Center for Strategic Decision Research


Assessing NATO’s Operations in Kosovo

Mr. John J. Hamre
Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States

The spring of 1999 was a very difficult time for the Alliance. It was a time when we witnessed one of the very darkest periods in history. We feared that the century would end the way so much of it was lived, with the terrible stain of ethnic cleansing. But, as Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi said, free democratic societies in Europe could not sit by and watch such atrocities be carried out on the very doorstep of Europe. The Alliance and its ideals pulled this disparate group of countries together during this very difficult time, and met the very serious test that it was faced with.

Many in Washington wondered how long the Alliance could stay together—after all, the 19 members are very different countries, whose governments span the gamut from conservative to centrist to socialist to green. How could an Alliance of such diverse states stay together? Would it be possible? But it was possible, because of the very profound central ideals and goals NATO countries all share: democracy, freedom, opportunity, human rights. These are the very important underpinnings that held the Alliance together throughout the very stressful times. And these ancient yet relevant and fresh ideas still imbue us with hope and courage and convictions, and for that we should be very proud.

As General Clark said, we have now begun the important process of reviewing the Kosovo operations, or, in military terms, the “after action assessment.” This is a very important thing for us to do. Kosovo is now free of the Serbian army and the secret police. But the very difficult task of reconstruction has just started. There will be hard days, but we cannot step aside and let our military accomplishments be undercut by not following through with the very important commitment that we have.


First, it is very clear that NATO can fight a war. We did. I share everyone’s applause for the tremendous job General Clark did, for the tremendous job Admiral Ellis did, and for all the officers and enlisted personnel who fought to bring peace to Kosovo. But I think that it is also clear that the Alliance that designed its decisionmaking structure around 50 years of political consensus-building struggled with the difficult problem of going to war. Some of the countries in the Alliance felt that they had been cut out of the decisionmaking and did not know what was going on. Other countries in the Alliance felt that their actions were impeded by the political requirement to develop a consensus when everyone knew what the military requirement would be. Clearly, there were tensions, obvious tensions. These are problems that we have to work through. None of us wants another Kosovo war. None of us wants to have to go to war again, but clearly we must work through the difficult problem of wartime command and control in this organization that was really designed for peacetime consensus-building. This is one of the challenges that I hope will be worked on in this conference.

A second lesson that was learned is that people in Europe want to have a stronger independent capability to conduct military operations in Europe. We understand that, and the U.S. government supports that. But it is important to note that political will alone will not make the difference; investing and fighting on the ground are what make the difference. If you do not buy the equipment it takes to wage war, you are not going to have the independent course of action and flexibility that you seek. Beyond statements of will, real actions on the ground must be accommodated if there is to be a stronger, more independent European capability to conduct operations such as Kosovo.

A third lesson is that the Alliance needs to look strongly at the kind of military capability we know we will need in the future. Secretary Cohen has spoken about this before. Clearly we must start investing in mobility resources. The earlier we get to the fight, the fewer forces we are going to need in the long run. We are going to have to invest in better command and control and communications capabilities. One point that is beginning to emerge is that counter-intelligence has to be an integral part of command and control and communications. I think we were all startled at how the Alliance was penetrated by opponents who were able to find out a great deal about our activities, through both electronic means and human means. This is a genuine problem we are going to have to work on together.

The fourth lesson we learned is that the Alliance is going to have to work on sustainability questions. Many people have asked, “Could we have kept the political consensus together for a significant period of time beyond the 78 days?” We should also ask, “Could everyone have kept up the physical fight dramatically longer?” I think there are very serious questions about sustainability that have to be evaluated.


I would like to say, because so many people are here from the defense industry:  I think Kosovo air operations demonstrated the enormous power of bringing science to the terrible business of going to war. There was criticism in the U.S. about collateral damage. But the degree of precision in this air operation is unprecedented. During the 11-week period, the Alliance flew 34,000 sorties and dropped tens of thousands of bombs; about 500 innocent civilians were killed. We regret every bit of that. But I would remind everyone that during the 11-week Normandy invasion, 30,000 innocent French civilians were killed. The science of warfare has allowed us to dramatically minimize collateral damage and to protect our soldiers, our sailors, marines, and pilots. As a side point to this, let me say that, when I hear people talk about holding the Alliance together and whether the U.S. is outstripping our Allies in terms of technical capability, I believe that will happen if all of Europe together spends only half of what the United States does every year on research and development. We will not be able to stay together over time as an Alliance unless there is stronger spending on research and development.


Let me also speak briefly about industrial cooperation. I know that there are very strong sentiments in Europe for building a European pillar first, one that can compete against the U.S. later. I honestly believe that it would be terrible for Europe and the U.S. to go their separate ways. I think we are at a crossroads: one path leads us to build two independent pillars and we pretend to compete against each other. I will tell you right now that you cannot compete in the United States unless you are in the United States. And if there is a European pillar, you cannot compete in Europe against each other unless you are in Europe. The only way that we, as Allies, will grow together is if we find ways for our industries to compete and cooperate. I am not being self-righteous about this. There is no fortress stronger than Fortress America when it comes to competition. Frankly, we were so big that we had the luxury of just closing our doors and having only internal competition. But I think those days are ending and I think there is so much talent and expertise in Europe that we would be cheating ourselves in the U.S. if we kept the doors shut. But I will also say that Europe will not be able to have a competitive industrial base unless it finds ways to bring the U.S. in. So industrial cooperation is very, very important to focus on.


I would like to conclude with a tribute to the remarkable people who have made the Alliance’s accomplishments possible: our fighting forces and all of you who, over your lifetimes, your professional careers, have committed so much to the Alliance’s vitality. Many in my country said that it would be a great mistake to enlarge NATO, that it would water it down. I think we have demonstrated very clearly that this Alliance can grow, that it can expand and still fight as an organization. The Alliance did not become weaker. We were able to get through Kosovo and, frankly, grow from the experience.

I believe the very famous speech that is attributed to Henry V, given on the fields of Azincourt, is a fitting way to conclude. Henry V said to his comrades, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he this day who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” That has been our experience these last months as an Alliance, and I am very proud and very pleased to look at all of you and say: We are brothers.


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