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Only Ground Troops Can Achieve Objectives of Saving Kosvars -- and NATO

By Carl Bildt

Carl Bildt, the former prime minster of Sweden, was the European Union's representative for implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.

STOCKHOLM -- More than two weeks ago, NATO launched its air war against Yugoslavia "to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.'' whatever else can be said about the air war, it has very clearly failed to fulfill this its declared first objective.

When NATO attacked from the air, the Yugoslav forces attacked massively on the ground. And far from averting a humanitarian disaster, the NATO air war has become part of an escalation that has led to a tragedy of unspeakable dimensions.

This should have been foreseen. But around key capitals, there was the belief that President Slobodan Milosevic would throw in the towel after the first strikes and sign on to the Rambouillet agreement without further ado. The NATO operation was supposed to be another exercise of diplomacy by cruise missiles and CNN.

But failure was programmed into the strategy. NATO's military response was geared to minimizing the risks to its own pilots and soldiers, but by doing so, it maximized the risks to the Kosovo Albanians that NATO was supposed to protect.

While NATO aircraft were executing high-altitude nighttime attacks, the innocent civilians were left defenseless against the daylight terror on the ground of Serb paramilitary groups as the war between the Yugoslav Army and the Kosovo Albanian forces dramatically escalated.

Prior to the onset of the air war, I, among others, warned of the
possibility of up to a million people being forced to flee from their homes during the months to come. The horrible logic of war has an added horrible dimension in the Balkans.

Having lost the first round of the war, and failed in the declared
initial objective, NATO must now reassess its strategy. Increasingly, NATO statements on war aims are now shifting toward ensuring the safe return of all those forced to flee.

The No. 1 issue now must not be how to relocate these hundreds of thousands of desperate people around the world. They do not want to go to faraway countries of which they know little -- they want to return to their homes in the country that is theirs.

But there is simply no way that goal can be achieved by an air campaign alone. Even if the Yugoslav army were to be bombed into total disarray, Kosovo would not be safe. Indeed, roaming
bands of revenge- seeking Serb soldiers might pose an even bigger threat to the Kosovo Albanians than would organized armed forces.

NATO cannot use a policy of systematic destruction of infrastructure in the rest of Serbia to compensate for its failure
to address the situation in Kosovo. The short-term destruction of
Serbia would render impossible the long-term reconstruction of a democratic and prosperous Serbia. You can destroy a Danube bridge in seconds -- but it takes years of labor and effort to put it back in place.

Thus, NATO must now immediately prepare for a forced entry into Kosovo. A ground offensive will certainly be demanding and difficult, although initial organized resistance is likely to be limited. An air campaign can never defeat an army -- but it can thoroughly demoralize it.

But this ground offensive will only be the beginning of a long
engagement in the region. The province of Kosovo will have to be run as an international protectorate, preferably under the ultimate authority of the U.N. Security Council, until some broader arrangement for Yugoslavia and the region becomes possible.

There is no longer any exit strategy for NATO available from the
Balkans. Inevitably, the Balkans have become the new central front of NATO in Europe. There must be a long-term commitment of significant forces to the area.

With the first phase of the war lost, the NATO nations must also start to address the long-term political issues of the entire region. Kosovo is not an island of war in a region of peace. Increasingly, there are storm signals in the entire region south of Slovenia and north of Greece.

The political coalition between Russia, on the one hand, and the
European Union and the United States, on the other, must be rebuilt if there should be any chance for averting further devastating wars in the region. "Civil wars'') in the Contact Group only stimulates the civil wars of the Balkans.

NATO can not be allowed to loose a war with Milosevic over the future of Kosovo. But there are scant prospects of present operations alone averting that development. The plight of those
being killed or "cleansed'' makes it morally imperative, and NATO's very survival makes it politically imperative, that the organization's governments prepare for a ground operation into Kosovo.

(c) 1999, NPQ. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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