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News Release


Release No: 409-99
September 10, 1999


Thank you Jim [Thomson, President of RAND], for that gracious introduction. Dr. [John] Chipman [Director of IISS]; distinguished guests, including General Klaus Naumann [former Chairman, NATO Military Committee], ladies and gentlemen.

The author, Alistair Cooke, once noted, "Today, the rest of America, and after that Europe, had better heed what happens in California for it already reveals the type of civilization in store for all of us." Or as the scholar Peter Vale put it, "Rejoice my friends or weep with sorrow. What California is today, the world will be tomorrow."

Indeed, this region is the razor-sharp edge of a worldwide transition from military-industrial economies, reliant on government capital, to information-based economies, reliant on intellectual capital -- a trend, of course, now transforming virtually every aspect of life the world over. In fact, this spring afforded an amazing glimpse of warfare in this new world. Kosovo, like all battles studied through the hard lens of hindsight, illuminates in many ways how America, our Allies, and adversaries will approach the art of war well into the next century.

I think it is clear that, as we begin the next millennium, the United States with our NATO Allies constitutes the matchless military force of our time. Nevertheless, Serbia, which is the size of my home state of Maine with an economy one-quarter the size of San Diego's, did indeed step onto the fighting field, challenging this matchless force and raising profound questions about the best way to prepare for and respond to such adversaries in the future.

General MacArthur once said, "The military is forced to depend upon intelligent interpretation of the past for signposts charting the future." With that in mind, I have called on two of this nation's most able interpreters, my Deputy Secretary [of Defense], John Hamre, and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Ralston, to examine our operations in Kosovo, to elicit the lessons learned, and to suggest the signposts toward the future in an After Action Report that I will provide to Congress this fall. While to discuss any findings at this point would be to draw premature conclusions, I do want to share with you tonight some of the preliminary lessons. These fall into two broad categories: lessons about the Alliance that will help us operate more effectively with NATO in the future and lessons for America that will help shape how we think about our own strategy, planning, budgeting, and training.

I would begin, however, with a crowning lesson for both America and the Alliance, one guiding much of our thinking. As a nation, as an alliance, we face something of a superpower paradox. Our supremacy in the conventional arena is prompting adversaries to pursue increasingly unconventional and asymmetric methods of warfare. There is a tendency to view this paradox largely in terms of stateless or state-sponsored actors who seek to wield terror with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. But we have learned in Kosovo to stretch this sensibility of asymmetric warfare to include not merely tools but also tactics. In Slobodan Milosevic, NATO faced a foe who saw rape, pillage, and slaughter as appropriate and even preferred military tactics; who created a humanitarian crisis as a combat strategy; and who viewed mass executions and expulsion as in his nation's interest.

In June, mere days after U.S. forces arrived in Kosovo, I saw first-hand the effects of this campaign of terror. I visited the small town of Urosevac, about 16 miles outside Pristina and now the headquarters of the U.S. sector. But during the war, the town had served as a staging ground for the Yugoslav Army's ethnic cleansing. And I will never forget standing in the center of that town marked by so many burned-out houses and shattered shops, surrounded by Kosovar faces, newly lit with joy at their liberation, but not yet filled with the rage and indignation we see today.

And so while the animosities of the past endure in Kosovo, we should have no doubt: to have sat on the sidelines, leaving Milosevic to unleash his forces with impunity would have been a total and unacceptable defeat, not only for NATO and the United States, but also for the peace and stability we have fought to bring to Europe for the better part of a century.

Tonight, because NATO held fast and held firm, I can share with you some of the insights from an extraordinarily successful military campaign. First, the lessons for NATO, which spoke both to the strength and shortcomings of the Alliance.

One of the most important lessons we learned in Kosovo was that the NATO Alliance remains more than equal to the task of defending our collective interests and values in Europe. The command structure developed over 50 years can be effective and adaptable today. Our forces are well-trained in common doctrine and in the use of shared equipment for a range of contingencies. And throughout the operation, 19 democracies, each with distinct ethnic, cultural, historical and trade relations with Serbia, and some in the face of deep domestic opposition, maintained the cohesion and consensus necessary for a campaign that lasted two and a half months, a remarkable cohesion that in itself was no doubt critical to Milosevic's capitulation.

A related lesson is that NATO can be quite flexible when necessary, adapting to meet rapidly changing mission requirements. The Alliance spent decades and countless dollars tailoring and training itself to carry out large-scale campaigns involving the combined efforts of air, naval, and ground forces. But in this instance, we asked our forces to undertake an air campaign alone. And while we will always prefer operations that keep all options open, our amazing and unprecedented success -- more than 37,000 sorties with all but two planes returning safely and not a single combat casualty -- is a remarkable testament to the skill, training, and flexibility of our forces and the vitality of the Alliance.

At the same time, Belgrade's battle strategy included a deliberate, manufactured humanitarian crisis, a crisis that required NATO to undertake a massive humanitarian mission at the same time that we were conducting combat operations. Indeed, a NATO force, composed largely of troops from Europe working with dozens of private aid organizations, responded to a flood of more than a million refugees and reassured the fragile host nations, preventing them from imploding under the pressure as Milosevic had intended. That too is a testament to the flexibility of NATO forces, forces that then rapidly transformed themselves from warfighters to peacekeepers, peacekeepers that today include soldiers from Russia and other members of the Partnership for Peace.

So we see another lesson for the Alliance. NATO and Russia can continue to work together in shared pursuit of common interests. Despite initial misunderstandings and misgivings, the Russians made a decisive contribution to the diplomatic resolution of the conflict, no doubt contributing greatly to Milosevic's decision to meet our terms. And Russian troops are now fully integrated and performing well within the peacekeeping force. Indeed, I would suggest that notwithstanding recent incidents in Kosovo between Russian forces and ethnic Albanians, a closer collaboration with Russia is becoming a largely unheralded success of this peacekeeping mission. This gives us hope for better communication and cooperation on a host of other matters, such as revising the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, reducing the nuclear legacy of the Cold War, and arriving at a shared system for early warning of missile launches.

At the same time, not every lesson learned by NATO was entirely encouraging. Just as we witnessed the strengths of the Alliance, so too did we see its shortcomings. Winston Churchill once remarked, "In working with allies, it sometimes happens that they develop opinions of their own." Indeed, Allied Force reminded us that consensus is both the heart and, at times, the hindrance of a coalition. It became very clear very quickly that NATO needed to retool its existing political machinery to be more effective for the staccato timing of a military contingency. In this instance, we shifted more authority to the commanders in the field, allowing them greater flexibility. In the future, NATO's political structure will need to remain as adaptable as its military structure.

Like Bosnia before, Kosovo was also a powerful reminder that NATO's transformation from a force ready to repel an armor-heavy invasion to one that can mount a more flexible, mobile defense is still incomplete. While the United States could not have carried out this operation alone, a great deal of this operation rested on American capabilities. The United States conducted two-thirds of all support sorties and about half of all combat sorties. And because we are the only nation with precision-guided munitions that can operate in all kinds of weather, heavy cloud cover in the early phases of the campaign at times made it an almost exclusively American operation. Moreover, not all of our Allies possessed interoperable communications equipment, sometimes leaving us with a lowest common denominator option, communicating targets through channels that were also open to the Serbs, which may have compromised our effectiveness and unnecessarily risked the lives of our pilots.

Individually, many Allies are making progress in transforming their militaries to meet the missions of the future, as we are now seeing in the largely European peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Collectively, however, we must make NATO even more effective. This is why Allied leaders launched a Defense Capabilities Initiative at the NATO Summit in April. Through this initiative, we have agreed to develop forces that are more mobile, beginning with our recent assessment of NATO's strategic lift requirements for planning purposes; forces that can sustain themselves longer with logistics systems that ensure they have supplies when and where they are needed; forces that can communicate more efficiently with a common NATO command, control, and communication architecture by 2002; forces that can engage more effectively with new systems and advanced technologies, such as greater stocks of precision-guided munitions, and; forces that can survive better with stronger defenses against chemical, biological, and information warfare.

The political commitment to these and other improvements is certainly promising, but if our European Allies are to close the distance with American technology, they simply must make a greater investment in national security by reallocating scarce resources, committing to regular upgrading of equipment, and increasing funding of research and development. At the very least, budgets must be restructured to generate funds for new spending. And so the naming of my colleague and friend George Robertson as the next Secretary General for NATO gives great hope that his energy and enthusiasm, so crucial to the transformation of the British military, will infuse and invigorate the transformation of the Alliance as well.

As I noted at the outset, just as there are lessons for NATO to heed, so, too, are there lessons for the U.S. Allied Force reminded us again just how much the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs is fundamentally changing the way we fight. In the past, we needed multiple bombers to hit a single target. In Kosovo, a single bomber could destroy multiple targets. In Operation Desert Storm, rightly celebrated for its technical prowess, only a handful of our most sophisticated aircraft could deliver precision-guided munitions, and only nine percent of all munitions were. In Kosovo, nearly all U.S. fighters could deliver these devastating weapons and in the opening days of Allied Force, 100 percent of U.S. ordnance was precision-guided.

Kosovo also reminded us of the imperative of ensuring that the best available battlefield intelligence reaches the cockpit as quickly as possible, what we call from "sensor to shooter." In Kosovo, a vast number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems - analysts in Washington and across Europe, space-based satellites, and for the first time in large-scale operational use, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs -- allowed for the rapid collection and collating into a single system the vital battlefield intelligence that we sent to our shooters.

Taken together, all these innovations allowed our pilots to hit any target, any time, day or night, in any weather, accurate to within a few feet. For example, during one mission we were able to strike a radio transmitter in downtown Belgrade with little, if any, damage to the surrounding buildings. And of our thousands of missiles and bombs dropped in the course of the conflict, nearly all hit the intended target. Ladies and gentlemen, that is unprecedented. That is what gave us an overwhelming military advantage, and that is what brought us victory without a single combat casualty.

At the same time, we were reminded that even the most advanced technologies and peerless weapons have their limits. After all, a precision-guided weapon can only hit the coordinates it is given, and collecting the right coordinates remains a challenge. Targets can be moved or hidden from view. Tools, such as the valuable UAVs, can be vulnerable in a hostile environment. Moreover, our vast intelligence system can create such a haystack of data that finding the one needle that will pinpoint a target in the right timeframe is difficult, indeed. And even though the most modern technology can never completely free us from human error, we simply cannot afford tragic mistakes such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy.

These limits to technology underscore a final lesson of Kosovo. America's armed forces excel not only because of our equipment, our training, and our tactics, but ultimately because of our people. The ability of our forces to meet any situation, no matter how unfamiliar or unexpected, and then adapt and innovate is one of their greatest strengths. And so one of our greatest challenges is to continue to recruit and retain highly skilled people able to operate in this high-tech environment.

Our After Action Report will focus largely on how we fought in Kosovo, but much of the commentary and critiques have, of course, focused on why. Kosovo has been called the first war of principle, a fight to defend justice and basic human rights. But Kosovo also reminded us that any time a nation considers the use of force, it must ask and answer the following: whether the lives of its citizens, the security of the nation, or the fundamental principles of its people are directly threatened; whether the vital interests of its closest Allies are jeopardized, risking the stability on which that nation's way of life depends; whether the wheel of conflict, if allowed to spin on its violent axis, will draw other nations into its vortex at greater and more devastating cost, and; whether inaction threatens humanitarian catastrophe or establishes a precedent of allowing unfettered criminal behavior to undermine international peace and stability.

Indeed, among the enduring lessons of this and every conflict is that we must resist the temptation to use our forces in every dispute that catches our eye and emotion. But we also must recognize the truth that there will be times when we not only can act, but when we must act, as we did in Kosovo.

Winston Churchill once remarked that "the problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat, but they are no less difficult." The lessons we are learning in this victory are largely agreeable: that NATO proved its unity, resolve, and ability to defend its interests and values, and that the United States and its Allies do, indeed, possess a matchless military force. At the same time, we will also continue to grapple with the difficult lessons we learned in victory, about how and why the United States and our Allies will meet the changes and challenges of the coming century.

Thank you, and I would be glad to take a few questions.

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