Kosovo air war strategy under attack

Defence: A review of military trends criticises use of air strikes in the Balkans and reveals a fall in weapon sales
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The Independent Online
THE WESTERN allies were warned yesterday that by relying on air power alone in Kosovo and refusing to commit ground forces to the troubled province, they risked sending a message of weakness rather than strength to President Slobodan Milosevic.

In a powerful critique of the current vogue for "stand-off" warfare, as typified by the West's threats against Serbia and Iraq, and the US missiles launched against alleged terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) insisted that in every case, air attacks were unlikely to bring about the desired results.

Deriding the "so-called Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) aimed at reducing the risk of casualties, the institute's director, John Chipman, said that since the elimination of danger to oneself was so obvious a goal, "reliance on RMA may only serve to reduce the weakness of one's own resolve".

His comments came at the presentation of The Military Balance, the review of global arms and defence trends published annually by the institute. This year's issue paints a dispiriting picture of proliferating regional conflicts where, in many cases, declared ceasefires had failed to stop hostilities.

In many places, he warned, and for all the talk of globalisation, "we are seeing the strong return of regional geopolitical calculations". He singled out this year's launch by North Korea of a three-stage solid fuel rocket over Japan, capable of hitting targets at least 2,000km (1,200) away - and aimed at showing Pyongyang had the ability to threaten the strategic alliance between Japan and the United States, or even launch a desperation attack against the South.

But his sternest words came on Kosovo and Iraq. The US envoy, Richard Holbrooke had"played a weak hand very well" in negotiations with President Milosevic, which have for the time being ended the crisis.

However, the confrontation "between a retreating Serb army and a provocative Kosovo Liberation Army" meant tension was bound to continue in the future," Mr Chipman said. He warned: "Stand-off military threats invite only partial and temporary capitulation. Once the threat to use air power has been met by some concessions, building up the threat again becomes both politically and technically more difficult."

The West faced the same problems in dealing with Saddam Hussein - another case where because the use of force would not stop the Iraqi dictator's arms programmes, "the diplomatic outcome will always fall short of what those who threaten force would prefer".

Similarly with Osama bin Laden, the presumed mastermind of the attacks against two US embassies in East Africa in August. War on terrorism "is not a war what can be waged with the doctrines and instruments of classic warfare". More discrete and subtle methods were required, he argued.