WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary William S. Cohen argued strongly Friday for sticking with NATO's air-only military strategy in Yugoslavia. To push the allies into adding ground combat forces would risk fracturing NATO and undercutting support for the bombing, he said.
In an interview, Cohen described himself as increasingly confident that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will prevail using air power alone and predicted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic eventually will be brought to justice to face the war crimes charges issued this week by a U.N. court.
"There is no consensus for a ground force," Cohen said, adding that it would be unwise to start pressing for such a dramatic shift in strategy if there is no assurance that all the allies would go along.
For the Clinton administration to press for a NATO consensus on using ground combat troops would mean "you really diffuse or in any way diminish the commitment to the air campaign," Cohen said.
Evidence of that, he said, was the German reaction when Britain proposed recently that ground forces might forcibly enter Kosovo once the Serbian army is worn down by more bombing. Britain was not arguing for an all-out ground war, but the suggestion prompted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to declare a ground campaign "unthinkable."
Cohen met quietly with some of the allies Thursday, at a meeting of European Union defense ministers.