Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been significantly reoriented and retooled across the board. This process of change has been captured under two main labels. Internal adaptation is NATO-speak for looking at how the institution works, and whether it can be made to work better and more effectively. The process has embraced the possibility of creating procedures and structures whereby European member states might undertake military operations without the frontline participation of US forces. This aspect of the internal adaptation will be discussed in Chapter 5. Under consideration here is a second major element – the effectiveness of NATO’s integrated military command and planning structures. Their performance during Operation Allied Force will be examined in the first section.
The external adaptation of NATO is a term that refers, fairly obviously, to the evolution of relations between NATO and its members, and non-member states in Europe. The most important and controversial element of the external adaptation has been the NATO enlargement process. Other elements include ‘outreach’ programmes such as Partnership for Peace (PfP). The discussions in the second section here assess the impact of the Kosovo crisis on NATO’s external adaptation, with particular reference to its implications for enlargement.
The internal dimension: military command and political decision-making during the Kosovo crisis
During the Cold War years the integrated military command and planning structures of NATO were frequently lauded as constituting a significant part of the core strengths of the institution. Typical in this respect were the remarks made by then Secretary-General Manfred Wörner in London in November 1990. He declared that ‘one of NATO’s unique historical achievements has been the integrated defence structure’, adding that, without this, ‘the security guarantees of the Alliance would sooner or later be seen to be illusory’. This was, he claimed, ‘not simply because that structure maintains the nuts and bolts of a functioning defence capability. Nations that merge their defence signal their wish to act together in a common unity of purpose’.1
The discussions in this section address the issue of how effective the NATO military structures proved to be during Operation Allied Force. A glance through official ‘lessons learned’ reports, scholarly studies and media accounts since the spring of 1999 reveals that there were some significant problems. Allegations were made by senior military officers about the extent of ‘political interference’ in operational decisions, especially over targeting issues during the bombing campaign. A related controversy developed over the use of the so-called national ‘red card’ by member governments. Finally, there was the issue of the extent to which the US ran a parallel national command and control structure separate from the multinational NATO one during the course of operations.
The political–military decision-making interface
Undoubtedly, leading allied military officers were frustrated at the degree of political interference, as they saw it. Two of them were particularly outspoken in their criticisms. The then Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, German General Klaus Naumann, went so far as to give public expression to his concerns while still serving and during the course of operations. This was an almost unheard of way for a senior officer to express his views. In May 1999, Naumann was quoted as saying that:
We need to find a way to reconcile the conditions of coalition war with the principle of the use of surprise and the overwhelming use of force. We did not apply either in Operation Allied Force and this cost time and effort and potentially additional casualties. The net result is that the campaign has been undoubtedly prolonged.2
Later, in retirement, Naumann elaborated upon his criticisms. He reportedly blamed lack of political consensus amongst the nineteen NATO member states for preventing the military from striking more widely at targets in Serbia from the start of the campaign (phase one of Operation Allied Force was restricted specifically to the suppression of enemy air defences). He also criticised their general refusal to countenance ground force options at the beginning.3
The first criticism echoed comments made by US Air Force (USAF) Lieutenant General Michael Short. As chief of NATO’s Southern Europe Air Command, Short had run Operation Allied Force under SACEUR, General Clark. In the autumn of 1999, Short was widely quoted as assessing the air operation thus:
As an airman I would have done this differently. It would not be an incremental air campaign or slow build-up but we would go downtown from the first night so that on the first morning the influential citizens of Belgrade gathered around Milosevic would have awakened to significant destruction and a clear signal that we were taking the gloves off. If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years I think you begin to ask ‘hey, Slobo, what’s all this about?’.4
The implication behind the comments of Generals Naumann and Short is that politicians prevented Operation Allied Force from being run in a militarily optimal fashion. First, by requiring the bombing campaign to commence with only limited strikes, and second by shaping and constraining target selection throughout. To what extent were these criticisms justified?
During the earliest phase of the operation, in late March 1999, there does seem to have been tight political control. Decisions, even over individual targets, required the approval of all nineteen NATO members in the North Atlantic Council (NAC). Apart from the brief experience of Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia three-and-a-half years previously,5 member governments had no experience of running a significant coercive military campaign through NATO structures. Under these circumstances it was probably to be expected that they would start with the assumption that everybody would be closely involved. Then US Secretary of Defense William Cohen publicly admitted as much. In testimony to the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services in mid-April 1999, he said that ‘because this is … the first type of operation NATO has conducted in this fashion, I think initially there was some … confusion in terms of how this is going to operate, in terms of whether or not individual Members had to approve or disapprove’.6
Later in the same hearings, Cohen stated that ‘we went through some initial phases where perhaps there was too much delay in approval and the process wasn’t working right. I think we have squared that away now, where Wes Clark feels he has what he needs’.7 It is significant that Cohen was talking in these terms less than one month into the operation. Although the political element of NATO decision-making was too cumbersome right at the start, with all nineteen members expecting their say, it seems to have been quickly realised that a more responsive and streamlined system was required. On 3 April 1999, less than ten days into the operation, The Times in London reported that NATO political leaders had decided to ‘cast aside some of the bureaucratic shackles that have limited NATO’s flexibility’. Specifically they had reportedly decided that SACEUR ‘will now be subject to political control by the leaders of America, Britain, France, Germany and Italy and will no longer have to consult all 19 Nato ambassadors about every decision’.8
Thereafter, political oversight on a day-to-day basis was exercised by these major powers acting through what was called the ‘Quints’ group.9 The significance of the political concession made by the fourteen NATO governments not represented in the Quints should not be underestimated. Despite being relegated to a back-seat role, they were, nevertheless, still expected to maintain NATO-wide political consensus and solidarity behind the objectives of the bombing campaign.
It is likely that there was a de facto trade-off involving participation in the Quints and the level of a country’s contribution to the operation. The Quints between them provided over 80 per cent of the almost 1,000 aircraft which were involved in its latter stages. The US, UK and France reportedly functioned as an elite within this elite, based on their operational contributions.10 A limited degree of involvement in the day-to-day supervision of operations may also have suited some NATO members politically. This was especially so in the case of Greece and two out of the three new members (the Czech Republic and Hungary), where public and political opinion was less solidly behind the objectives of the campaign than in the other NATO states.11
On occasion, the full NATO membership in the NAC may simply not have been asked for a decision. The British House of Commons Select Committee on Defence concluded that this had been the case with regard to at least one key issue. ‘We were told’, a report noted:
that the [NATO] Secretary General authorised the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 on 27th March. To have moved to Phase 312 would have required the full consent of the NAC. There is some ambiguity about the nature of the post-Phase 2 stage of operations … our informal discussions would suggest that the formal decision to move to strategic bombing of Serbia was never put directly, in quite those terms, to the NAC. Rather, an extension of the delegation to the Secretary General was made on or around 30 March [emphasis in the original].
The Defence Committee report also quoted the candid General Naumann subsequently admitting that ‘phase three could have been seen as an all-out war against Yugoslavia and … not all NATO nations, were prepared to go as far … and for that reason we never took the risk to ask the question knowing that we may run into some problems’[emphasis added].13
Another mechanism for simplifying and, so the military and Quints members hoped, making more effective the political decision-making within NATO was the formal delegation of authority by the NAC, in advance, to Secretary-General Solana. When giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee in May 2000, Sir John Goulden, the UK’s then Permanent Representative on the NAC, was asked whether NATO’s decision-making machinery had proved sufficiently responsive to the pace of events. His reply was:
Yes … mainly because of what I described as the delegation to Solana. Having agreed a plan we did not then constantly update it in the Council. We gave it to the military and Solana helped with the interpretation of the plan. He was completely up to date with the military. When they needed fine tuning or a political issue needed clarification, they would come to us and get it done on the day because the Council functioned daily … The consultation was very intense. That helps to explain the speed with which we were able to go from launching the campaign to going to phase two, to going to the final targeting decision on 29 March. By 29 March we had authorised all the powers that the military needed for the campaign, within six days of starting.14
A picture is beginning to emerge. It is of a process, which got underway in the first days of the operation, informally to streamline NATO’s decision-making structures and processes. Partly this was done via the activation of the Quints group and partly via delegation of authority to the Secretary-General, who was granted an important degree of flexibility in determining whether and how to intensify the air operations.
NATO political and military decision-making worked, to a significant extent, informally during the period March–June 1999. As members of the House of Commons Defence Committee concluded, when reflecting on a visit to NATO headquarters during 2000:
We formed the distinct impression that the idealised wiring diagrams and flow charts reflecting NATO’s command and control arrangements, and its associated staff procedures, had rapidly been thrown aside under the pressures of a real operation, and that this was an operation in which the element of political discretion was far higher than had ever been envisaged within the mindset of the Cold War in which NATO had grown up.15
The limits of NATO authority: use of the ‘red card’
The concept of the NATO ‘red card’ was something that, before the Kosovo crisis, had been familiar only to the cognoscenti. Consequently, when it attracted media coverage during and after Operation Allied Force, it may have appeared to the untutored eye as if something new and debilitating had suddenly been introduced.
In fact the extent of NATO ‘military integration’ had never been as profound or significant as many had assumed. At no point in its history had NATO been granted a formal supranational dimension by its member states. Members who have assigned forces to actual or potential NATO missions have been careful about the degree of authority that they have been prepared to delegate. In military parlance, they have not been willing to delegate operational command to NATO. Rather, allied commanders have been granted operational control. The essential difference has been succinctly summarised by the House of Commons Defence Committee:
Operational Command gives a commander authority to do virtually what he likes with the forces under his command, whereas Operational Control only gives him authority to use those forces for the missions or tasks for which they have been specifically assigned by contributing nations. The effect of this is that if commanders with Operational Control wish to use their forces for tasks different to those for which they were assigned, they have to seek national approval.16
This requirement for national approval is what gives NATO members red card – i.e. veto – rights. Operation Allied Force was the first occasion on which the media and interested publics became aware of the existence of this veto power. Within NATO, however, it was nothing new and its use was dealt with in a more matter-of-fact way than contemporary press coverage suggested.
This is not to say that it did not become a contentious issue from time to time. Tensions arose when people sought to make political mileage out of it. This was most clearly seen in a post-operation spat between the US and France. In October 1999, the controversial General Short was quoted in the press as singling out the French for criticism on the grounds that they had allegedly played a major role in constraining NATO targeting strategy during the later stages of Operation Allied Force, by vetoing particular targets in Serbia.17 French officials soon replied, again through the press, with counter-accusations that the US had conducted the operation in large part outside NATO command structures.18
Long-standing Franco–US animosities over NATO made these disputes appear more serious than they probably were. Besides the French, other Quints group members had exercised vetoes over particular targets without attracting US criticism, at least in public. It is known, for example, that the UK sometimes brandished the red card in this area. The then Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, confirmed it to the House of Commons Defence Committee in the spring of 2000.19
The limitations imposed by NATO members’ reluctance to go beyond giving operational control to allied commanders could be, nevertheless, a source of frustration. Lieutenant General Sir Michael Jackson, the first commander of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR), reflected upon the problems that could result, from the perspective of military command and planning, when looking back on the build-up of NATO ground forces in neighbouring Macedonia early in 1999. Jackson asserted that, ‘because transfer of authority to NATO command only goes so far’, the national deployments to Macedonia were somewhat chaotic and disorganised. What this meant on the ground was that:
The great land grab [was] on … who’s going to get the best patch and accommodation and workshops, and it can come down to who out-bids whom. It’s not a very good way, but the militarily efficient way of doing it is nobody enters the rear-area, in a period such as we are going through now, and nobody takes a contract, without Headquarters … approval. But that means that they would have to be under command, and once again, without an Activation Order it can’t be done, because that is the constitutional position of NATO.20
Jackson was centrally involved in the best-known red card incident of the entire NATO Kosovo campaign. This came right at the end of Operation Allied Force, just as the deployment of KFOR was about to commence. Jackson was ordered by SACEUR to deploy a force to confront Russian troops who had made a ‘dash’ to the airport in Pristina.21 He demurred and referred the matter to the British government, which consulted the US government. The US, in turn, overruled SACEUR. Jackson’s basis for refusing to carry out the order was that SACEUR was exceeding his operational control in attempting to task NATO forces with a mission that no member government had agreed to. The US, in common with other NATO members, had not delegated operational command to any NATO officer.22 The incident has subsequently been confirmed in Clark’s memoir of the crisis.23
For a time it appeared as if this incident had the potential to develop into a major controversy. There were some in the US who tried to ensure that it did. In the autumn of 1999, Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was quoted as saying that ‘we can’t have second-guessing at every level of command in a military organisation if it is to be effective’, and threatening to hold Senate hearings on the matter.24 Subsequently, though, the controversy petered out. Jackson himself made light of the matter. He later wrote of ‘a little sideplay by the Russian contingent which had us all amused. Especially the chain of command’, adding that Pristina airport ‘formed no part of our initial plans … the whole thing frankly was very much hyped up by the press’.25
The US and NATO: parallel structures
There is no doubt that the United States had run a parallel national command and planning structure alongside the multinational NATO one during Operation Allied Force. In its After-Action Report on the operation, published in January 2000, the Department of Defense described both structures in detail with accompanying wiring diagrams!26 The key link at the top was General Clark. Since the appointment of Dwight Eisenhower as the first SACEUR in 1951, the post – always held by an American – has been double-hatted. This meant that in addition to serving as SACEUR, Clark, in common with his predecessors, also served as Commander-in-Chief of US European Command (USEUCOM); a national appointment.
The US government also operated a strict requirement for political oversight of military decisions, based on the President’s constitutional position as Commander-in-Chief. Other heads of government would sometimes have a direct input into targeting decisions. Tony Blair, for example, did get ‘involved in targeting … but very seldom’ according to his Chief of Defence Staff.27 As for the French, they reportedly ‘did exercise some restraining power on NATO planners, particularly after the first couple of weeks … but the net effect was generally to push back the bombing of some specific targets at most a few days’.28 In the US case, all suggested targets generated by NATO planners and hence sent up to SACEUR were passed on by General Clark – wearing his USEUCOM hat – to the Pentagon which, in turn, generally passed them all the way up to the President.29
It has also been claimed that the US refused to release key military assets, even nominally, to NATO command. Richard Connaughton has written that ‘the conventional fighter effort was controlled by NATO HQ. Bomber operations, B-52s from Fairford, Gloucestershire and B-2s from Missouri, and Stealth fighter operations were not made available for NATO tasking but tasked directly from the Pentagon’.30
James Thomas has noted one particularly important way in which the existence of parallel military processes complicated matters for NATO. As Operation Allied Force progressed, target selection was increasingly being carried out by the US alone. Target approval, on the other hand, remained a multilateral activity amongst the Quints. According to Thomas, this dual approach was almost bound to cause friction and delay, because ‘European countries found it difficult to approve quickly targets which they had no hand in selecting, and where they had to rely on US estimates of collateral damage’.31
Notwithstanding the existence of the parallel structures, and the consequent extent to which the US could run a national dimension to the operations, the degree of US control evidently did not go far enough for some. In April 1999, Congressman Steven Kuykendall told Secretary of Defense Cohen that ‘we are actually the hammer in NATO, the rest of them [i.e. the European members] just come along for the ride … we are the leader and we need to act like the leader. We are not doing that in NATO right now’.32 Speaking in similar vein later in the same month was Eliot Cohen, a respected American defence academic. He told the House Armed Services Committee that ‘the challenge really is for the United States, which is the leader of this operation, which is probably now supplying something like three-quarters or more of the effort, to really dominate it’.33 Reviewing the course of operations early in 2000, General Short said that the US should have told its NATO allies that ‘we will take the alliance to war and we will win this thing for you, but the price to be paid is we call the tune’.34
On the other hand, there were some powerful American voices raised in support of the view that the existence of parallel military structures during Operation Allied Force had complicated efforts to attain unity of command – a key goal of the military in any operation. Speaking to the Brookings Institution, a leading think tank, in June 2000, General Clark conceded this point. Having put up a wiring diagram of the parallel structures, he stated that:
When you hear a lot of different opinions about this from military people, and you hear people say well, they weren’t quite sure what was happening, why was this done, why was that done, it should not surprise anyone. This is about as complex a command structure as anyone would ever fear to see. But we had it and we worked it.35
The Pentagon’s After-Action Report also conceded the point in stating that ‘parallel US and NATO command-and-control structures complicated operational planning and unity of command. These structures are well defined but had not been used previously to plan and conduct sustained combat operations’. The report suggested that the US and its NATO allies should, in future, ‘develop an overarching command-and-control policy and agree on procedures for the policy’s implementation’.36 This could, of course, mean trying to get Europeans to agree that the US should command ‘NATO’ operations unhindered, as suggested by General Short and others.
NATO as a ‘degraded’ institution?
Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in April 1999, retired USAF General Charles Link said, discussing NATO’s decision-making and command arrangements during Kosovo operations:
I think the key thing to remember here is that this is an arrangement that would have worked well when NATO was under attack because one could assume a community of interests among all the then 16 nations. When we use NATO in the way that it is being used now, that particular command construct really gets blurred because, as we have seen, each of the member nations may have, since they are not concerned about their own security in a direct way, they may have other economic, political or social interests that color their views towards the central theme of action.37
NATO’s taking on of missions not directly connected with the defence of its member states’ territory (which had been its exclusive Cold War role) thus carried the seeds of a potential degrading of the institution’s effectiveness. This could happen as agreement and consensus on controversial issues become more difficult to achieve. It is a danger which NATO members seemed aware of during the Kosovo crisis. Hence the premium which was placed on ‘solidarity’, ‘unity’ and ‘cohesion’ at the time. This meant that member states accepted constraints on their individual attitudes and behaviour.
Tim Judah has recounted a story that nearly illustrates the practical impact of these considerations during the air operation:
NATO commanders wanted to destroy the Podgorica air base. But first, they had to get past France’s opposition to bombing Montenegro. At a morning intelligence briefing, Clark was informed that Yugoslav artillery in Montenegro was shelling northern Albania. ‘Forget the French!’ Clark thundered, according to the participants. ‘No, no, no, wait! Hold off on that’, he said. ‘I’ll get French permission. I’ll get it’. Within hours, Clark and three of the Clinton administration’s top players – [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright, national security adviser Samuel R. ‘Sandy’ Berger and defense secretary William S. Cohen – dialed their counterparts in Paris. By the next morning, Clark had political approval for the strike.38
Whether or not this story is literally true in all its details, it is plausible. It illustrates two important things. First, US reluctance to act unilaterally when a row with a major NATO ally threatened. At the same time, it illustrates the reluctance of the French to persist in blocking an airstrike when to do so might have fractured NATO cohesion.
In their report on the Lessons of Kosovo, the House of Commons Defence Committee wrote about a ‘paradox … at the heart of the lessons to be learned’ and placed this part of their text in bold print for special emphasis:
Although Alliance unity was only one factor amongst those which eventually enabled NATO to prevail, it was a necessary condition for the others to have effect. Unity was, in the end, the Alliance’s greatest strength. At the same time it was NATO’s weakest point … the maintenance of its unity was the factor which most significantly restricted the military options open to the Alliance to pursue an efficient and successful coercive strategy against Milosevic.39
It is almost certain that the Milosevic government had calculated that, if they could ride out the early waves of airstrikes, NATO’s cohesion would begin to fray and ultimately crumble. This did not happen during the more than two months that the bombing campaign ultimately had to be prosecuted. The decision-making and military command procedures during the operation were both fraught and messy, but they ultimately ‘worked’ in that no member state broke ranks and nobody dropped out. Milosevic was thus, eventually, the one who conceded defeat.
The external dimension: security assurances in South East Europe
The term ‘NATO enlargement by stealth’ can be used to describe a situation whereby countries that have not legally acceded to its treaty nevertheless evolve a set of enduring political, operational and institutional links with NATO. These develop to the extent that key aspects of their practical relations with it are, to all intents and purposes, as significant and well established as those of the formal members. The discussions in this section ask whether such a process has been hastened in South East Europe by the Kosovo crisis.
Formal NATO enlargement entails new members signing the Washington Treaty and so acquiring the security guarantees contained in its Article 5 (‘an attack on one member state shall be considered an attack on them all’). The official position of existing members has been that such guarantees are available only to countries that have been through a constitutional accession process. Fear that the guarantees might be diluted led member states to ring-fence them by refusing to consider suggestions for formal ‘associate membership’ of NATO.40 As the officially endorsed Study on NATO Enlargement put it in September 1995, ‘there must be no security guarantees given or members within the Alliance that are “second tier” and no modifications of the Washington Treaty for those who join’.41
It could be argued, at least before 11 September 2001, that, with the end of the Cold War, the Article 5 guarantees of joint territorial defence of members were no longer very important. Yet, as Paul Cornish has asserted, ‘it is not easy to conceive of a military alliance of sovereign states being, at bottom, anything other than collective and territorial. Residual and symbolic it may be, but if the ‘Three Musketeers’ collective defence commitment were to be removed, the Alliance could collapse politically and militarily’.42 Notwithstanding the ending of the Cold War that first brought it into being, the Article 5 foundation thus remains essential if NATO is to continue in business.
Notwithstanding the stated intention of current NATO members not to permit any association arrangements, the distinctions between members and non-members have become increasingly blurred, most especially in the South East European region. There are a number of reasons for this. Some of them pre-date the Kosovo crisis, whilst others are a direct consequence of it.
The impact and influence of Partnership for Peace
The NATO PfP programme was developed primarily by then US Defense Secretary Les Aspin during 1993 and formally adopted at a NATO summit in Brussels in January 1994. As outlined in the official summit documents, the objectives of PfP have been to ‘promote closer military cooperation and interoperability’ between NATO and ‘partner’ states. This would be achieved through joint training and exercising, with a particular focus on potential peacekeeping and related operations, together with the ‘facilitation of transparency in national defence planning and budgeting processes’. As a further, crucial, incentive to prospective partner countries to sign up, the NATO members also declared that ‘active participation in Partnership for Peace will play an important role in the evolutionary process of the expansion of NATO’.43 By 2002, twenty-seven non-NATO European countries were participating.
Istvan Szonyi has argued persuasively that, as it has developed, the attitudes and behaviour of both NATO members and non-member partners have been increasingly ‘socialised’ by their participation in PfP:
Socialization in this context means that the various participants in PfP [have] engaged in a process of thorough and mutual adaptation. The process of adaptation was manifold because it involved all the partners concerned in PfP. The important point in this respect is that it was not only the ‘Eastern’ countries which adapted to ‘NATO’ requirements but NATO states also adapted to the needs and concerns of the former.44
Szonyi supports his contention by arguing that NATO member states have supported the PfP financially, through hosting military exercises and, perhaps most importantly, by ‘involving the Partners in the process of consultation, planning and review’.45 Partner countries, meanwhile have adapted through hosting exercises, developing military co-operation amongst themselves within the overall PfP framework and becoming ‘familiarized with NATO standards and procedures even beyond the scope of peacekeeping’.46 It is on the basis of this ongoing process of mutual socialisation that the importance of the role of PfP in South East Europe begins to emerge.
The PfP has played a particularly important role in the evolution of NATO involvement in Albania. This hardly seemed likely during early 1997 when, with Albania collapsing into civil turmoil and conflict sparked off by the pyramid investment scandal,47 the United States not only refused to intervene but, with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the UK, also prevented NATO from doing so.48 It was left to Italy, with support and contributions from France and Greece, to put together an ad hoc multinational force for Operation Alba, a four-month humanitarian assistance and political stabilisation mission in the period leading up to Albanian parliamentary elections in the summer of 1997.
These events gave rise to some strong criticisms of NATO’s apparent lack of collective interest; with arguments being made that this demonstrated the institution’s unsuitability for dealing with post-Cold War security crises in the wider Europe. More specifically, the limitations of PfP as a promoter of stability amongst the partner states were criticised.49 Although by no means all observers took this view,50 NATO members evidently felt prompted into action.
Responding to a request from the Albanian government in August 1997, NATO staffers and planners set to work on devising a special PfP ‘action plan’ covering the reconstruction of the Albanian armed forces, which had virtually disintegrated earlier in the year. According to the director of the project in the NATO International Staff, no less than twelve teams of NATO advisers were dispatched to assess the situation on the ground and make recommendations to the Albanian Defence Ministry.51 The challenge of Albania during the second half of 1997 became for NATO a matter of upholding its post-Cold War credibility and that of the PfP.
Although NATO’s interest in Albania was not, therefore, initiated by events in neighbouring Kosovo, from early 1998 it did come increasingly to be driven by its members’ wider concern with the developing crisis there. NATO foreign ministers, at their NAC meeting in May 1998, issued an important Statement on Kosovo, their first significant reference to the province. Amongst other things this document identified the ‘security and stability’ of both Albania and Macedonia as being a concern of NATO’s.
Further to this, specific initiatives were announced which were designed to have a deterrent effect against any temptation, which might have existed on the part of the Milosevic government, to threaten either of these countries. The Statement on Kosovo announced that ‘we are launching NATO-led assistance programmes to help Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to secure their borders, based on enhanced PfP activities and on bilateral assistance’. With regard to Albania, the statement announced the opening of a ‘NATO/PfP Cell’ – in effect a NATO office – in the capital, Tirana, as well as a major air-force exercise and a port visit by NATO’s Standing Naval Force Mediterranean over the summer.52 By publicly stating a NATO interest in the security and stability of these two countries, the Statement on Kosovo granted both Albania and Macedonia de facto NATO security assurances, if not formal legal guarantees. This was even before the build-up of NATO forces on their territories began as the Kosovo crisis escalated from the autumn of 1998.
The Statement on Kosovo also promised enhancements to Macedonia’s PfP-based co-operation with NATO. In the Macedonian case, the statement announced the ‘upgrading’ of a PfP exercise – Co-operative Best Effort – scheduled to take place in the country in September 1998, and contained a promise to consider establishing a PfP training centre, which would be the first of its kind, in Krivolak. More immediately, in mid-June, the promised NATO air exercise – Determined Falcon – took place over Albania and Macedonia. This involved the participation of eighty-three aircraft from thirteen NATO member states and it was explicitly intended to send a deterrent signal to the Milosevic government.53
NATO forces on the ground in Albania and Macedonia
When Operation Allied Force was launched in March 1999, nearly 500,000 Kosovar refugees crossed into Albania. The Albanian government demanded NATO help to cope with the influx and this was forthcoming. In early April, it was announced that the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (Land) – a multinational high-readiness brigade-strength force – would be deployed to Albania on Operation Allied Harbour. Its mission would be to construct accommodation and provide security and some semblance of order in the refugee camps.54 For this mission it would be known as the ‘Albania Force’ (AFOR).
AFOR stayed on after the end of Operation Allied Force and the return of the refugees in June 1999. Initially its mission was to facilitate the safe and orderly return of the refugees (in so far as that was possible given the eagerness of many to return immediately, despite AFOR’s advice to wait). Once the vast majority of the refugees had gone home, most of the troops assigned to AFOR remained. Its new role, having been renamed ‘AFOR II’, was to help safeguard the logistics tail and act as a reserve for the NATO-led forces in Kosovo itself. By the spring of 2000, during the course of its operations in Albania, AFOR had built or repaired over 200km of road, modernised Tirana Rinas airport and the airfields at Kukes and Korce, and greatly expanded the capacity of Durres as a port.55 In October 2001 there were still 2,400 NATO troops in Albania.56
The Albanian government did not object to this continued presence, far from it. Albanian leaders could see that the physical deployment of a NATO force on their territory would help to ensure the continuation of the security assurances given in the Statement on Kosovo, and confirmed at the NATO summit in Washington in April 1999. In Washington the NATO assurances had been specifically linked to potential acts of aggression against countries in the region hosting NATO forces. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that in the autumn of 1999 the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament should refer to his country as a ‘de facto ally’ of NATO and state that a ‘long term’ NATO military presence was desirable. Nor was it surprising that the then Prime Minister should say that his country was ‘open to the continuation of’ the deployment of NATO forces.57
The NATO military presence on the ground in Macedonia had predated that in Albania. From the autumn of 1998, troops from European NATO states had begun to arrive in the country. Officially their task was to serve as the Extraction Force (XFOR), in case the OSCE’s KVM got into trouble. There were doubts about the military utility of XFOR for the task at hand. It was pointed out that it was too small and poorly configured for the rescue of any but very small groups of OSCE personnel.58 Given also that the force was being deployed in a somewhat haphazard fashion, a case can be made that the primary purpose behind the deployments was political signalling. This represented a continuation of the approach adopted earlier in the year by NATO with the air and naval exercises in Albania and Macedonia. The intention was to send a deterrent message to Milosevic.
Understandably the Macedonian government, like its counterpart in Albania, wanted something concrete in return for agreeing to host this force; i.e. a specific reiteration of the security assurances from NATO which it had originally obtained in May 1998. This was forthcoming when Solana and Clark visited Macedonia in November of that year in order to secure the in-principle agreement of the Macedonians to the deployment of XFOR. The Macedonian Foreign Minister subsequently told his colleagues at a meeting of NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) – the PfP’s supervisory body – of ‘the expected support, on a mutual basis, that has been reaffirmed during the recent visit of Secretary General Solana and General Clark to our country’.59
The NATO XFOR did not have to be used for the mission for which it was initially designated, as the KVM was withdrawn without hindrance from Kosovo in early March 1999. Nevertheless the force remained based on Macedonian territory for the duration of Operation Allied Force and indeed its numbers grew. During the NATO air operation it performed similar roles to the parallel AFOR in providing accommodation and order for the thousands of Kosovar refugees who arrived in Macedonia. It was also to form the basis for the first deployments of KFOR in June. In the autumn of 2001, around 5,000 troops were still being maintained under NATO command in Macedonia in order to contribute to KFOR’s logistics tail and also to act as a reserve if required.60 The Macedonian government had welcomed these continuing deployments.
Going further, Macedonian co-operation with NATO in this area has been seen, by its political leaders, as valuable preparation for eventual NATO membership. This rationale was summed up by the Macedonian Foreign Minister in front of his EAPC colleagues at the end of 1999, when he spoke of:
the experience we are gaining through the co-operation with NATO and its member countries, as well as the Partners, particularly as a host country of the logistic base for the NATO peace forces in Kosovo, facilitating the largest part of the transit activities for the Kosovo peace operation and with the other activities and efforts … contribute to the continuous and substantial progress in our relations with NATO, which have thus gained a new quality.61
By early 2001 NATO and its member states, for their part, seemed to be becoming ever more deeply committed to Macedonia’s security. Following an outbreak of guerrilla activity by ethnic Albanians on the Kosovo-Macedonia border in March, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson stated that ‘I want to emphasise that NATO is fully committed to supporting the security, stability and territorial integrity of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’.62 These words were backed up by action. KFOR stepped up patrols on the Kosovo-Macedonia border with the aim of stopping Albanian guerrillas or their supplies from moving across it. By June 2001, 400 KFOR personnel were reportedly part of ‘Task Force Juno’ patrolling the border region.63 It was apropos of this task that KFOR’s US contingent had fired its first shots since deploying to Kosovo nearly two years previously.64
More generally, NATO co-operation with the Macedonian government was stepped up. Robertson announced that a ‘Senior Representative’ from NATO would be seconded to the Macedonian capital, where he subsequently established a ‘NATO Cooperation and Coordination Centre’. In May 2001, the NAC noted that ‘improved military coordination and the exchange of military information with the Ministries of Defence and Interior’ in Macedonia had also been established.65 Later, in the summer, a task force of several hundred troops from European NATO member states was deployed, on Operation Essential Harvest, to supervise the disarming of Albanian rebels as part of a political agreement with the Macedonian government. A follow-on NATO force remained in the country on Operation Amber Fox. In sum, by 2002 NATO had not only maintained but had further developed its significant relationship with the Macedonian government that had been begun during the Kosovo crisis. This relationship was, via the presence of the Senior Representative and other NATO officials and teams not to mention the military task forces, more overt and obvious than that which the institution maintained with many of its own member states.
Probably the strongest overall reason why NATO has become so deeply entangled in underwriting security and stability in South East Europe is because the institution and its member states believe that they have so much credibility tied up there. This sense pre-dates the Kosovo crisis and has been apparent since at least the summer of 1995. The stance of the United States has been crucial. Conventional accounts of the reasons why the Clinton administration decided to intervene actively in the Bosnian imbroglio in 1995, reversing previous American reticence, stress the importance of domestic politicking.66 Such accounts underestimate or ignore the importance, for the then President and his senior foreign policy advisers, of NATO’s credibility. That the very future of the institution was under threat if the Bosnian civil war was not stopped was clear to numerous observers during 1994 and early 1995, as evidenced by the number of pessimistic articles and commentaries which were being published at that time.67
The US-inspired NATO decision to launch Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia from late August 1995 was mainly brought about by American concern to demonstrate, to both internal and external audiences, the cohesion, strength and effectiveness of NATO. This can be gleaned simply by looking at the relevant official statements of the time. On 30 August 1995, for example, a statement issued in the name of the Secretary-General declared that a key objective behind the decision to launch the strikes was to ‘convince all parties of the determination of the Alliance to implement its decisions’. A similar statement issued a week later reiterated these words and added that ‘no-one can now doubt our resolve to see this matter through’.68
Following the Bosnian Serbs’ agreement to a ceasefire, and the opening of the negotiations for a peace deal in Dayton, Ohio in October 1995, NATO credibility remained a central part of the US agenda. Senior Clinton administration officials made public reference to it coupled, naturally, with references to how important the role of the US was in underpinning the credibility of NATO. The then Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, warned of ‘the end of NATO’ if the US was not prepared to help implement a Bosnian peace agreement by deploying troops on the ground. Then Defense Secretary William Perry, meanwhile, told a congressional committee that the successful implementation of an agreement would ‘demonstrate the credibility of NATO’. Finally the President himself, in a television broadcast to the American people designed to put pressure on Congress to acquiesce in the sending of US troops to Bosnia, said that ‘if we’re not there, NATO will not be there; the peace will collapse … and erode our partnership with our European allies’.69
Concerns about NATO’s credibility have proved enduring. Following the initial deployment of some 20,000 US troops from late 1995 as part of the Bosnian Implementation Force (IFOR), the Clinton administration successively extended the deployment period and effectively forgot about periodic assertions that US troops were only in Bosnia for a finite period of time. It was clear to some as early as the spring of 1996 that the NATO-led forces in Bosnia could not simply be withdrawn according to some pre-determined timetable. Doing so would ‘deal a blow to NATO’s long-term credibility, given the prestige it [had] invested in IFOR’.70
Various deadlines for US withdrawal were, therefore, effectively fudged by the Clinton administration (and by Congress), and this practice continued into the Bush administration. In late 2001 there were still 3,500 US troops in Bosnia.71 The Bush administration had gone quiet on previous ‘promises’ to seriously reduce or even eliminate the US military contribution to the NATO-led forces in both Bosnia and Kosovo.
The underlying robustness of commitments was demonstrated by the extent to which the NATO and US military presence remained essentially intact in the months following 11 September 2001. In the immediate aftermath, there was speculation that the Bush administration would denude its forces in South East Europe and give priority to the ‘war on terror’. In fact, the US presence was only marginally adjusted. Six months after 11 September, the number of US troops in Kosovo was 5,300, which was just 100 below the level of the previous October.72
In July 2002, over 1,000 US troops were airlifted into Kosovo in a major exercise designed, according to KFOR commanders, to demonstrate the continuing strength of American commitment; not just in terms of forces on the ground, but also with so called ‘over-the-horizon’ troops (i.e. rapidly-deployable reinforcements). This exercise was quickly followed by a visit from the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, USAF General Richard Myers. He declared that whilst the US did face a challenge in ‘trying to balance operations like here in the Balkans that is so vitally important in this region and the global war on terrorism’, nevertheless, ‘the Balkans is still a high priority with the US administration of President Bush’.73
Some have predicted that a NATO military presence in South East Europe will be required for ‘20 years or more’.74 This bears out the validity of the argument made by Lawrence Freedman back in 1995:
It is far easier to send troops in than to extricate them at a later date … By then, the credibility of the intervener and probably the sponsoring institution – the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, European Union, United Nations or NATO – will have been invoked. Reputation, or saving face, becomes an extra interest … the agonizing over a decision to admit failure and withdraw can be extremely intense.75
By the time the Kosovo crisis moved to the top of its agenda in 1998, NATO’s credibility was already significantly invested in South East Europe; most especially in the maintenance of the Bosnian settlement which it was policing.
In this context it was certainly no coincidence that the first substantive NATO Statement on Kosovo, in May 1998, should open by stating that:
We are deeply concerned by the situation in Kosovo. We deplore the continuing use of violence in suppressing political dissent or in pursuit of political change. The violence and the associated instability risk jeopardising the Peace Agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and endangering security and stability in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [emphasis added].76
Humanitarian concerns were mentioned in this statement, but the overall tone made clear that they were not of primary importance at the time. Rather, the worry was that unimpeded Serb activity in Kosovo might embolden both the Milosevic government in Belgrade and the Serbs in Bosnia to challenge the Dayton peace accords. Kosovo and Bosnia were linked together in the minds of many at NATO principally for this reason.
The preservation, or preferably enhancement, of NATO’s credibility in South East Europe constituted a key stated objective – one might say an additional war aim – for western leaders during Operation Allied Force. In this context, ‘credibility’ came to depend increasingly on two factors. The first was the obvious one of ‘winning’, in the sense of compelling Milosevic to comply with the various demands which NATO had formulated. The second was the vital means to this end; maintaining the cohesion and basic political and diplomatic unity of all NATO members (whether they contributed aircraft to Operation Allied Force or not) behind the overall objectives of the campaign.
The extent to which the preservation of NATO’s credibility became a distinct war aim in itself can be easily documented. For example, one week after the start of Operation Allied Force, Robin Cook was quoted as saying that ‘the whole credibility of NATO is at stake – not just loss of face after earlier commitments, but confidence in our own security. It is in the national British interest to maintain NATO’s credibility’. Shortly thereafter, Senator John McCain, an early challenger for the Republican presidential nomination in the United States, was quoted as saying that ‘credibility is our most precious asset [in this campaign]. We have purchased our credibility with American blood’.77 In the Pentagon’s After-Action Report on Kosovo operations, ‘ensuring NATO’s credibility’ was explicitly identified as being one of the ‘primary interests’ of the US and its allies in conducting operations.78 In May 2000, the British House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested that the humanitarian imperatives usually cited as the primary reason for the NATO intervention were at least partly a cover, to provide legitimacy for operations designed principally to underpin NATO’s credibility. NATO considered this cover necessary, in the Committee’s view, because ‘it is difficult to imagine a legal justification based upon the need to support any organisation’s credibility’.79
Former SACEUR Clark, finally, has provided a good rationale for the prime role that the institution’s credibility played in the calculations of NATO governments and leaders during the Kosovo crisis:
Once the threat surfaces … nations or alliances are committed. Following through to preserve credibility becomes a matter of vital interest. Credibility is the ultimate measure of value for states and international institutions. Inevitably, sacrificing credibility carries long-term consequences far greater than the immediate issue, whatever it is.80
In terms, first, of its internal workings, it would be over-simplistic to suggest that NATO’s performance during Operation Allied Force demonstrated that it ‘doesn’t work’ in a real crisis. To be sure, many of its formal decision-making structures and procedures were quickly downgraded or sidelined and informal methods developed in their stead. This, however, suggests that the real value of ‘NATO’ lies not so much in its physical structures and processes as in the social networks and habits of working together that have built up around them. The conduct of Operation Allied Force suggested that the latter can be separated from the formal institutional structures and still function effectively.
Sir Michael Alexander sat as the UK’s Permanent Representative on the NAC during the 1990–91 Gulf crisis. NATO was not formally involved in responding to this. Nevertheless, in Alexander’s view a key role in facilitating the response of the US and its European allies was played by the informal habits of co-operation developed around NATO’s structures. As he recalled:
What really mattered was the existence of the enormous and very robust network of contacts and relationships between capitals, between military commanders, between logisticians and so on. This meant that it was very easy for people to pick up the telephone and speak to somebody else whom they have known and been exercising with and so on over the years. The whole habit of working together is so deeply engrained that problems always seemed soluble, they always looked manageable.81
The same core NATO strengths were present, and utilised to ultimately successful effect, during Operation Allied Force nine years after the Gulf campaign.
Moving on to the external dimension, the term ‘enlargement by stealth’ may not, in the final analysis, be the most appropriate one to use to describe what has been happening because of its inherently conspiratorial connotations. It implies that the institution and its member states have had some kind of secret and sinister plan to extend its boundaries and power as far as possible throughout Europe. In reality, however, NATO has been sucked into a progressively wider and deeper involvement in South East Europe on an incremental, ad hoc and crisis-led basis.
Perhaps, therefore, the process could better be described as ‘informal’ or ‘virtual’ NATO enlargement. Albania and Macedonia have been given security assurances in the context of a NATO presence in the region that seems set to endure. The Kosovo crisis, whilst it did not initiate the process of NATO engagement in South East Europe, was nevertheless instrumental in spawning the security assurances that have been given. The preceding crisis in Bosnia had produced no corresponding assurances.
Overall, its response to the crisis in Kosovo revealed more about NATO’s underlying strengths as a highly interdependent and co-operative security community, than it did about its apparent structural limitations. This explains why the crisis has not led directly to much in the way of structural reform or change at NATO. The crisis, which some had suggested might lead to the debilitation, or even demise, of NATO instead seems to have reinforced and further entrenched its status as the core institution underpinning post-Cold War security in the wider Europe.