April 1, 1999

MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS

FROM: WILLIAM KRISTOL

SUBJECT: Kosovo and NATO

Let's be clear: If NATO does not win in Kosovo, it will be the end of NATO as an effective alliance.
NATO was created to defend against the threat posed by the Soviet Union to the liberal democracies of the West. With the demise of the Soviet empire, NATO's overriding strategic purpose — consolidating European democracy and security — had to be adapted to new circumstances. The expansion of the alliance into Central Europe, which conservatives supported, was one aspect of that adaptation. But equally important was the need to reshape NATO into a force capable of keeping the peace and maintaining a liberal order beyond the alliance's boundaries, and especially in areas on NATO's doorstep.

Milosevic's war on the Albanians of Kosovo has presented NATO with its first significant challenge in the post-Cold War era. Milosevic's assault puts at risk not only the stability of a part of Europe but also the alliance's implicit commitment not to tolerate the spread of brutal forms of rule on the continent. If NATO cannot meet this challenge and defeat it, the question is: why does the alliance still exist? If the alliance defines itself as strictly defensive, and of no value until threatened by a revitalized Russian superpower, it will define itself out of existence. No such threat is likely to emerge for many years, if not decades. In the interim, NATO would have no purpose at all. NATO will not continue to exist on that basis.

The reality is, Milosevic and the Yugoslavian armed forces he heads are not capable of holding up against the power of NATO — if NATO is serious about winning. The problem is that neither NATO nor the Clinton Administration is serious. The air campaign has been carried out in slow motion and with limited strategic purpose. That fact, when combined with the administration's pre-emptive announcement that no ground forces will be used, has reinforced Milosevic's view that he, not NATO, is in the driver's seat and will be able to dictate the final resolution of the conflict.

NATO is scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary this month. It will be ludicrous to do so if the alliance has failed to defeat decisively a murderous but relatively weak dictator in Europe. A number of leading conservatives — Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle, Bob Dole, John McCain, Richard Lugar — fully comprehend this fact. Conservatives who have hesitated about
supporting military action because they have doubts about the president's ability to carry out a serious policy should understand that the implications of NATO's defeat are now far greater than the issue of whether the administration's team of national security advisors is competent. If conservatives are interested in preserving the most important strategic alliance in history, they cannot sit this crisis out. They must insist that the president take whatever steps are necessary, including the introduction of ground troops, to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo. And, ultimately, our goal must be to drive Milosevic out of power.

If we accept anything less than a victory, NATO will cease to be a serious alliance. Conservatives may believe that their opposition to the president on Kosovo is not isolationist; but they must understand that the consequences of their position will be profoundly so if NATO does not win this war. The conservative view should be that articulated by Sen. McCain: we’re in it, now we must win it.