ADDRESS BY SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN TO THE CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
April 13, 1999U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today delivered the following speech on the crisis in the Balkans at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS):
“Thank you, Bob, and thanks to everyone at CSIS for so graciously providing me a forum to share a few thoughts on the crisis in the Balkans. I’ve been having a terrible time finding media opportunities to get my views out, so I appreciate your help.
“In all seriousness, I wanted to discuss the situation in a little more detail than is generally allowed in television and radio interviews, and I can think of no other place in town where a speaker’s views are given thoughtful consideration primarily because of the venue in which they are delivered. Over the years I have been in Congress, I’ve been privileged to discuss a number of important questions with the eminent opinion leaders who make their home here at CSIS. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to do so again in this critical hour.
“As we all know, wars seldom go according to plan. That is all the more true when leaders don’t seem to have a plan – a viable plan, anyway – as appeared to be the case as we went to war with Serbia. That criticism, I concede, is a little exaggerated, but it is not entirely facetious. To request an additional 300 aircraft three weeks into the war is not an indication that everything is on track.
“Administration officials repeatedly claim that they expected the tragic events that occurred after the air campaign began, a claim that has been greeted with much deserved derision by just about everyone.
“We went to war to coerce Slobodan Milosevic into accepting the terms of the Rambouillet accord, an accord that was intended to end atrocities against the Kosovars, to provide Kosovo with political autonomy protected by a NATO peacekeeping force, and to prevent open hostilities in Kosovo from inciting hostilities in other countries and destabilizing the region.
“Within two weeks after the first NATO airstrike, Serb military and paramilitary forces were in complete control of Kosovo after having waged a campaign of atrocities against ethnic Albanians the likes of which we never expected to see again in Europe. Moreover, as part of their aggression Serbia has deliberately promoted instability in Macedonia, Albania, and threatened aggression against Montenegro.
“If the Administration had expected these developments to occur, they might have warned the Kosovars who signed the Rambouillet agreement with the implicit promise that NATO would protect them.
“I think it is safe to assume that no one, including me, anticipated the speed with which Serbia would defeat our objectives in Kosovo, and the scope of that defeat. Yes, the war is only three weeks old, and yes, NATO can and probably will prevail in this conflict with what is, after all, a considerably inferior adversary. But victory will not be hastened by pretending that things have just gone swimmingly.
“Worse, unless we all, administration supporter and detractor alike, look critically at both why we went to war in the Balkans, and why we have failed to achieve our ends, I fear the administration and our NATO allies might commit the gravest mistake we could make at this time: changing our ends to make our means more effective rather than employing more effective means to achieve our ends.
“Surely, some of our terms for peace will have to be modified to correspond to new realities on the ground and to achieve our ultimate ends, which are security for the Kosovars and peace and stability in the Balkans. Genuine autonomy for Kosovo that includes the presence in Kosovo of 5000 Serb military and security personnel is hard to conceive as practical anymore. I think it would be a pretty hard sell to convince Kosovars that it is safe to return to communities that are policed by the very people who so savagely depopulated them. Nor do I think it likely that the Kosovo Liberation Army can be persuaded again to accept any status less than independence.
“We might need to expand our demands to accomplish our essential purpose. But I worry the administration might do the opposite. I worry that our purpose will be reduced because the administration is unwilling to change the means we use to accomplish it. Degrading Serb’s military was not identified as an end of our intervention until air strikes failed to achieve our initial goals. It isn’t an end; it’s a means to an end. It doesn’t even mean anything. Knock out one tank or one SAM site, and you have degraded their military.
“It seems clear to most observers that NATO’s use of force against Serbia suffered from the beginning from two critical tactical errors. The first is an excessively restricted air campaign that sought the impossible goal of avoiding war while waging one. The second is the repeated declarations from the President, Vice President, and other senior officials that NATO would refrain from using ground troops even if the air campaign failed. These two mistakes were made in what almost seemed willful ignorance of every lesson we learned in Vietnam. I am not haunted by memories of Vietnam, but I must admit I never thought we would again witness in my lifetime the specter of politicians picking targets and ruling out offensive measures in the absurd hope that the enemy would respond to our restraint by yielding to our demands.
“As almost anyone with any war experience knows, you’re never supposed to show the enemy what you won’t do to win. You only make more likely the failure of whatever action you are willing to take. Air strikes that did not immediately bring home to the Serb people as well as the Serb regime just how overwhelmingly powerful a force they were now confronting predictably failed to dissuade Milosevic from ruthlessly pursuing his abhorrent goals.
“For air strikes to have any chance of preventing Milosevic’s awful atrocities they needed to be, from the beginning, massive, strategic and sustained. No infrastructure targets should have been off limits. And while we all grieve over civilian casualties as well as our own losses, they are unavoidable. When nations settle their differences by force of arms a million tragedies ensue. That’s why we try to avoid it. War is a much more terrible thing than cruise missile attacks on Iraqi radar sites. But losing a war is worse.
“Force should always be a part of but not a substitute for diplomacy. Whether our diplomacy in the months preceding the use of force was well conceived and well conducted we will no doubt debate at length in the future. I do believe that the threat of force is a necessary component of diplomacy when trying to affect the behavior of tyrants like Milosevic. But we’ve all heard reports that some administration officials believed that the threat of force alone was such a powerful incentive for Serb cooperation that the threat may have dominated other aspects of diplomacy. I don’t know whether the charge is deserved or not. But I do know that we were not adequately prepared to make good on that threat, which suggests that its use was somewhat cavalier.
“When a president threatens war he should plan for it. And, at a minimum, when he intends to use very limited means to wage war, he should have a contingency plan ready for their probable failure. President Clinton seems to have had neither a Plan A nor a Plan B. And, for reasons that completely elude me, he and the Vice President doggedly persist, in opposition to widespread bipartisan criticism, in publicly ruling out any preparation for the possible deployment of ground troops.
“If war against Serbia was necessary then winning the war is necessary as well. That is a trite remark, I know. But the administration’s policy is so mystifying to me that it begs such obvious criticism.
“Did we have sufficient reason to go to war? There is, of course, widespread disagreement about that. Both supporters and opponents marshal sound arguments in their favor. I have a general rule that the use of force, with all its attendant tragedies, should be reserved for grave threats to both our strategic interests and our political values. Indeed, I believe our national security policy should and generally has concentrated on questions where our interests and values clearly converge. Containment and the Reagan Doctrine are obvious examples.
“We all agree that America’s most important values – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” -- are under vicious assault by the Milosevic regime. But there is an honest debate about whether our vital interests were at risk in this conflict.
“Many critics have cited events in Rwanda, the Sudan and elsewhere as examples comparable to or exceeding Kosovo of horrific inhumanity in areas outside the vital interests of the U.S. where we declined to intervene with force. As my friend and articulate advocate for a narrowly defined nationalist foreign policy, Pat Buchanan says, “Whose flag flies over Pristina has never been an American concern.”
“I don’t know if we could have stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by means short of force. I think the United States should inaugurate a 21st Century policy interpretation of the Reagan Doctrine, call it rogue state rollback, in which we politically and materially support indigenous forces within and outside of rogue states to overthrow regimes that threaten our interests and values.
Surely, Milosevic’s regime, which has started four wars in the last ten years and is infamous for its brutal racism, merited such treatment. But I don’t know if there was sufficient time for either more effective diplomacy or assistance to Milosevic’s opponents to prevent him from laying waste to another subject population. Perhaps there was, and it is a question well worth exploring at a later time.
“Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that Serbia’s assault on Kosovo did threaten our interests, and thus its defeat is a cause worth fighting for. I’m not convinced that it would have destabilized the entire region. It might have, and God knows it threatens to do so now if we don’t bring this conflict to a successful conclusion as soon as possible. But I do believe that Milosevic’s ambitions directly threaten two extremely important American interests: our global credibility and the long-term viability of the Atlantic Alliance.
“First, our credibility. It seems to me obvious on the face of it that after two separate American presidents warned Milosevic that the United States would not tolerate Serb aggression against Kosovo, and after President Clinton twice delivered ultimatums to Milosevic to come to terms at Rambouillet or else, that the failure to make good on those threats would devastate our credibility everywhere in the world. And by that I don’t mean President Clinton’s credibility our Secretary Albright’s credibility or any other individual’s credibility. I mean our credibility – American credibility.
“The consequences of that damage would be severe. Surely, other rogue state dictators would be encouraged to challenge us more aggressively. But I fear that other, larger powers, would become bolder as well, not necessarily or only by posing security challenges, but by complicating our leadership on international questions from proliferation control to economic crises.
“Friend and foe alike perceive a gap between a great power’s rhetoric and its actions as weakness. Our enemies, of course, will soon test our resolve in other ways to determine how far they can exploit our debility. Our friends will seek new arrangements to compensate for what they perceive as our unreliability. Thus, whether we had a strategic interest in the Balkans or not we acquired one the moment we threatened force. Credibility is a strategic asset of the highest order, and well worth fighting to maintain.
“Second, I fear that NATO, the most successful alliance in history, would not survive another decade much less another half century should we fail to impose our will on an inferior but dangerous European power. Alliances are not ends in themselves. They are formed to protect our interests. We shouldn’t neglect our interests to form alliances.
“Flush with success but unable to modernize its mission, NATO is suffering an identity crisis, a crisis that has sparked three troubling developments.
“First, our allies are spending far too little on our mutual defense. The day is fast approaching when each member’s forces won’t be able to communicate with each other on the battlefield. It is imperative that we persuade our allies to increase their support of the Alliance. Not only because American popular support for NATO will erode in the absence of greater allied burden sharing, but to maintain the alliance as an effective fighting force.
“Second, Europe’s growing determination to develop a defense identity separate from NATO. Once only the product of French resentments, the idea of a separate defense identity is now even entertained in London. We must be emphatic with our allies. We welcome their efforts to assume more of their own defense, but only within the institutions of NATO. Defense structures accountable to a European organization other than the Alliance would ultimately kill the Alliance. Would Turkey be excluded? I suspect it would. Would Turkey then remain in NATO, and would NATO survive Turkey’s withdrawal? Doubtful.
“Moreover, its not hard to envision our allies intervening militarily, under the auspices of their new defense organization and without our concurrence, in very difficult problems that they are unprepared to resolve, necessitating an eventual appeal to NATO to bail them out. America’s support for membership in NATO would soon evaporate in those circumstances.
“That support will also disappear if the United States and its allies cannot come to an agreement on when we should act in mutual defense of each other’s interests outside Europe. I doubt we can achieve such a consensus if we fail to agree on where we should act in defense of our interests in Europe.
“Most Americans believe we intervened in Bosnia and in Kosovo at the behest of our NATO allies. They are, of course, not exactly mistaken in that view. In part, we are in the Balkans because our allies want us to be involved in efforts to prevent conflict there from threatening their interests. Most Americans, at least before we went to war with Serbia, could not see the connection between our security and Milosevic’s crimes.
“They can, however, see the impact of Saddam’s refusal to honor the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire, and they don’t understand why some of European allies decline to help us enforce those terms. Most Americans recognize the threat of proliferation, and they can’t understand why our allies are often dismissive of our attempts to keep rogue states from acquiring these weapons.
“If the United States bears the greatest share of our mutual defense, then we expect our allies to pay as much attention to our concerns, in and out of Europe, as we do to theirs. And if we are unwilling to help defuse what President Clinton called a “powder keg in the heart of Europe” then the prospects of achieving consensus on an out of area mission is very remote.
“I believe these two strategic interests of the United States, together with our obligations to defend the values which define our nation, justified the use of force against Serbia. And if those interests and values were at risk before we intervened, they would be gravely, probably mortally wounded if we do not prevail.
“That is why I find it so utterly inexplicable that the President, having identified a serious threat to our national interests and values, refuses to employ the means necessary to defeat it. It has struck me that the President has spent at least as much time assuring us, and our adversary, that he will not deploy ground troops as he has explaining to us why we went to war in the first place. I doubt anyone in this room or any military strategist anywhere would justify mapping the limits of our resolve to an enemy we are presently at war with.
“I agree that Russia is a concern. But I do not believe that Russia’s leaders, who govern a country that practically lacks an economy, perceive their relationship with a renegade Serbian regime to be a paramount interest that takes precedence over the advantages it needs to acquire through a good relationship with the West. But if reason does entirely desert Russian leaders, it will happen not because we threatened or even introduced ground troops into Kosovo, but because we allowed this conflict to drag on indefinitely while irrational nationalism grew and eventually overwhelmed Moscow.
“It seems clear to me that the best course for us, NATO, Kosovo, Russia and even Serbia is to begin fighting this war as if it were a war, with huge stakes involved, instead of some strange interlude between peace initiatives. That means, regrettably, an immediate and manifold increase in the violence against Serbia proper and Serbian forces in Kosovo. I still fear that NATO’s political leaders are interfering with General Clark’s prosecution of the war. Again, avoiding casualties, theirs and ours, is not our primary objective. Winning is, the sooner the better.
“To that end, we should commence today to mobilize infantry and armored divisions for a possible ground war in Kosovo. Hopefully, taking this overdue action will convince Milosevic that there is no self-imposed limit to our determination to liberate Kosovo from his tyranny. But if it doesn’t, we will be prepared to do what we must to end this conflict on our terms.
“The Serbs will fight, and we must prepare the country for the inevitability of casualties. But we should not let ignorance frighten us into paralysis. NATO is more than a match for the Serbian military, a military, after all, that has faced no greater challenge than fighting a small, outgunned KLA, and terrorizing old men, women and children. Serbia is a country the size of Ohio, with ten million people and an army with outdated Soviet equipment, much of which I hope has been destroyed by our airstrikes.
“The concern that we will become bogged down in a long campaign in Serbia, and then stuck in a permanent garrison of Kosovo is overstated. We are a vastly superior power, and we are fully capable of completely destroying Serbian opposition. Moreover, should we be forced to intervene on the ground, I doubt very much that the Milosevic regime could survive the inevitable defeat of the Serbian military. And with the collapse of the regime, I would hope that prospects for peace and stability in the region, and the restraint of ethnic hostilities improve. At any rate, I doubt a successor Serb regime would be in a hurry to recover Kosovo by force. United States forces should not be permanently stationed in Kosovo to protect its integrity. I don’t believe we would stay for years and certainly not decades as some opponents of U.S. intervention warn.
“Finally, Congress should – this week -- debate and vote on a resolution authorizing the President to use whatever force necessary to force Serbia from Kosovo. Silence and equivocation will not unburden us of our responsibility to support or oppose this war. I do not recommend this course lightly. I know that should Americans die in a land war with Serbia, I will bear a considerable share of the responsibility for their loss. I and any member who shares my views must be as accountable to their families as the President must be.
“But I would rather face that sad burden than hide from my conscience because I sought an advantageous political position to seek shelter behind. Nor could I endure the dishonor of having known my country’s interests demanded a course of action, but avoided taking it because the costs of defending them were substantial, as were its attendant political risks.
“Contrary to popular belief, members of Congress are honorable people. The only honorable course is for us all to vote our conscience. If those who oppose this war and any widening of it prevail, so be it. The President will pursue his current course until its failure demands we settle on Milosevic’s terms. Those who feel that course is preferable must accept blame for whatever negative consequences ensue from our failure.
“Should those of us who want to use all force necessary to end this war on our terms prevail, then, as I said, we must accept responsibility for our losses. But all members of Congress should then cease further debate and unite to support the early accomplishment of the mission.
“Let me close by urging the Administration and the Congress to show the resolve and confidence of a superpower. Our cause is just and our early success is imperative. Let us keep our nerve, and see the thing through to the end no matter how awful the images of war appear on our televisions. The costs of failure are infinitely greater than the price of victory.”