Monitor: Ground war in Kosovo
The British press contemplates the possibility of Nato sending troops on the ground into Kosovo
Saturday 24 April 1999
NATO'S LEADERS seem to be edging towards the conclusion that a ground attack is necessary. But if they are going to take this giant step, they will have to start preparing for it now. The West took the decision to open hostilities. Now it must show the resolution to finish the job. But winning the war will not be the end of the problem for the West. The Alliance would take over a Kosovo that is utterly devastated. Rebuilding will require a vast Western aid effort. Meanwhile British and Nato troops may be stuck in the province for a generation. There will be no glory in victory. Just a smoking battlefield and the prospect of long, thankless years spent in maintaining a bitter and uneasy peace. It is all a terrible mess.
IF BLAIR now decides to send in ground troops, we will again back him to the hilt. We do not say this because we are warmongers. Nothing would please us more than to see an end to further bloodshed. We say it because we can see no other way of halting the genocidal scorched-earth policy of Milosevic. The West is determined to end his reign of terror. When he sees the armies of democracy massed on the borders of Kosovo he'd better believe that they are not there for show. They will crush him. And The Mirror will be supporting them all the way.
FIVE PRACTICAL questions must be raised. First, can the bombing work? Second, can we put in ground forces? Third, can we risk our own blood? Fourth, can Nato hold together? Fifth, can we afford it? Only if the answers to all these questions are clearly "yes" should Nato press the war to a conclusion. If the answer to any one of them is "no", it should pursue a peace deal, based on the partition of Kosovo, at the earliest possible moment. To do otherwise would be irresponsible and, since more Balkan lives would be sacrificed to no end, inhumane.
GRADUALLY THE government is abandoning its belief that Nato will not have to fight its way in. But it does not favour a full invasion. Is there a third way? In the House of Commons this week Robin Cook, conceded that he could imagine circumstances in which Milosevic had not yet admitted defeat but in which his forces were in retreat and unable to put up much of a fight. You can see at once the special appeal to Blair of such an eventuality. If only an unopposed invasion by relatively light forces could do the business. Then Britain could be seen to pull its weight, despite having relatively little military weight to pull.
AT PRESENT, British and American opinion, shocked by the plight of the refugees, dismayed by the political ineffectiveness of the bombing, seems to be moving in favour of invasion. This movement of opinion is not shared on the Continent. I doubt if it could be relied on even here or in the US if the troops did actually go in. The British have been horrified by the television pictures of human suffering, but television is a short- term, high-impact medium in which new images constantly obliterate the old ones. At present the emotional case for a Balkan war seems very powerful, but, as Robert Walpole said of war with Spain in 1739: "They now ring the bells, but they will soon wring their hands."
IF NATO begins a big ground build-up now, the generals will tell the Nato leaders, there is a good chance of being able to launch a decisive incursion. A Nato military man has said: "The only way the Serbs can win is if the Alliance falls apart." But, to put the matter the other way around: the only way the Alliance can be sure of winning within a politically acceptable timeframe is to put in ground troops whether or not Milosevic has signed their passports. (Max Hastings)
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