In the war on terrorism, alliances are not an obstacle to victory - they're the key to it. So says the American who ran the Kosovo warby Wesley Clark / December 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
A few days after 11th September, I was at the Pentagon and ran into an old acquaintance, now a senior official. We chatted about television coverage of the crisis and the impending operation in Afghanistan. I began to talk about how we had waged the war in Kosovo by working within Nato-but he cut me off. “We read your book,” he scoffed. “No one’s going to tell us where we can or can’t bomb.”
That was exactly how the US proceeded. The campaign in Afghanistan wasn’t an all-American show. The US sought and won help from an array of countries. But unlike the Kosovo campaign, where Nato provided a consensus-shaping process, allied support in this war took the form of “flexible” coalitions. Countries supported the US in the manner and to the extent they felt able to, but without any pretence of sharing in the decisions. European leaders sought to be more involved. At Europe’s urging, Nato even declared that the attack on the US represented an attack on every member. Even so, Washington marginalised the alliance. The UN was similarly sidelined.
The first weeks of the campaign against the Taleban went well. Early success reinforced the conviction of some within the US government that a war against terror is best waged outside the structures of international institutions-that US leadership must be “unfettered.” This is a fundamental misjudgement. The longer this war goes on the more our success depends on the willing co-operation and active participation of our allies to root out terrorist cells in Europe and Asia, to cut off funding and support of terrorists and to deal with Saddam Hussein and other threats. We are far more likely to win the support we need by working through international institutions. Because the Bush administration has refused to engage our allies through Nato, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.
That official I met at the Pentagon had misread the lessons of Kosovo. Nato wasn’t an obstacle to victory in Kosovo; it was the reason for our victory. For 78 days in the spring of 1999, the alliance battled to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanians by the mainly Serb troops and government of Slobodan Milosevic. It was the first war against a sovereign state Nato had fought in its 50-year history. Like the war in Afghanistan, it was mainly an air campaign (although the…