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NATO War Over Yugoslavia:

Civilian Control in Focus



By Dr. Biljana Vankovska

Skopje University, Macedonia

TFF Adviser

February 2000



1. Democratic Control of a Military Alliance: Challenges and Problems

The recent NATO military intervention in FR Yugoslavia (24 March - 11 June, 1999) underlined an urgent need for addressing some very significant theoretical and political issues the two most important ones being: 1) the issue of legal use of military force in international relations, or more precisely on legitimacy of humanitarian interventions; 2) the issue of democratic control of a military alliance in action. Obviously, the first question is relatively old, while the second one emerged as a rather new one. However, in the light of the Kosovo war they appeared to be deeply interrelated. The NATO intervention over Yugoslavia should not be considered as the main reason for theoretical deliberation of this relationship, but rather as an appropriate occasion for bringing the discussion up.

From a theoretical and a political point of view, the relationship between NATO and the democratic control of armed forces has usually been analyzed in terms of civil-military reforms in the post-communist countries as a condition for their future integration into the Alliance. It is widely thought that NATO has a strong influence on the promotion of the principle of democratic control in the post-communist societies of Eastern Europe, especially within the activities of PfP program. The governments of the PfP countries have enthusiastically accepted this principle, which is one of the criteria for joining the Atlantic Alliance. Comparative studies, however, proves that this process is mainly implemented on a formal level, while the substantial civil-military reforms still wait for better times.

At the same time, the existence of democratic control of both NATO military power and of the armed forces of member states isusually taken for granted, and nobody has really opened this issue. It is widely held that the Western democratic countries have achieved full implementation of this principle within their national settings over the centuries. In spite of the application of a firm set of norms and mechanisms for dealing with military power, the cornerstones of which are civilian supremacy and parliamentary accountability, the Western model has still manifested some deficiencies, especially regarding the public control over defence/military affairs. First of all, foreign and defence policies are far less transparent to the wider public than it is believed. Western citizens are very often apathetic and stay aloof from public issues on these matters, mainly concerned with domestic politics and their private lives and welfare. Despite the emphasized significance of a vital civil society, there is a kind of alienation of the citizens from public affairs in Western states. The legitimacy, or wide public support, of the government usually includes confidence in the affairs that are seen as crucial for defending national interests of a certain country. On the other hand, there were several occasions when the repressive apparatus of the state was used to suppress emerging public anti-war protests, even by the use of force. The most well-known case concerns the public protests in the USA in the 1960s against the Vietnam war.

In the political sphere, deficiencies or tensions have sometimes occurred in the relations among the three branches of power. The military is everywhere a powerful interest group in industrialised countries, claiming huge resources and having the economic and political leverage to influence defence and foreign policies. Scholars admit that military involvement in political decision-making process on foreign policy and national security policy is due to the information monopoly the military services have, and that this is an accepted role, albeit not publicly proclaimed. As Abrahamson rightfully stresses, "the fears voiced are not primarily that the military deliberately upset constitutional rules, but rather that they within the framework of those rules have acquired considerable political and economic power". Democratic control of the military is without doubt one of the major values of Western democracy, but at the same time, one of the most idealized ones.

It is, however, disputable whether the criteria valid for an evaluation of democratic control of the military on a national level are also applicable to such a robust, complex and multinational institution as NATO. At a national level, there is complex organizational and functional relationships between civil and military services, but also between them and the public. We may furthermore expect that a military alliance of 19 (democratic) countries presupposes an extremely complex pattern of civil-military relations comprising a myriad of committees and bodies to determine military, political and economic relationships and consensus among the member states. This, however, is a limited and a formal scope of analysis, which only focuses on what is going on at the seat of the Alliance in Brussels. NATO is a bureaucratic organisation, the structure of which includes a civilian and a military segment. Each of them is hierarchically layered, with a strict division of responsibilities and clearly regulated inter-relations.

From a formal point of view, NATO's structure looks very well designed and organized. The highest political authority is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), which is a "forum for confidential and constant inter-governmental consultations" of the member states. Depending on the importance of the issue that is to be discussed, the representatives might be the heads of states that meet periodically, the ministers of foreign affairs (or defence) that gather at least twice a year, or the permanent representatives (with the rank of ambassadors) that meet weekly. NAC is thus the principal decision-making body within the NATO structure. More importantly, NAC together with the Defence Planning Committee represent the highest authority that has control functions over the military part of NATO's structure, mainly the Military Committee. In addition, there are several committees and a General Secretariat with the Secretary General as its head. The decisions of NAC are made by consensus and are binding for each member state. The competencies of the Council are as follows: to discuss and define basic political and military directions; to establish, replace and terminate political and military bodies; to appoint leading officials that are heads of the political and military bodies; to decide on financial matters; to exercise full control over the implementation of the Treaty in general as well as its own decisions. The General Secretariat is also a civilian body with wide responsibilities. It consists of five departments with separate domains of work, such as: political affairs, economic and financial affairs, production, logistics and infrastructure, science and the executive secretariat. The Secretary General is the most visible individual in this structure, representing the Alliance in its external relations with other international organizations and governments.

The supreme body of NATO's military structure is the Military Committee, which comprises the Chiefs-of-staff of the armed forces of every member state (except Iceland and France, for different reasons). It provides recommendations and advice to the NAC and the Defence Planning Committee on all military issues. The international military staff is in charge of the preparation and implementation of its decisions. NATO is geographically divided into two commands, Europe and the Atlantic, led by two major NATO Commanders who work under the guidance of the Military Committee. Their main responsibility is the safeguarding of their respective areas and conducting NATO exercises and other operations. Member countries allocate national units to each of these commands, which, taken together, constitute the military force of NATO.

In addition to these two main pillars of NATO´s internal structure, there are some other fora for promoting dialogue and cooperation between member states, PfP countries and other non-member states, in particular Russia. They include, e.g., the North Atlantic Assembly and the Euro-Atlantic Council (that replaced the old North Atlantic Cooperation Council). There are various forms of cooperation and exchange of ideas, in particular between member and non-member states, with the purpose to promote acceptance of Western (NATO) values and standards without necessarily including all these interested countries in the NATO family of 19 states. The entire actual decision-making power, however, lies strictly within NATO structures (and not necessarily on a multilateral basis); there are no other channels or forms, whether institutionalized or not, of social or public influence on this process.

The analysis of the formal structure of the Alliance leads to the question of its basis for legitimacy. The point of departure is that NATO is an alliance of 19 nation-states; as a consequence, its political structure assures the control of NATO bodies by its member states, i.e. by their political and military elites. We may also see some kind of "check-and-balance" system as functioning within NATO - each state is in a position to control the others as well as the entire structure: the consensus principle guarantees equality among the members, at least in formal terms. In practice, hovever, the best a state can do in a situation when it does not agree completely with the majority of member states, is to make "a footnote", i.e. to explain the arguments for its disagreement while not voting against the decision and thereby blocking it. Usually, "The most equal among the equal members", the USA, usualy sees to it in advance that there is full agreement, if necessary by intensive bilateral consultation with a potentially disobedient government. In sociological terms, the NATO as a political and military organization draws its decision-makers and staff from the upper-class and top brass of each member state. The member states are well and equally represented, but we cannot speak of any representation of citizens or civil society. Many groups are thus excluded from influence, because people from low-status social groups, from ethnic, political and other minorities, or from NGOs cannot take part in the decision-making process on very important political and security affairs.

One long-standing central issue in the concept of democratic control of the military for many decades turns out to be irrelevant when analysing the multinational alliance NATO: there is no basis for talking about any praetorian inclinations whereby the military power would get into over the political power. In Nato, political as well as military power is distributed among many centres, actually in each of the member states. There is thus no unified political or military entity that can be called NATO; it is basically a conglomeration of many political and military interests stemming from the national policies of 19 different countries. NATO´s political and military decisions and actions are supposed to be the final articulations of a complex process of discussions, coordination and bargaining at a national level that takes place in each member state. On the other hand, NATO does not have at its disposal any military force of its own, its military structure consisting of national military units allocated to the Alliance. Soldiers do not swear any oath to the NATO structure, but to their own constitution and country. Any (non)institutional pressure from NATO military circles on a national government in order to influence domestic politics is therefore unlikely. Neither political, nor military structures can be suspected of being more loyal to such an ambiguous entity as NATO than to their own governments and countries.

In a narrow sense, civilian control of NATO is no problem at all; but if we focus on the question of democratic control, this turns out to be more neglected and ambiguous, involving several questions. How legitimate are the governments of NATO countries in regard to their own citizens? How much support they can get in certain situations where NATO interests get priority over national ones? Differently put, do collective or national interests come first? Can a government get into conflict with its own public because of supporting a decision made in favour of NATO security policy, especially in matters of peace or war? Each government derives its legitimacy from its own citizens and is responsible before them (and the national constitution). Disrespect for voices from its society might lead to a deep domestic political crisis, widening the gap between citizens and political power-holders. NATO has no source of legitimacy of its own, except the assumed legitimacy of the governments of the countries it brings together; yet NATO legitimacy cannot be seen as the aggregated legitimacy of the governments of each of the 19 member states. The NATO structures are deeply aware of this fact and are therefore in constant search for their own source of legitimization of its existence and its operations. Even if it is legitimate within the realms of its member states, the question of its legitimacy in the international arena is definitively very moot.

Having in mind that a democratic model of civilian control of the military at a national level always includes so-called formal and informal aspects, it is not difficult to pinpoint NATO´s main weakness in this regard. As a multinational alliance it has succeeded in providing a well-designed and defined network of relations and control of its political over its military "part". The question is how to provide transparency and an informal control over NATO's decisions and actions that would mainly stem from civil society or even the so-called strategic community in NATO countries. Public debate is possible only if NATO's relevance and democratic character are not questioned. The best example of this attitude was to be seen at the press conferences held in Brussels during the Kosovo war. Public relations appeared to be at an extremely low level of quality, even showing great disrespect for the independent media. Public support and dialogue on NATO policy is commanded from a high level and established through the use of the services of the so-called global media, which finally take the form of propaganda and brainwashing instead of an open debate and dialogue among all interested actors from societies inside and outside NATO countries. What primarily concerns NATO structures is not a lack of a direct source of legitimization for its actions, but providing wider public support. The first issue calls for a much deeper re-consideration of NATO's raison d'être, while the second one is much easier to resolve. Public support can be easily achieved by a well-prepared media campaign that turns the attention of tax-payers away from a very concrete debate on the allocation of the money they provide from their incomes, and moves it in a more transcendental direction, such as humanitarian concerns. What the NATO policy really need in order to be efficient is enthusiastic people with a highly emphasized sense of self-righteousness, not ordinary citizens that are curious and suspicious.

What keeps the political and military elites of the NATO countries together is a common interest in foreign and defence policy realm. This does not mean the absence of opposite interests or tensions over some specific issues in the functioning of the Alliance and especially in the decision-making process; on the contrary, they are part of its everyday life. NATO brings together countries that share basically identical ideological, political, economic and security concerns. Perceiving their common area as a security community, the member-states regard it as inconceivable that even major disputes among them would be settled by other than entirely peaceful means. The military establishments are de facto deprived of much of their classical function, to serve as deterrence and defence capability against powerful potential enemies - and the deprival became virtually complete after the end of the Cold War. Redefining their major common interests to cover a wider geo-political arena, "out of area", the political and military elites found a new excellent basis for mutual respect and subordination of NATO military structure to the political one, at the same time as the NATO countries rely heavily on the military structures and their advice in their policies. This relationship provides great opportunities for the military circles to push for more financial support, technical research on new weapons, secret experimental projects. However, neither the political nor the military elites inside are always united and compact, and in both segments the influence of US politicies and military are more visible than anyone else´s. During the Kosovo war, US officials dominated in the political decision-making process, the whole operation was led by American generals, and after the war the European allies were advised to take urgent measures for technical and armament improvement of their armed forces, which had manifested military disadvantages in regard to conducting the air campaign.

While the military of the NATO states are subject of democratic control within their national settings, the moment they act as a part of NATO military force some other principles appear to be more relevant. Civilian control of the most powerful alliance the world has even seen is not even perceived as a problem. It is considered to be resolved. Yet the essential point is that it is no longer a question that concerns NATO states only, but has become an urgent issue more relevant at a regional and international level, since NATO, while supposed to be primarily a multinational alliance of (only) 19 countries, de facto behaves as a supranational organization.



2. New Military Missions of NATO: The Search for a Basis for Legitimacy and Reflections on Civil-Military Relations

For the purposes of this paper, NATO is seen both as a security community based on some political values and as a security institution that is supposed to be a part of the new European security architecture. These are in fact the two predominant self-perceptions NATO has about its own position and role in the world community. The NATO intervention over Yugoslavia happened at the eve of its 50th anniversary, approximately a decade after the end of the Cold War and the beginning of what was announced to be a New World Order. Quite apart from international concerns, from NATO's own point of view the age of 50 appeared to be a critical moment of self-evaluation of its prior achievements and future prospects. The problem was not as much the age of its institutional existence as its urgent need to find a new raison d'être. Since the dissolution of its main opponent, the Warsaw Treaty Organization, NATO has been facing an identity problem. Suddenly, NATO structures had to find answer to the following children´s riddle: if there are two military blocs confronting each other, and all at once one of them disappear, how many blocs will remain? One would have expected a very simple and reasonable answer: there will be no need for any military alliance at all. However, the Western countries, and especially the US and NATO itself, opted for a different solution, follow the simple arithmetical logic whereby two minus one is equal to one. The motivation behind this argumentation is the wish for prolongation of NATO's existence and geo-political relevance in the post-Cold War period.

This premise leads to a crucial aspect of civil-military relations - the question of the military mission. At the moment, the main theoretical discourse is really focused on the issue of new military missions, which is equally interesting for the Western and the post-communist countries. While the latter are more concerned about the classical distinction between external and internal military missions, the Western countries make significant attempts to define the military missions in a way they see as more appropriate for the post-Cold War era. Dilemmas about the military's missions is the most critical determinant of civil-military relations in the Western developed countries. Not surprisingly, there is a clear divergence between the values and attitudes held by higher military circles and those held by civilian elites (in particular the influential elites in power), which is most visible in the American society. Therefore, the most important question in this context is who define the new security agenda and military mission? Whose preferences will prevail?

In this regard, skepticism is manifested from both sides. For instance, the American military is concerned about its expanded mission, because it is expected to demonstrate its capability and effectiveness in undertaking a wide range of non-combat operations at the same time as it is obvious that it cannot solve all new global and domestic problems. Its main concern is defence spending, which has been going down significantly for several years, as well as the force reductions after the Cold War. The costs as well as the differing perceptions of military and civilian leaders as to the importance of non-combat missions cause increasing civil-military tensions. Under such conditions of controversy, the promotion of so-called humanitarian interventions and conflict-management actions was seen as a "Solomonic" solution acceptable to both elites.

According to some scholars, an external military mission is a decisive factor that contribute to healthy civil-military relations. The NATO countries can find no threat within their own security community, nor are they likely to be attacked from outside due to their military superiority and the dependence of other countries on Western economic aid. Under such circumstances, the background of the so-called internationalization of the Western military forces is to be found in their search for new military missions that would give them a sense of purpose in the post-Cold War environment. NATO has long claimed that it is "out of area or out of business". The Yugoslav turmoil offered several opportunities for NATO to be engaged under the previous authorization of the UN Security Council, but this clearly did not satisfy the NATO structures. At the Washington summit in April, 1999, NATO adopted its new Strategic Concept that introduces new missions, for the undertaking of which a prior UN Security Council authorization is desirable but not always necessary. According to this document NATO has become a self-appointed conflict-manager in situations that NATO itself considers to be important.

A phenomenon characteristic for praetorian regimes in Latin America is now visible on the international scene: NATO has a self-image as the sole defender of the so-called New World Order, which can be compared with a situation where the military perceives itself as the sole guarantor of the constitutional order and protector of the nation. Its sense of self-righteousness leads to the creation of an image of an "international community" supported by NATO countries and in particular by the only super-power in the world, the USA, about which Johan Galtung states that " Their sense of exceptionalism, being above ordinary states and nations, is attractive. To break that many international law paragraphs can only be justified if you are above the law, in a direct relation to a God of the universe who `created America to bring order to the world´ (Colin Powell) or, in more secular terms, `a global nation with global interests´ (Shalikashvili). Smaller states flock to the Exceptional one to reflect, like the cold moon, some of the light, not to mention the heat, burning the non-believers. An old Western tradition."

For many years, NATO based its legitimacy on being a defensive institution; but since the end of the Cold War it has clearly been engaged in the attempt to cast for itself a more pro-active role in international relations. In the Kosovo case, NATO loudly used an ethically based justification for its use of disproportionate and overwhelming military power against a small country, but it could not hide the lack of any defensive aspect of the engagement in Yugoslavia. Balkanization, however, might have been defined as a threat. This "threat" is used as "a tool for legitimizing an international order without a (named) enemy". In that sense, former US President Bush defined NATO as an alliance not against any particular country, but against the threat of uncertainty and instability itself. In some sense, the threat of Balkanization was used in the Kosovo crisis as an alibi for the NATO military intervention against Yugoslavia. It was a case of securitization applied on a wider international scene. What in a context of a state system Ole Weaver defines in terms of security as a speech act ("a problem is a security problem when it is defined so by the power holders"), one can also discover in the behaviour of the NATO elite. By identifying something as an international security problem, NATO claims special rights and engages in behaviour above the (international) law. By applying a we-must-do-something approach and heating up the public opinion, NATO entered the war in Yugoslavia. Its selective approach to the humanitarian crises in the world was equal to hypocrisy, supposed to hide the simple truth that in Kosovo NATO was trying to stay in business and to accomplish some specific geo-strategic interests.

With the rhetorical overstatement that the military campaign over FR Yugoslavia was motivated by pure humanitarian reasons, NATO de facto behaved as a moral crusader. NATO countries no doubt hold a set of identical values (such as free market, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms) which are also included into the codex of the alliance they have established. Yet the emphasis on the political dimension of their organization should not lead us to underestimate the fact that behind those universal values there is a huge military machinery that is not only concerned about the protection and defence of these values from intruders from inside or outside, but also takes charge of of their promotion in the systems of the "others" that have not yet appreciated them sufficiently. Despite its claiming to be based on some universal values, NATO is not and cannot be a politically neutral alliance. Yet NATO presents its ideology as being a moral absolute rather than a matter of a political preference, especially vis-a-vis the non-NATO part of the world.

By engagement in a military intervention without legal authorization by the UN Security Council, NATO has demonstrated that its troops may engage in destruction and perhaps even commit war crimes in order "to safe lives and enforce liberal democracy" (in Yugoslavia and Kosovo alike). The military intervention was de facto a war of conquest in the name of certain claimed universal values. This moral crusade was explicated in this way:

This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values....No longer is our existence as states under threat. Now our actions are guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end values and interests merge. If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer. As John Kennedy put it "Freedom is indivisible and when one man is enslaved who is free?" Similarly, President Clinton called Kosovo a "big test of what we believe in" on the Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery. Not just leaders, but a majority in Western Europe believes that the society in which they live is the only answer to the absolute evil. Their leaders are ready to fight for this belief, and the majority accepts this as legitimate cause. Politicians used the phrase "we must stop this" and the citizens were asked to trust their governments and militaries to do what was right. NATO´s defence mission has turned from an "enemy threat" towards "the defence of values". By so doing, NATO identified itself with the very values, the righteousness of the political and military elites of the West became unquestionable, and as a consequence they become "untouchable" by international law even when they really violated it, both as jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Unable to find any other source of legitimization, NATO countries used historical legitimizing myths by referring to Holocaust (us-or-Auschwitz) as a substitute for traditional legitimizations for the use of force by states. From NATO's perspective, Kosovo was really a test - not so much of moral beliefs as of its future missions. It was to serve as a proof if its de facto (but not de jure) shift of functions from a defensive (regional) alliance into an all-purpose one that could be used for interventions beyond NATO´s area of responsibility. That the Kosovo intervention was not a pure coincidence or an action provoked by the severity of how the Serb forces maltreated the Kosovo Albanians in early 1999, when NATO "had-to-do-something", is shown by a report published by the president of North Atlantic Council in October 1998. In his recommendations he anticipated not only the Kosovo intervention, but the role of NATO in the 21st century:


"NATO's purpose is to defend values and interests, not just territory...

NATO must preserve its freedom to act: The Allies must always seek to act in unison, preferably with a mandate from the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the framework for collective security in Europe. Even though all NATO member states undoubtedly would prefer to act with such a mandate, they must not limit themselves to acting only when such a mandate can be agreed. All NATO actions should nonetheless be based on appropriate legal authority."


These arguments are clearly included in the new Strategic Concept that was adopted on the 50th Anniversary summit in Washington on 23-24 April, 1999. This document, as well as the NATO action in Kosovo during and after the war, demontrate that the Alliance does not respect international law or the present international order where no institution but the UN Security Council has the authority to mandate the use of force in the international arena. In other words, NATO behaves as an institution that stands outside the international legal order, as a supranational alliance that has usurped the right to represent the whole "international community" in spite of having only 19 memmers with merely 15 per cent of the global population. Lacking legitimacy and disrespecting the rule of (international) law, NATO cannot be considered to be a military or security alliance that is under democratic control: neither by its member states, nor wider by the other members of the world community.



3. NATO in a War Situation: the Kosovo Lessons


The two and a half months of air campaign against Yugoslavia ended without a clear answer to any one of the serious question that had arisen before it started. Today the world community faces a situation that can be named after a futurist American movie on the world after the nuclear catastrophe - "The Day After". The short question "what after the Kosovo war?" implies a series of sub-questions and dilemmas, the answers to which are likely to illustrate the future of the world in the 21st century. The two most urgent questions are the following ones: How did NATO´s war contribute to conflict resolution in Kosovo? What will international relations and the world look like after this precedent? The shortest answer to the first question can be seen in daily reports from the Kosovo province demonstrating that the conflict is far from being resolved and that Kosovo and Serbia remain the most dangerous flash points in the Balkans and in Europe.

The response to the second question calls for a more analytical approach. The standard evaluation of this event is that after March 24th, 1999, when the air campaign over Yugoslavia began, the world will never be the same. The decade that began with the actions in Kuwait ended above the Yugoslav sky. Whether these events will have a far-reaching significance for international relations on a global scope is a matter for argument; what is indisputable is that these two events signified an interim phase that began with the Gulf War in 1991. That war was expected to announce the beginning of the New World Order as a new phase in the history of humankind, a phase that allegedly ended the division of the world into a West and an East bloc. During the decade since then many changes occurred, including the re-definition of the international position of some of the great world powers and the creation of a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture.

This period has brought especially great challenges for the USA, seeing itself as being the "first, only, and the last truly global superpower". It has been leading an active campaign in order to prove its irreplaceable role in the maintenance of world security and stability. It was relatively easy to demonstrate its political/military superiority, especially in the afterglow of the Gulf War victory. By its leading role in the NATO military intervention against Yugoslavia, USA showed the world that they can "rule" in the air, and even the seas, by using a high-tech military armament that the world has never seen before. It is nevertheless clear that the USA has drawn some new lessons from this military adventure. There is a big difference between being the last truly global superpower and being omnipotenct in the international arena. Naked military force proved unsuccessful in the action undertaken to wrest a capitulation from a small and military inferior country when the stake was perceived by it as one of fundamental national interests. On the other hand, it is more than certain that no military power in the world will retain illusions that a war can be won merely by an air campaign.

Several months after the end of NATO war, there remains a dispute on how to qualify this campaign. Scholars from different fields, let alone the politicians, offer various argumentations for classifying it as a war, a humanitarian intervention, a punitive expedition against the Milosevic regime, or as a peace enforcement operation. This issue will no doubt remain open for some time, until the world gets enough courage to say publicly what only some individuals have already said - on 24 March 1999 NATO launched its first-ever war of aggression against Yugoslavia. In addition to the illegality of this action, which clearly indicates immense problems in controlling the Atlantic Alliance in the international arena as well as in civil-military relations at a global level, another interesting aspect deserves special attention. In spite of the official paeans of victory, especially within NATO military circles, there is no doubt that the Kosovo action was a military debacle for the Alliance. The action accomplished neither military, nor political goals. Yugoslavia is now a severely devastated country, but its military strength was not significantly weakened despite the use of indiscriminate and prohibited weapons, such as cluster and graphite bombs or depleted uranium shells, and all the other high-tech means.

NATO military strategists will long analyze the reasons for this inferior military effect of more than two months of bombing. Whatever the final findings, one obvious feature of this action was a specific relationship between the political leadership and the military officers. Politicians defined the military mission in a vague way and limited the military options for achieving it, ignoring military advice. There appeared to be quite ambiguous relations between civilian decision-makers and military leaders within the NATO structures in face of the Kosovo war. The civilian oversight of the military does not always imply strict command and subordination of the military men to the civilians. The political leaders of the NATO states began an adventure without any clear political vision - and even less of any military knowledge about how to wage and win a war.

At the outset, they tried to justify the military action by humanitarian reasons, naming it a humanitarian intervention, which was supposed to be focused on human rights and not on winning the war. After the first indications that the war against Yugoslavia could not be won by Blitzkrieg, the war got its own logic and the most important thing became the defence of NATO's own credibility. There is no single successful example in the military history of the world of a war being won solely from the air. The way in which the Kosovo war was conducted made it clear that military advice had been heavily neglected. For instance, the retired American Army General Colin Powell criticized the Kosovo policy led by his government. According to him, "one first has to set clear political goals and then use overwhelming force to achieve victory. Once you have clear political objectives, then let your military people come forward and give you a plan that will achieve those objectives in as quick and decisive way as possible". The disputable objectives of the military action inevitably aggrieved and frustrated NATO military professionals, despite their alleged support of the political leadership.

Any successful military operation inevitably needs clear political directives, which is exactly what was missing in Operation Allied Force. Post festum, the key players have admitted that one of the biggest problems within the Alliance was how to achieve a common approach and how to maintain internal cohesion and solidarity. The final decision to undertake the air campaign was a compromise between "hawks" (demanding a full-scale invasion) and "doves" (who wanted a pause in the bombing). Clear military advice and prognoses from NATO's military experts were ignored in the interest of consensus. During the campaign, when several allies (Italy, Germany, Greece) came close to trying to "pause" the bombing, then, according to the Strobe Talbott, the US Deputy Secretary of State, "America had to stop them by fair means and foul".

All these affairs, sometimes having the character of political intrigues among the NATO members, made very difficult the position of the Supreme Commander of the OAF, General Wesley Clark. As a military professional he found himself faced with the demand to win the war, hampered by tight and ambiguous political restrictions and the rules of the military profession. Some NATO military officers said that one could not fight wars by committee. Shortly after the end of the campaign it was announced that Gen. Clark would be replaced as NATO's supreme commander three months in advance. This news was followed by speculations that the decision came as a punishment for his actions and behaviour in the Kosovo conflict. It was said that Gen. Clark was criticized for being "too political" because he wanted to "use his authority to actually accomplish something". The problem was, however, an exceptional one: he was the only military commander in history that was supposed to forge an efficient military strategy while taking orders from 19 separate governments. He consistently urged more aggressive tactics, including the possibility of a ground troops - which was the only rational military response to the situation-, but was stopped, for various reasons, by all his civilian superiors. He could not hide his frustration and expressed publicly to the New York magazine his dissatisfaction with what he called "the only air campaign in history in which lovers strolled down riverbanks in the gathering twilight ... to watch the fireworks".

NATO´s intervention against Yugoslavia revealed some interesting aspects of the internal relations between the allies. Behind every legitimate action of the Atlantic Alliance there is presumed to be consensus among the NATO members. During the air campaign there were several indications that the Alliance was not so unanimous and united. Despite official statements, the reality proved that the governments of several NATO countries (Italy, Germany and Greece) faced deep internal crises. The question posed by those situations is the issue of the legitimacy of the military action from the perspective of individual states and at the international level. Whatever other changes occur, there is one constant tendency in NATO history: the transatlantic multilateral system is distinctly American. It presents itself to the global public opinion as a "logic of peace". According to some scholars, the application of this "logic" involves the promotion of a "stable peace": a system whereby member states address disputes without resorting to extralegal or violent means. From this premise they draw the conclusion that the outward manifestations of the "stable peace" are the EU and NATO. Moreover, in Huntington's view "a world without US primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the US continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs". Having in mind the current state of relations between the USA and its European allies, the only way of establishing democratic (international) control over NATO military and political power is by controlling the USA, first within the Alliance and then by the world community.

The essence of the principle of democratic control of the military lies in the acknowledged necessity of controlled and limited political power within the boundaries set by law. The rule of law is therefore an indispensable aspect of any model for democratic control over the political as well as the military power in society. In this regard, respecting of a set of rules, norms and procedures within a regional security organization is definitively not enough. In the Kosovo case NATO has actually violated both its own Charter and international law, primarily the UN Charter. The legal basis lacking, this case of extensive use of force in international relations cannot be justified by humanitarian reasons alone. It is a precedent where a group of nineteen countries "reached consensus to enforce peace on warring parties in an intra-state conflict outside NATO's zone of security, because allegedly it was in the interest of the Alliance". NATO´s campaign over Yugoslavia was a blatant violation of international law, being merely "in the interest of Alliance".

NATO countries may have had very noble motives to embark on the Kosovo adventure; they simply forgot that the Alliance is only a regional security organization, not a world saviour and policeman. They were entitled to use their military capabilities only by prior authorization from the UN Security Council, which lacked in this case. Paradoxically, a UN Security Council Resolution (1244) was required in order to implement a "peace agreement" on Kosovo after the illegal military campaign. The world is rapidly moving towards a globalized society, but there must be respect for the rule of law, or it will become a jungle where the only thing that counts is might of the most powerful actors, a world where the rule of naked military power supplants the rule of law. "The fact that Milosevic's brutal ethnic cleansing has earned his indictment by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal does not diminish the seriousness of NATO's violations of international law. How can NATO encourage recognition of international law if the Alliance itself views itself as above those standards?"

Richard Haas, a top National Security Council official in the Bush administration, states that "Kosovo is a textbook lesson in how not to use military force". From a military point of view, this is an undeniable truth, but this attitude shows also something more important: this world is still more ready to learn about winning wars and the use of force than about how to achieve peace by peaceful means. The first lesson on this path must focused on establishing truly democratic control over such a powerful alliance as NATO.


© TFF & Biljana Vankovska 2000

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