Center for Strategic Decision Research


Kosovo Assessment: Planning for the Next Crisis

The Rt Hon Michael Portillo
Former Secretary of State for Defense of the United Kingdom

NATO won in Kosovo. Congratulations to all concerned on a great job, and congratulations to Hungary on the part it played. And what a relief! If we are honest with one another, we know it was a very difficult experience; many things were unsatisfactory, we could not be sure of winning, and we certainly did not know when victory would come.


What can we do to make things work better in the future?

First, let us dare to plan for the next event. Four years ago, when NATO went into Bosnia, we all thought that Kosovo would be next. But we did not adopt or implement a plan to deal with it. Foreign Minister Mihailova of Bulgaria was right when she said that we came too late to avoid a humanitarian tragedy. I was a minister until 1997, so I share in the blame.

Some people at this Workshop, including Hungarian Prime Minister Órban, have said that Vojvodina will be next. Do we have a plan? Have we decided on a political direction so that we may prepare and therefore perhaps avert another round of killing? Humanitarian considerations apart, it is also much more cost-effective to avoid war than to wage it and later pay for reconstruction.

In the case of Bosnia, NATO went in promising to withdraw within a year. That promise undermined the process of nation-building. You cannot expect refugees to return home if they think that NATO is here today and gone tomorrow. We have to be ready to commit to Kosovo for the long term—and to Bosnia too—in order to provide their peoples with confidence in a lasting peace. The marginal cost of keeping troops in Kosovo rather than Germany or Britain is a small price to pay.

We are now in the uncomfortable position of having left open to chance a matter of critical importance to our success. If Mr. Milosevic remains in place, it will be difficult for the refugees to return, unreasonable to ask the Kosovo Albanians to live within the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, and impossible to encourage the men and women who believe in democracy and peace to show themselves above the parapet. In short, we do not know whether Mr. Milosevic will continue in office or not, but if he does when we meet again next year, he may appear as Saddam does today, victorious in defeat. At the least we should arrest Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. As long as they are free, the people of Republika Srbska will assume that they will be back in power one day.


When I was a minister I was struck with the fact that we discussed enlargement and restructuring but did not ask what NATO was there to do and what forces it needed to do it with. General Rupert Smith briefed the Workshop on some dismal facts: the Alliance is short of key capabilities; General Smith has no statement of requirement; and he believes political interference by nations has extended to operational matters. We also heard from Ambassador Vershbow that, unfortunately, the recent EU communiqué on ESDI did not include any reference to NATO’s Defense Capabilities Initiative.

It seems to me that we ought now to be facing the consequences of the two operations in which we are involved in Kosovo and Bosnia. The NATO Secretary General and SACEUR are in a strong position to define their requirements, including the devolution of the authority necessary to run the operations effectively and to minimize the risk to our servicemen and women.

I do not know how it is now, but it used to be that at the meetings of Defense Ministers we rushed through agenda items that had to do with requirements, forces, and capabilities as though they were of no interest. If Defense Ministers are not focused on our shortfalls, there is no hope of changing the attitude of member-governments. I was delighted with the presentation here on ballistic missile defense. Both in the Workshop and in NATO generally, we need more hard-edged presentations and discussions about threats and capabilities.


Attending this Workshop, I have been struck by how NATO has adapted. It used to be that NATO was an Alliance based on defending territory and the Article 5 guarantee. Now it says it exists to defend not territory but values. I do not dissent. But to say we will defend values, which may be attacked anywhere—even well out of area, is a very significant increase in our remit. Our aspirations and our rhetoric have expanded as our resources have shrunk. Politicians need to be confronted with this paradox.


I would like to conclude with a few wide-ranging points. First, let us not forget the big picture. Although nuclear proliferation continues apace, the media scarcely mentions it. We spent $6 trillion on nuclear deterrence, but it seems we should be spending much more than we do today on buying up nuclear stockpiles and attracting nuclear scientists away from countries that are acquiring nuclear weapons. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry’s work on preventive defense has made a valuable contribution to this debate.

Second, China’s reaction to the bombing of its embassy was belligerent and hostile. We must work to prevent confrontation between the U.S. and China, but that situation was a reminder that the future as well as the past may be characterized by Great Power rivalry.

Last, the Asia-Pacific area looks less stable than it used to, from Korea to Indonesia. It may be that the U.S. will find itself drawn toward its security interests in the Pacific and away from Europe. That would certainly give us Europeans a lot to think about. We would not just need a European Defense Identity, we would actually need a European defense capability.


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