The Independent—23 April 1999

War in the Balkans - How troops can win armed peace

Gerald Segal

For Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, the question is no longer whether ground troops will fight their way through Kosovo, but how best to do it. Greek, Italian and even French Nato allies may slow up and water down the strategy, but it increasingly looks like Nato is finally ready to fight seriously. How can they succeed?

As Nato planners ponder the answer, the military professionals will want something that seems an impossible dream - the element of surprise. In the Gulf War in 1991 the allies' "left hook" instead of a frontal assault provided just such war-winning surprise. The best way to surprise President Milosevic is to play to his prejudices about Nato.

Milosevic and many pundits expect Nato to methodically build up massive forces, mostly through Albania. The Serbs can be counted on to believe the cautious American post-Cold War doctrine that if you are going to fight, you need to fight with overwhelming superiority. Thus it is a decent bet that Nato will be able to lean on their Greek colleagues to allow heavy equipment to come up via Thessaloniki through Macedonia. Nato will also want to keep Serbia from sending reinforcements into Kosovo and so will need to build up forces in Hungary. Now that the Czechs and Slovaks have agreed for Nato forces to come by road from Germany to Hungary, we can expect some high-profile convoys with Kate Adie on the lead tank.

Milosevic may not believe we would dare drive to Belgrade, but a bogus leaked planning document to the Washington Post might be enough to sow serious doubt.

One might even hear stories of Romania and Bulgaria engaged in "secret" talks with Nato officials about massing their forces under a Nato air umbrella in order to add to Milosevic's paranoia. The US will bring its 101st Air Assault Division to Brindisi, 130 miles across the Adriatic in Italy and Marines will mass in Italy and at sea. If Milosevic pushes his luck in browbeating the Montenegrins, one even might see reports of Nato forces operating clandestinely in order to at least neutralise another potentially dangerous flank.

The purpose of all this movement will be to keep Serbia guessing about what form the attack will take. In the meantime, all the activity, real or imagined, will force the Serbs to take their tanks out of the forests and barns and present a better target. Nato Special Forces will begin to operate in significant numbers in Kosovo and all the while Nato will brief the world about the difficulties in bringing in 200,000 or even 300,000 troops. Jamie Shea will not be displeased to see unrefuted talk of rifts in Nato and appalling hold-ups in the flow of supplies.

And then, just when you thought Nato was less than half way towards its goal of bringing 200,000 troops into the theatre, the strike would come.

Marines at sea, the Air Assault troops and ground forces from Macedonia and Albania would lead the way. With the military professionals rather than the cautious politicians in charge, even Nato airpower might redeem some of its reputation for a devastating force. With a bit of luck most of the strike force will be home by autumn, replaced by the more squeamish Nato allies, and perhaps even some Russians. Then the politicians can be left to see if they can avoid losing the long, armed peace to come.

Gerald Segal is Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies

in London.