherent in Wilson's principles. Warily, he endorses an expanded role for the United States as global supercop, "trustee and guardian" of Kosovo for years to come, even while he warns against overextension of resources. As a brief outline of the thinking that drew NATO and the U.S. into Kosovo, Fromkin's primer is instructive. As a piece of thinking about the limits of intervention and the perils--or promise--of a foreign policy rooted in Wilsonian idealism, it leaves much to be desired. Maps not seen by PW. Agent, Suzanne Gluck; author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684868899
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/1999
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

"This is the end of the last American war in Europe -- and we won it!" an expert on American foreign policy exclaimed happily. His colleague retorted: "It isn't even the end of this war, let alone any other; the commitment we've given to Yugoslavia is an open-ended one that we're going to regret."

Though neither wished to be named, they hold their views strongly; and both were reacting to the same news. The news, which broke on June 3, 1999, was that Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the Serbian parliament had accepted an international peace plan to bring an end to their conflict with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which had begun seventy-two days earlier, on March 24. In effect the Balkan leaders had capitulated to NATO. They agreed to halt and then reverse their efforts to drive out the ethnic Albanian inhabitants of Serbia's southern province, Kosovo. Six days later, on June 9, a modified version of the peace plan was implemented through an agreement between Lieutenant General Sir Michael Jackson, NATO's representative, and representatives of the Yugoslav Army, setting forth the details of Serbia's military withdrawal from Kosovo.

The first article of the peace plan demanded the "immediate and verifiable end of the violence and repression in Kosovo." The plan then called for a quick withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, which nominally was to remain a province of Serbia, and for a return of the million or so Kosovar refugees to their homes. Eventually, Kosovo was to enjoy autonomy; but in the meanwhile, it would be administered by the United Nations, with an international force of fifty thousand troops to guard the province and its newly returned inhabitants. The troops would operate under a mandate from the United Nations, with Russian participation, and a NATO "core" that would include seven thousand American soldiers, comprising 14 percent of the expeditionary force.

NATO leaders remained wary of Yugoslav intentions, and showed it by keeping up their aerial warfare until the withdrawal of Serbian forces began in earnest on June 10, after a week of fits and starts by Serbia's representatives at the negotiating table. Not even victory looked as though it were going to be easy.

The peace agreement had been a long time in coming. Toward the end, it seemed possible that NATO unity might crack before Yugoslav morale did. A breakthrough, however, seems to have been scored by the U.S. deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, whose patient efforts brought Russia and its representative Viktor S. Chernomyrdin to play a constructive role. In turn the United States and Russia jointly co-opted Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, whose experience as a Balkan mediator apparently proved invaluable.

When the Milosevic regime announced its surrender, NATO forces had flown more than 33,000 sorties over Serbia using about 1,000 allied airplanes and about 14,000 bombs and missiles. It was the first campaign ever to have been won by airpower alone, despite the warnings of many experts that such an outcome never could be expected. Only three NATO soldiers were killed, all of them in accidents, as against at least five thousand Serbian military dead.

Summarized by such statistics, the war sounds to have been one-sided. But at least three cautionary observations should be kept in mind. The first is that the Kosovo war is one of those episodes in which achieving peace goals, especially over the long run, is likely to prove more elusive and complex than was the achievement of war goals. The second is that disunity within the United States -- for this was a highly controversial war -- kept the outcome in doubt. The third is that the earlier acts of the drama -- the Milosevic regime's first attempts at military aggrandizement in the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995 -- played out in such a different way as to mislead experts attempting to forecast what might happen in 1999. In particular, the Bosnian experience had suggested that American policy makers were overestimating what military aircraft can accomplish. The 1999 experience suggests that, on the contrary, Americans have been underestimating what airpower can do.


At 6:31 in the morning on Tuesday, March 1, 1994, an AWACS reconnaissance plane patrolling the air space over Bosnia spotted six single-seater Jastreb warplanes in a no-fly zone. The Jastrebs belonged to the Bosnian Serb military, which had been fighting against the forces of the Bosnian government for the previous two years. In an effort to limit the scope of the war, the United Nations Security Council had forbidden the Serbs to fly over certain disputed regions in the war-torn former Yugoslav republic. The AWACS had been dispatched by NATO to enforce the UN order. The Jastrebs they sighted on this Tuesday morning were in the act of bombing Muslim positions.

Summoned by the AWACS, two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons of NATO's Southern Europe command, equipped with air-to-air missiles, arrived on the scene and requested and received permission to fire on the bombers. They disposed of the Bosnian Serb warplanes in a matter of minutes. At 6:45, the lead F-16 downed one Jastreb with an Amraam missile, and two minutes later, a second Jastreb with a Sidewinder missile; a minute after that, a second Sidewinder brought down a third Jastreb. Two more NATO F-16s then arrived. The lead F-16 in the new team destroyed a fourth Bosnian Serb warplane while the remaining Jastrebs fled.

It all seemed so easy.

In a telephone news conference afterwards with some of the American F-16 pilots, one of them said, "It wasn't much of a contest." In his view, the obsolete Jastreb warplanes did not stand a chance against NATO's sophisticated weaponry. "That's what your tax money goes for, sir," he told a reporter.


In the news dispatches that they filed later that day, journalists reminded their readers that the March 1 air strike was NATO's first. The alliance had been in existence for nearly half a century, yet the sortie over Bosnia was the first occasion on which it had sent its forces into combat.

That was the measure of NATO's success. The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 had established NATO to prevent the outbreak of war, to deter potential adversaries -- specifically the Soviet Union -- from starting a war in Europe. In all those decades, NATO forces never had been obliged to open fire on the legions of the Soviet empire -- which showed either that the threat from the East had not been real, which was difficult to believe, or, as the world, with reason, did believe, that NATO's was a colossal success story. The Kremlin's expansionist ambitions in Europe not merely had been thwarted -- which would have been success enough -- but had been thwarted without firing a shot.

In retrospect, it seems clear that what happened on March 1, 1994, should have been a warning signal to the United States and to its European allies. Giving orders, for the first time, to open fire was an implicit confession that circumstances had changed. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO had not done what it was meant to do and what it had succeeded in doing for forty-five years until then. Maybe it wasn't NATO's fault, but it had failed to deter.

NATO airpower was called in again in the Bosnian conflict, and, alongside a successful ground offensive launched by Croatia in August 1995, played a part -- though perhaps no more than a supporting role -- in forcing the parties to the conflict to sit down at the negotiating table. As such it can be credited with helping to bring about the 1995 Dayton Accords, which resulted in a cease-fire in the conflict.

But in spite of its apparent success, NATO airpower (which is to say, chiefly American airpower) did not perform well enough to restore its credibility as a tool of U.S. policy. When, in 1999, the time came for Washington to threaten Serbia to desist from committing brutalities against the ethnic Albanian population in its southern province of Kosovo, the Serbs dismissed such warnings of incipient air strikes. One sortie by the Americans with their world-of-the-future weapons would not be enough to stop Serbia, nor would many sorties do the job, was the attitude of Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic. And indeed, the bombing of Serbia that began on March 24, 1999, did not cause the Serbs to budge in a day, or in a week, or in a month. They held out for ten weeks.

The great advantage of being able to deter is that a nation can obtain what it hopes to win in a contest of arms without actually having to go through with the contest. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO found that it had lost its credibility. No longer could it deter the other side. Put another way, the Serbs refused to fold in March 1999, so NATO was obliged to play out the hand. Now that it has done so, perhaps its credibility will be restored.

It frequently has been said, and perhaps with reason, that the future of NATO, and of American global leadership, were at stake on the battlefield of Kosovo. Whether or not that puts the case too strongly, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia does afford an invaluable perspective from which to reconsider the questions that have arisen so often in the years following the end of the Cold War, and that are likely to recur in the twenty-first century: when, why, and how should the United States send its troops overseas in an attempt to resolve conflicts if they do not threaten the nation's physical security?

Where will Americans involve themselves next? Does America enjoy such a surplus of power that, after securing its own safety and interests, it can take it upon itself to rescue other peoples all around the world from injustices? And if the United States is so powerful, why on the road that has led from Iraq in 1991 via Somalia in 1993 to the former Yugoslavia in 1999 has America found it so difficult to have its way?

Like a prism, the experience of Kosovo shows the range of possibilities among which the United States must choose as it and the world enter a new age. The Kosovo war raises the question of the extent to which America, in the world outside its borders, has the power to do good -- or even whether it knows with any certainty what "good" is.

Copyright © 1999 by David Fromkin

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Maps
Prologue

Part I
Power and Goodness
1. A View from Kosovo 2. Powerless America

Part II
America Becomes King of the Hill
3. America Survives Both Enemies and Allies
4. Measuring America's Greatness

Part III
When and Where Should America Intervene Abroad?
5. The Facts of International Life
6. The Containment of the United States
7. America Unbound

Part IV
Entering The Balkan Maze

8. East and West Shape the Balkans
9. The Middle East Shapes the Balkans
10. The Two Hundred Years' Crisis
11. The Balkan Wars Erupt

Part V
The Making of the Modern Balkans
12. Redrawing the Map and Starting Over
13. Wilson's Principles in Action
14. The Balkan Peace Settlement of 1920
15. Exchanging Populations
16. The Attack on Yugoslavia

PART VI
America's Journey To The Frontiers
17. Returning to the Scene of the Crime
18. Kosovo or Kosova?
19. Making War: The Old Rules and the New
20. Imposing a New World Order
21. Preserving Credibility
22. A Humanitarian Solution
23. In Search of Justice
24. Frontiers That Cannot Be Crossed

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Prologue

"This is the end of the last American war in Europe -- and we won it!" an expert on American foreign policy exclaimed happily. His colleague retorted: "It isn't even the end of this war, let alone any other; the commitment we've given to Yugoslavia is an open-ended one that we're going to regret."

Though neither wished to be named, they hold their views strongly; and both were reacting to the same news. The news, which broke on June 3, 1999, was that Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the Serbian parliament had accepted an international peace plan to bring an end to their conflict with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which had begun seventy-two days earlier, on March 24. In effect the Balkan leaders had capitulated to NATO. They agreed to halt and then reverse their efforts to drive out the ethnic Albanian inhabitants of Serbia's southern province, Kosovo. Six days later, on June 9, a modified version of the peace plan was implemented through an agreement between Lieutenant General Sir Michael Jackson, NATO's representative, and representatives of the Yugoslav Army, setting forth the details of Serbia's military withdrawal from Kosovo.

The first article of the peace plan demanded the "immediate and verifiable end of the violence and repression in Kosovo." The plan then called for a quick withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, which nominally was to remain a province of Serbia, and for a return of the million or so Kosovar refugees to their homes. Eventually, Kosovo was to enjoy autonomy; but in the meanwhile, it would be administered by the United Nations, with an international force of fifty thousand troops to guaar is one of those episodes in which achieving peace goals, especially over the long run, is likely to prove more elusive and complex than was the achievement of war goals. The second is that disunity within the United States -- for this was a highly controversial war -- kept the outcome in doubt. The third is that the earlier acts of the drama -- the Milosevic regime's first attempts at military aggrandizement in the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995 -- played out in such a different way as to mislead experts attempting to forecast what might happen in 1999. In particular, the Bosnian experience had suggested that American policy makers were overestimating what military aircraft can accomplish. The 1999 experience suggests that, on the contrary, Americans have been underestimating what airpower can do.


At 6:31 in the morning on Tuesday, March 1, 1994, an AWACS reconnaissance plane patrolling the air space over Bosnia spotted six single-seater Jastreb warplanes in a no-fly zone. The Jastrebs belonged to the Bosnian Serb military, which had been fighting against the forces of the Bosnian government for the previous two years. In an effort to limit the scope of the war, the United Nations Security Council had forbidden the Serbs to fly over certain disputed regions in the war-torn former Yugoslav republic. The AWACS had been dispatched by NATO to enforce the UN order. The Jastrebs they sighted on this Tuesday morning were in the act of bombing Muslim positions.

Summoned by the AWACS, two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons of NATO's Southern Europe command, equipped with air-to-air missiles, arrived on the scene and requested and received permission to fire on the bombers. They disposed of the Bosnian Serb warplanes in a matter of minutes. At 6:45, the lead F-16 downed one Jastreb with an Amraam missile, and two minutes later, a second Jastreb with a Sidewinder missile; a minute after that, a second Sidewinder brought down a third Jastreb. Two more NATO F-16s then arrived. The lead F-16 in the new team destroyed a fourth Bosnian Serb warplane while the remaining Jastrebs fled.

It all seemed so easy.

In a telephone news conference afterwards with some of the American F-16 pilots, one of them said, "It wasn't much of a contest." In his view, the obsolete Jastreb warplanes did not stand a chance against NATO's sophisticated weaponry. "That's what your tax money goes for, sir," he told a reporter.


In the news dispatches that they filed later that day, journalists reminded their readers that the March 1 air strike was NATO's first. The alliance had been in existence for nearly half a century, yet the sortie over Bosnia was the first occasion on which it had sent its forces into combat.

That was the measure of NATO's success. The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 had established NATO to prevent the outbreak of war, to deter potential adversaries -- specifically the Soviet Union -- from starting a war in Europe. In all those decades, NATO forces never had been obliged to open fire on the legions of the Soviet empire -- which showed either that the threat from the East had not been real, which was difficult to believe, or, as the world, with reason, did believe, that NATO's was a colossal success story. The Kremlin's expansionist ambitions in Europe not merely had been thwarted -- which would have been success enough -- but had been thw arted without firing a shot.

In retrospect, it seems clear that what happened on March 1, 1994, should have been a warning signal to the United States and to its European allies. Giving orders, for the first time, to open fire was an implicit confession that circumstances had changed. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO had not done what it was meant to do and what it had succeeded in doing for forty-five years until then. Maybe it wasn't NATO's fault, but it had failed to deter.

NATO airpower was called in again in the Bosnian conflict, and, alongside a successful ground offensive launched by Croatia in August 1995, played a part -- though perhaps no more than a supporting role -- in forcing the parties to the conflict to sit down at the negotiating table. As such it can be credited with helping to bring about the 1995 Dayton Accords, which resulted in a cease-fire in the conflict.

But in spite of its apparent success, NATO airpower (which is to say, chiefly American airpower) did not perform well enough to restore its credibility as a tool of U.S. policy. When, in 1999, the time came for Washington to threaten Serbia to desist from committing brutalities against the ethnic Albanian population in its southern province of Kosovo, the Serbs dismissed such warnings of incipient air strikes. One sortie by the Americans with their world-of-the-future weapons would not be enough to stop Serbia, nor would many sorties do the job, was the attitude of Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic. And indeed, the bombing of Serbia that began on March 24, 1999, did not cause the Serbs to budge in a day, or in a week, or in a month. They held out for ten weeks.

The great advantage of being able to deter is that a na tion can obtain what it hopes to win in a contest of arms without actually having to go through with the contest. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO found that it had lost its credibility. No longer could it deter the other side. Put another way, the Serbs refused to fold in March 1999, so NATO was obliged to play out the hand. Now that it has done so, perhaps its credibility will be restored.

It frequently has been said, and perhaps with reason, that the future of NATO, and of American global leadership, were at stake on the battlefield of Kosovo. Whether or not that puts the case too strongly, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia does afford an invaluable perspective from which to reconsider the questions that have arisen so often in the years following the end of the Cold War, and that are likely to recur in the twenty-first century: when, why, and how should the United States send its troops overseas in an attempt to resolve conflicts if they do not threaten the nation's physical security?

Where will Americans involve themselves next? Does America enjoy such a surplus of power that, after securing its own safety and interests, it can take it upon itself to rescue other peoples all around the world from injustices? And if the United States is so powerful, why on the road that has led from Iraq in 1991 via Somalia in 1993 to the former Yugoslavia in 1999 has America found it so difficult to have its way?

Like a prism, the experience of Kosovo shows the range of possibilities among which the United States must choose as it and the world enter a new age. The Kosovo war raises the question of the extent to which America, in the world outside its borders, has the power to do good -- or even whether it knows with any certainty what "good" is.

Copyright © 1999 by David Fromkin

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