General Wesley K. Clark served as supreme allied commander of NATO from 1997 to 2000 and directed the allied war effort in Kosovo in 1999. What lessons has General Clark drawn from the war over Kosovo? How should the use of force be applied in an era of competing demands from the public, domestic political leaders, and international allies? Did this war prove that the United States can rely on technology to apply force without casualties, or did it prove that ground troops, now as ever, are critical to achieving military objectives?
Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, Modern War. The lessons of the NATO War against Yugoslavia with a man who commanded the war, General Wesley Clark.
Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.
Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, Modern War. Military commanders have always faced agonizing choices of course. In centuries past, these choices were primarily strategic, how best to deploy men and materiel. In recent times however, commanders have found themselves forced to take into account other extra strategic considerations. Consider, for example, General Douglas McArthur, a hero of World War I and World War II, and a General of the old strategic school. In Korea however, General McArthur found himself forced to take into account not only strategy, but politics. In this he failed running afoul of President Harry Truman. Truman, concerned that McArthur might provoke a large-scale war with China, fired the General. Today commanders have to take even more extra strategic matters into account. Not only the views of their political leaders but of the American public which has grown intolerant of casualties, the mass media with its 24-hour a day news cycle, the attention of and pressure from leaders from around the world. How is a modern commander to cope?
With us today, General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 1997 to 2000. General Clark directed the NATO war effort against Yugoslavia in 1999. He is the author of a recent book that takes up the role of the modern commander, Waging Modern War.
Title: The Road to Kosovo
Peter Robinson: General Clark, you yourself write that in Operation Allied Force, and I'm quoting you to yourself, "the NATO alliance and its member nations were not under attack. This war wasn't about national survival or the survival of democratic systems of government," close quote. Yet the United States and our NATO allies rained bombs on Serbia for some seventy days, seventy-seven days was the length of the campaign. We killed--correct me on these figures by the way, because they're--look at the Internet, there are figures all over the place--as I make it out, the deaths were some five thousand Serb military and five hundred Serb civilian. Close?
General Clark: We've never really heard what the Serb military deaths were. I--I have no idea. The figures that were released officially by the Serb military were like five hundred sixty-three, but I don't trust those figures…
Peter Robinson: Okay, I got these figures…
General Clark: …I think about five hundred civilian deaths…
Peter Robinson: That sounds right.
General Clark: …I believe, and that's been checked.
Peter Robinson: And some thousands of Serb military, would sound right to you?
General Clark: I would say, you know, and--and, killed and wounded.
Peter Robinson: The question is what made this war a just war?
General Clark: Well, this first of all, was an operation under taken to reinforce diplomacy. And when we began looking at the situation in early '98, it was clear that Milosevic was going to follow through with the campaign of ethnic cleansing, unless we put two things in front of him. First a diplomatic process that was attractive enough to dissuade him, and second, a strong, negative incentive if he didn't move toward the diplomatic process.
Peter Robinson: And if he…
General Clark: And that was the NATO air threat.
Peter Robinson: …if he had been given free reign, the campaign of eth--ethnic cleansing would have redu--would have done what? Simply emptied Kosovo of ethnic Albanians?
General Clark: I think it would have over a period of a couple years emptied Kosovo. I think Milosevic--Milosevic always operated on multiple opportunities, multiple options, he never committed till the last possible minute. He's a very shrewd, calculating guy. But he had several hundred thousand Serb refugees from the Krajina and from Bosnia-Herzegovina who were really causing problems inside Serbia. It would have been his dream, and the dream of all Serb nationals to have retaken their ancestral, supposedly, home of Kosovo. And…
Peter Robinson: By clearing out the Albanian's…
General Clark: Exactly.
Peter Robinson: …and resettling several hundred thousand ethnic Serbians.
General Clark: Exactly. Now I have no--no documents to prove that. It's just a sort of--it's this sort of nationalist dream that takes hold in the Balkans. And so he started this campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanians in the spring and summer of 1998, and I was warned about it and I was warned by President Gligorov of Macedonia who I had known previously.
Peter Robinson: Good intentions aside, was the war in Kosovo a legitimate use of NATO forces?
Title: The West at War
Peter Robinson: What's taking place in Serbia, in Yugoslavia, between Serbia, Kosovo, is taking place within the territory of a single nation. There is no grounds for suspecting that Milosevic is going to invade or attack any member of NATO, so the question is under what construction of the NATO treaty could Operation Allied Force possibly have been legitimate?
General Clark: Well there are different standards for the--different sources for legitimacy, and first you have to look at international law and then you have to look within NATO itself. So let's go to international law first.
Peter Robinson: Right.
General Clark: Under international law, under the United Nations charter, nations are supposed to treat their citizens in certain ways--and this was ratified further at Helsinki. Nations also then unite in passing resolutions of the Security Council which authorize member states to do certain activities. And so in the--as--as the United Nations looked at the emerging ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, they did pass U.N. Security Council Resolution 1199, which called on Milosevic to reduce his force levels in Kosovo to those prior to the beginning of the crisis to halt the activities against the Albanians, and it called using the authorities of Chapter 7, for member states to use all necessary means to address the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. Now all necessary means is U.N. code word for the use of force.
Peter Robinson: Right.
General Clark: In addition to which, under NATO authorities, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is collective defense. But Article 4 is actions during a crisis. This didn't fall under Article 5, this isn't one of the so-called Article 4 situations. There was a crisis in Europe, there was a crisis threatening regional stability. If Milosevic had carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing, he would have--by its implications, it would have unraveled the agreement that we had in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It would have threatened to re-ignite conflict there. It would have also sent waves of refugees into Macedonia and Albania, threatening the stability of the government of Macedonia. That in turn, would have put pressures on Bulgaria and Greece and Italy. And so, did NATO have a right--did these nations have a right to act in their own self interest to head off a regional crisis, or to take action against it as it was unfolding? It seems to me that under…
Peter Robinson: You've just beautifully set up my next question.
General Clark: …it's a necessity, you have to do this.
Peter Robinson: You just set up my next question which is from the American point of view, what justified our involvement in this operation, because the scenario that you just outlined is an extremely good argument for why Europeans should have been intently concerned with what was going on. It's not quite as direct an argument for why a taxpayer in Kansas should see some of his funds going to supporting Americans in Europe attacking Serbs.
General Clark: It's the key issue of the post Cold War world. Now, in a narrow sense, the reason that we were involved here is because we had troops on the ground in Bosnia. We were commanding the mission in Bosnia. The mission in Bosnia was jeopardized by the activities of Milosevic in Kosovo. If the Serbs campaign of ethnic cleansing had succeeded in Kosovo, it would have super-charged the atmosphere in Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs, the hard liners, the war criminals would have come out of the woodwork, and they would have undercut our efforts to implement the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia. But more fundamentally, we're the leaders of NATO, we set up NATO, it's our organization. As the French Ambassador told me once sitting in my office, he says, "NATO is yours," he said, "you'll never leave it, you lead it, you use it, it's yours." It is. And NATO's only operation was in the Balkans. If NATO is not successful in dealing with the security challenges in Europe, what does NATO exist for? And so the Unites States as the leading member of NATO, could hardly stand back when European security was challenged. And now let me take you to the third level on this.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
General Clark: Europe is a vital interest of the United States. Europe, four hundred, five hundred million people define--depending on how you define its borders. A GDP as large as our own. It's a continent that we fought two World War's over in the twentieth century to ensure that it wasn't dominated by a power hostile to our aims. With Europe, the United States is a maj--the major, the dominant influence in world diplomacy today. Europe is two votes on the Security Council, it's our trading partners, it's a source of capitol, it's the people who most share our values in the world. We have to remain engaged with Europe. And that means anything that affects Europe affects us, and therefore, we have to be there with them.
Peter Robinson: Lets turn to the lessons of Operation Allied Force. First for the American command structure.
Title: The Longest Delay
Peter Robinson: There are passages in your book in which you just seethe, just seethe, and the people you're angry at are your own colleagues back in Washington. Joint Chief's of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and you argue that they repeatedly obstructed your efforts to prosecute this war, undermined your efforts--for--just to bring the viewers into this story, just tell one--give us one example, the trouble you had getting the Apache helicopters. Describe that incident.
General Clark: Well actually the Apache's were suggested to me by the Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, Hugh Shelton.
Peter Robinson: All right.
General Clark: And he said, could you use them? I said, well, yes, I'll take a look at them. It's a basic rule, when you're a commander, and you have a military problem and somebody offers you resources, you try to use those resources. And it's your job as a commander to use them correctly, not to have them destroyed, not to put them in excessive risk, not to misuse them, but, you know, if they're going to offer you the resources, you're going to try to use them. So we took a look at it, I said yes I'd like to use them. He said well just send me in a concept paper. I sent in a concept paper, it was, I think the day before we started the campaign, or two days before we started the campaign. Didn't hear anything for a couple days. I thought I'd get a call back the next day saying okay, got it, you know, you're ready to go. Nothing happened. I--three or four days I called, I said look, you know, what's happening. The Staff said, we don't understand your concept. I said, what don't you understand about the concept, I mean, they take off from friendly territory, they fly over enemy lines, and they use their long range missiles at night against enemy forces in the rear, I mean, that's the doctrine of the Apache. And they've got all the support they need, the Command and Control, I mean, what's not to understand. They said, well, we need more details. So this delayed it--we put in a much more detailed package. This is basic doctrine…
Peter Robinson: And this was after the campaign had already begun?
General Clark: This is after the campaign has begun. This is we're actually in…
Peter Robinson: In battle.
General Clark: …and--and--and their--so finally about seven days into the campaign, I still haven't gotten an answer on this and it just so happens that the Secretary of Defense calls and I talk to the Secretary and as we finish the main reason why he called, I say, Mr. Secretary I need your help on these Apaches. And it's been back there--we're seven days, eight days into the war and I still don't have an answer on them. And he says I don't know anything about it. I said but your staff has it, they're sitting on it back there. So he says, I'll check on that. So two nights later I have a video teleconference. The Army comes up with twenty-four reasons why the Apache shouldn't be used in Kosovo. And they range everything from, gee, you know, they're painted green and they might give people the impression that we're going into a ground war to there's no targets, how could they get over the mountains, the pilots might not be ready to go. I mean, they--they range from soup to nuts. And we eventually did get the Apaches deployed, but not without a lot of delay. And as a result of the video teleconference, the Army pressures caused the task force to grow from about eighteen hundred people to about five thousand five hundred people. As various people suggested to the Army, well aren't you worried about this and don't you need back-up on this, and do you have enough of this--and so what could have been a ten day deployment turned into a thirty day deployment.
Peter Robinson: Were the difficulties that General Clark encountered the result of a poor command structure, or of legitimate conflicts over national security?
Title: A Third Wheel
Peter Robinson: You write throughout the campaign the Pentagon was distracted by its preference for focusing on North East Asia and the Persian Gulf, part of the National Military Strategy. Let me try putting this construction on it. It occurred to me as I read your book that they treated you as the odd man out because you were the odd man out. All of you had sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. Back at the Pentagon, they insisted on focusing on what could become genuine threats to this republic, and there's Clark over there, running an operation that involves chiefly European interests, he's got to get his plans approved by everybody--I mean he's passing stuff to the people from Luxemburg for goodness sake, they've got to clear on stuff before he acts, this is just not a direct threat--it's a side show. In their minds at some level, they're a sideshow. And what I'm suggesting is that in some sense, they were right.
General Clark: Well they were correct in--in a way, in the sense that the U.S. military command structure is really not set up to work with our Allies. And this is continuing to come out today as you continue to hear these sort of leaks of unilateralism coming out of the United States. And there's no doubt about it, people in the Armed Forces believe that we've got the best Armed Forces in the world. We do. Nobody else can hold a candle to us. And so if we bring our allies in, their equipment's inferior, they're probably not as well trained, and, you know, it's a--it's nice to be proud of your own organization, but the simple fact is that for reasons of national strategy and diplomacy and influence in the world and shaping the world the way we want it to be shaped, we have to operate with allies. And the Pentagon command structure was set up fundamentally to operate unilaterally. So there wasn't any way to feed in Allied concerns to the Committee of the Joint Chief's of Staff who sat in judgment on these requests. A lot of discussion during the war about war by committee, and people say, oh, this is bad, you know, there should be a commander in charge, not a war by--and they blamed NATO, but the committee wasn't NATO. The constraints imposed by the Committee of the Joint Chief's of Staff were more worrisome to the conduct of the war then the constraints imposed by having to coordinate with other countries…
Peter Robinson: Second-guessing the (?) committee sitting in the Pentagon.
General Clark: Exactly.
Peter Robinson: Now, so what's the lesson?
General Clark: Well the lesson is, I think that we've got to have a new way of looking at the world. The threat is really over. We still need armed forces who can defend America and--and fight and win wars is we should happen to get into them but the Cold War's over. There's no real threat to America in terms of a hostile ideology is trying to destroy us today. We're unchallengeable. This is a time when we should be supporting our allies, helping our friends working to reinforce those that share our values. It should be an opportunity based strategy rather then a threat based strategy and we need the chain of command in the armed forces and inside the Pentagon to be able to focus on those opportunities. Not just react to threats…
Peter Robinson: Does Operation Allied Force suggest that from now on, the United States ought to be able to use military force without incurring casualties?
Title: We Don't Need Another Hero
Peter Robinson: Military strategist Edward Luttwak has said that he believes the Pentagon should now face the implication of what he calls, interesting term, the Post Heroic Age. Comfortable Americans simply will not permit the government to sacrifice their children in wars, says Luttwak. And you showed how it can be done. We took two casualties in Operation Allied Force and both of them took place in an accident, you didn't lose a single soldier in combat. Not one. And we could even, I've--it occurred to me in reading your book, we could even codify a Three Point Clark Doctrine. Refuse to accept casualties, employ high tech weaponry, and destroy from a distance.
General Clark: Well I--I think what we've found is…
Peter Robinson: Is that your lesson?
General Clark: It isn't actually the lesson.
Peter Robinson: All right.
General Clark: As a matter of fact, we saw in this campaign more of the limits of air power than the achievements of air power. When air--when an air campaign starts it starts with a--with a raw--a big outburst of enthusiasm and a lot of coercive pressure. The most obvious targets are attacked. Public attention is mobilized. You see the pictures of the F-16's taking off with the afterburners and all the missiles hanging under their wings, and you think, by God this thing's going to be over. But if you don't deliver the knock out blow, and in this case Milosevic didn't roll over and--and surrender the first night--on the third night, the weather turned bad, on the fourth night the F-117 was shot down and we lost all our targets, by the fifth night and sixth night, it was clear we weren't going to deliver a knock out blow. We had to start preparing for greater coercive pressure. We needed to get those Apaches in there so we could attack the ground forces more directly, and we had to start thinking seriously about what would happen if the air campaign wasn't enough. And so we had to move toward a ground operation. By the end of the campaign at the seventy-day point, it was clear that we had a major divergence between the United States and our European Allies. The United States believed in strategic bombing. It did in World War II, it did it to others, never suffered it. Europe were the victims of strategic bombing--and by the way, World War II strategic bombing really wasn't very effective as we discovered at the end of the war. Killed a lot of people, really not much of an impact on war production in Germany. And so the result of this was that the Europeans wanted us to focus on the Serb forces, the Americans wanted to focus on Milosevic's industrial capacity, the electricity and other things. And we had about reached the fork in the road in which the two arms of the strategy were totally incompatible.
Peter Robinson: Right.
General Clark: The only way we could go forward was by moving to sets of targets that carried greater risks of higher numbers of innocent civilian casualties in Yugoslavia. And nobody wanted to do that. It was time…
Peter Robinson: The only way you could pursue the air campaign was by doing that.
General Clark: Right. Right. And so it was time to find another coercive instrument. This is why I pressed so hard for being able to prepare for a ground invasion. Because once we--once Milosevic recognized that he wasn't going to get assistance from Russia, that he couldn't stop the air campaign, and that we were preparing a ground operation against his forces in Kosovo, where we would actually come in through Albania and Macedonia, and destroy his army, he knew he was finished. He picked the last possible moment to get out and still save his neck.
Peter Robinson: Your judgment then is that the air campaign roughed him up, but it was the threat of war on the ground that caused him to fold up.
General Clark: That's right.
Peter Robinson: And so the lesson for the American public is?
General Clark: Don't ever commit the prestige of the United States of America unless you intend to follow through to success. You have to have the resolve and the leadership that once you start, your adversaries have to understand it's going to be relentless, and their defeat is inevitable.
Peter Robinson: So, the Gulf War, in which we had very few casualties and inflicted massive damage on the enemy, and the campaign that you commanded in which we suffered no casualties in battle, and again achieved our objectives, these are not--Americans ought not to get the notion--these are a pattern for wars to come.
General Clark: I--I don't think…
Peter Robinson: Did we get lucky in some sense?
General Clark: …I don't think that we're going to see a return to World War I trench warfare. I think in modern society, we're always going to be sensitive to casualties, not only our casualties but the enemy's causalities. The lesson of modern warfare is that politics and the military and diplomacy are much more intertwined then they've ever been in the past. Generals have to understand that they're not going to be given an unrestrained freedom to do whatever they want in the battlefield. Politicians have to understand that the military's going to come to them and ask them to escalate and achieve dominance, and they're going to have to swallow hard and take some risks that they'd rather not take. And it means that much greater dialogue and peacetime preparation is needed between the two communities so there's more understanding.
Peter Robinson: Let's return to NATO…
Peter Robinson: Our final topic: The big picture. Why is the United States still so heavily involved in Europe?
Title: Somebody to Lean On
Peter Robinson: We began spending billions of dollars a year to defend Europe, when Europe was on its back economically, in the aftermath of the Second World War. We put tens of thousands of American troops in Western Europe at a time when the Soviet Union had tens of thousands of Soviet troops in Eastern Europe. Now, you said it, on this very show, Europe is rich. You also said there's no major threat. The Soviet Union doesn't even exist. Isn't it time for them just to stick up for themselves?
General Clark: I think what you see is that--that it's a political imperative on both sides of the Atlantic that the Europeans do more for their own defense.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
General Clark: But it's a great advantage to us that they still need us. You know, the European union is essentially an organization about protection.
Peter Robinson: Right.
General Clark: It's an economic organization designed to manage competition. And, we're not members of the European Union. Not likely to become members of the European Union. Our influence in Europe and the way we participate as a European power is through security relationships. And…
Peter Robinson: What about these…
General Clark: …nothing is more fundamental then these security relationships, and so in Europe, everything is linked to everything else. If we want to get trade advantages, if we want to work with achieving our interests in Europe, we have to work with their interests. We're the most objective, the fairest arbiter of those interests in the security area at least. And most of those countries want us there. And so I think it's a fortuitous alignment. With Europe, the United States had the dominance in world affairs to shape the world in our own interests.
Peter Robinson: Okay.
General Clark: If we become a competitor and an adversary of Europe--if we let this trans-Atlantic linkage slip away from us, so that we take a velvet divorce, and go our own way, we'll find that we're less able to operate in the world, we'll find the American diplomacy and our economy will suffer.
Peter Robinson: We've got to move quickly. I'd like to close by taking you back to your Alma Mater, the United States Military Academy. You write, that, "young soldiers", I'm quoting you once again, "want to feel the same kind of challenge as their peers in the civilian economy." I'd like to look at your career, here's the way your career actually played out: First in your class at West Point; road scholar at Oxford; you then dedicate yourself to the Army; you win four stars and Supreme Command in Europe, only to find yourself as a commander in com--commanding an actual war, undercut again and again and again, ill will between yourself and the Joint Chiefs, and indeed the Secretary of Defense and to have your tour as Supreme Commander in Europe cut short. Here's the way your career might have played out: First in your class at West Point; road scholar at Oxford; you do the minimum stint with the Army, what would it have been in those days, four years?
General Clark: Well I actually, because of Oxford I would have an eight year commitment.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so you go there for eight years, you come back to the United States, and you go into the priv--the private sector right away. It is not inconceivable that it could have been you, instead of Jack Welch, as the CEO of General Electric with a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars. So you're back at the Academy, it's next autumn, the new cadets are arriving, and I want to know what lesson they're supposed to draw from your career.
General Clark: I was given the most wonderful gift anybody can ever be given. I was given the opportunity to fight for what I believe in. I believed in this country. I believed in the values we stood for. I served in an organization that was greater than myself, I served others. The men and women I--under my command, the men and women who I reported to. I started during the Vietnam War, I served my country in war--in two wars. And finally, in my last command, I was able to fight in a way that promoted human values and eased the burden on--saved--saved a million and half people from becoming refugees. Nobody can give you a greater gift than the opportunity to stand up and fight for what you believe in.
Peter Robinson: General Clark, thank you very much.
General Clark: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: Now that he's retired, General Clark counts as an old soldier, but he clearly has no intention of simply fading away. I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us.