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Launch of Airstrikes Creates a Case of Nerves Among Allies

Crisis in Yugoslavia

NATO: Diplomats, politicians and observers express reservations. Concerns focus on spreading conflict, legality of action, risk of casualties.

March 25, 1999|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG and TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The problem, some military analysts now say, is that the means chosen by NATO to follow up on 10 months of tough talk--massive and repeated aerial bombardments--may be inadequate to the challenge of ending the violence in Kosovo and forcing Milosevic to back down.

One of Europe's most respected defense specialists, Jonathan Eyal of Britain's Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies, was quoted by the French news agency Agence France-Presse as saying that the airstrikes will not necessarily end the Kosovo Albanians' ordeal.

"What we are trying to do is punish Milosevic and tell him to return to the negotiations table. He has painted us into a corner. We have to do it, but it would be stupid for us to believe that it is going to solve anything," Eyal said.

"In order to 'ethnically cleanse,' you don't need very sophisticated equipment" he continued. "As we have seen at Racak [where at least 45 ethnic Albanians were massacred], it's enough to have a pistol, and nobody is telling me that we are going to destroy all the pistols from the air."

Jane Sharp, senior fellow at the Center for Defense Studies at King's College in London, said in an interview that, far from undermining Milosevic, NATO attacks are likely to consolidate his hold on power and Serbian public opinion.

"People in London remember the Blitz, and it pulled us together," Sharp said, referring to the WWII air raids by the Nazi Luftwaffe on the British capital that killed more than 29,000 people and injured 120,000. "I don't know of a single case where the bombing caused a weakening of civilian morale."

If Milosevic takes the punishment and doesn't yield, the sole way to guarantee the safety of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo would be to send in heavily armed troops backed by tanks and other armored vehicles to push back the Yugoslav army and security forces, many experts inside and outside NATO say.

However, that has always been a nonstarter for NATO countries.

According to the European diplomat worried about a situation similar to Iraq, military planners in the alliance actually drew up a plan for hostile intervention in Kosovo and found that 200,000 troops would be needed. While that figure is less than a third of the 700,000 deployed in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, it is a commitment that would probably draw little political support either in the United States or among its European allies.

"No government here is willing to do that," the diplomat said. "We're in the dark about what to do if the bombings don't give us what we want."

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Dahlburg reported from Brussels and Marshall from Washington.

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