|PEACE HAS BROKEN OUT in Yugoslavia. Did someone call it a “victory” for our side? That clearly is not exactly the right word. Far too much havoc was wrought on the Kosovars during the weeks of bombing intended to defend them for the campaign to have that positive a final assessment. Upwards of a million ethnic Albanian refugees, reported mass murders, multiple atrocities, widespread destruction of towns and villages – all by Serb forces while on the receiving end of NATO’s punitive strikes. If this be victory, what might defeat look like?
Yet we of little faith with strong doubts from the very beginning about the wisdom of the intervention and the form it took have been brought to acknowledge that it worked: For the first time, air power all alone exerted sufficient force in a military confrontation to decide the underlying issue. No NATO troops on the ground; no infantry, no armor, no artillery. Only warplanes delivering bombs, both smart and dumb, along with guided missiles were used to pound the Serbs into submission.
To be sure, air power in the past often has proved to be crucial to the success or failure of military initiatives. Clearly even before the midpoint of this century the airplane had assumed an important position in the armory of weapons. One can recall, for example, Hitler’s failure by a narrow margin to establish the supremacy of the Luftwaffe over the skies of England in 1940 and the consequences of that failure.
Perhaps more to the point of the recent Balkans initiative, however, that same Battle of Britain illustrates well the obverse of the airpower coin: the fact that German bombing of London and other U.K. cities, heavy as it was, increased, not decreased, the determination of the British people to resist. A similar assessment may be made of virtually every other armed conflict since. Air power, no matter how important as a tactical weapon, has not heretofore by itself ever caused a nation at war to cave in and agree to negotiate terms essentially of defeat.
Now we have the example of Yugoslavia, NATO, and the Balkans War of 1999. Some two months of limited, selective aerial bombardment, contrary to my expectations and those of nearly everyone outside, apparently, the highest civilian echelons of NATO policymakers, I would guess, forced the indicted war criminal president of Yugoslavia to cease and desist in his “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo and withdraw his forces from that province. It was a truly historic achievement.
But the “victory” came late for many, many Kosovars, given the disaster brought upon that sad land during the course of the NATO action. A high cost in human terms was paid not by NATO, but above all by the people driven from Kosovo during the aerial campaign designed to save them. Now begins another NATO campaign, that of peacekeeping, Then will follow, we hope very soon, the international community’s resettlement and reconstruction programs. All men and women of good will can only hope that these initiatives will prove to be almost as historic as the world’s first all-air victory in war.