March 2, 2000



SUBJECT: NATO and Kosovo

Yesterday was quite a day for American leadership in NATO. First, the Washington Post reported (“American Troops in Kosovo Restricted to U.S. Sector,” Robert Suro, p. A18) that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, had ordered NATO's commander-in-chief, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, not to use U.S. troops assigned to one sector of Kosovo to assist other NATO forces in adjacent areas. This came on the heels of Gen. Clark's recent decision to deploy a U.S. troop contingent to a French controlled-sector of Kosovo to help control a confrontation between Serbs and Albanians in city of Mitrovica. Then, in a meeting of senior administration officials (Secretary of State Albright, Defense Secretary Cohen, Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton and others) and a bipartisan group of senators (Senators Warner, Lugar, Biden, Lieberman, and others) late yesterday, the main topics of discussion were the administration’s upcoming request for an “emergency” supplemental appropriations for military operations in Kosovo -- and the senators’ demand, in return, for an “exit strategy” for ending American involvement there.

Gen. Shelton’s order sets a significant precedent. It calls into question NATO’s ability to operate under an integrated command structure, undermines the authority of our own allied commander in theater, and signals our NATO partners that we will put our own safety and concerns over and above the overall mission. It is hard to imagine that Washington’s timidity will not be thrown back at Gen. Clark -- or his replacement, Gen. Joseph Ralston -- the next time the American commander requests an allied force for some military task that might possibly incur casualties.

Compounding the problem, of course, is the failure of the White House and Congress to take seriously what is required to succeed in Kosovo. Having undertaken a major military campaign there, NATO has an important stake in seeing the mission carried through to a successful conclusion, even if that means establishing a decade-long presence in Kosovo and the Balkans. By constantly looking for a way out of Kosovo, and treating the issue of stability and security in the Balkans as though it were a temporary “emergency,” we are concocting a recipe for continuing instability in the region and encouraging Slobodan Milosevic to hope he can ultimately win by outlasting the Americans.