Washington, 30 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Some independent Balkan experts in Washington believe the NATO alliance will have to commit a sizable land force to Kosovo if NATO is to stop attacks by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's army and Serbian police and paramilitary units on ethnic Albanians in the province.
At a discussion of the Balkan crisis Monday at the Brookings Institution -- a non-profit public policy research organization -- a panel of scholars agreed that NATO's strategy of attacking military targets in Serbia and Kosovo with bombs and missiles will not be enough to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to stop his campaign and agree to an autonomy plan for the Kosovar Albanians.
Ivo Daalder of the University of Maryland -- a former White House National Security Council European Affairs director -- said political planners in the United States and in NATO capitals in Europe may have thought that Milosevic would give up quickly and sign a peace accord negotiated in Rambouillet, France earlier this month.
Daalder says, however, that assumption was wrong. He says:
"We now know that that's not going to work. Instead what we have is a strange situation in which NATO has limited military objectives that are -- a limited military strategy that is divorced from any real political objectives. Its military strategy is to deter and, if necessary, to seriously or severely -- or whatever other adjective you want to use -- damage Belgrade's ability to wage war against the Kosovar population. But the political objective for which we set out here and got involved was to find a solution to the Kosovar problem, and how the military strategy is going to do that is left uncertain. "
Daalder says that, in fact, NATO has tried to conduct its bombing campaign, "in such a way that we would bomb enough to get the Serbs out of Kosovo, but not just enough to get Kosovo out of Serbia. It's not working."
He says that leaves the alliance with just one real option, committing ground troops to the conflict. Daalder says:
"If there is a moral imperative to defend the Kosovar Albanian population, which I believe there is -- after all, we did ask these people to put their fate in our hands -- then that moral imperative cannot just extend to air strikes but has to ultimately extend to ground troops."
At the White House in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, senior officials reiterated on Monday the position that neither NATO nor the U.S. is considering sending troops to Kosovo at this time. The officials say NATO will continue its air offensive for as long as it takes to bring peace to Kosovo.
However, Michael O'Hanlon of Georgetown University contended that not only will NATO have to deploy ground troops, but that the U.S. will have to play a dominant role in such a campaign.
He said that is because European NATO members do not have the ability to move a large military force and all of its supporting elements to a war theater. He said only the U.S., with its ability to airlift thousands of troops and tons of equipment and supplies great distances, can handle the operation.
He said: "So any discussion of the U.S. playing a supporting role in a ground operation as envisioned under the Rambouillet accords would have be immediately discarded. This would be a U.S.-dominated ground operation in my estimation with at least half of the forces and probably even more than that of the transport and logistics capabilities being American. "
He estimated that it would take at least 20,000 to 30,000 troops just to establish a territorial base in Kosovo that the NATO troops could defend. O'Hanlon said that perhaps as many as 100,000 troops would be needed to defeat the Yugoslav army and Serb police and paramilitary forces in Kosovo.
The director of foreign policy studies at Brookings, Richard Haas, added that if troops are to be used, they must succeed, and that, he said, means troops must be deployed now.
Haas said: "If we are going to use ground forces -- and it is increasingly hard to see how we can meet our minimum objectives here without the use of ground forces -- it is important that we succeed. So this argues for getting in ground forces, if we are to go this way, as large numerically as possible, as capable as possible, as quickly as possible. "
Haas said the Kosovo conflict has become the "largest foreign policy crisis," for President Bill Clinton since he first took office in 1993, and, added Haas, "the stakes have grown tremendously over the past week."
Daalder says the conflict is also the biggest crisis that NATO has faced in years. He says the Kosovo campaign will be the main topic of conversation when NATO convenes its 50th anniversary summit in Washington during the last week in April. Daalder, in fact, contends the future of the alliance is at stake.
He says: "The future of NATO here is at stake, and that better be reflected in a strategic concept. If NATO today is in the business of extending the security and stability that its members have long enjoyed, to areas in Europe that are not secure and stable, as it is, by enlarging its alliance, by engaging in Bosnia and the Balkans, then failing here means that it needs to find a new purpose. And I don't see another purpose than the one in which one engages in the extension of stability and security.
"To deter a threat to NATO, when we can't deal with the tin-pot dictator in Belgrade, strikes me as highly implausible. So the success of NATO and the summit is going to be fundamentally tied to what we do in the next three, four weeks, with regard to Kosovo."