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How Kosovo is redefining NATO

Patricia Kelly

By Patricia Kelly
CNN Correspondent

April 23, 1999
Web posted at: 10:05 a.m. EDT (1405 GMT)

Patricia Kelly, CNN Brussels bureau chief, is covering the NATO summit in Washington. This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

In this story:

Day by day, deeper and deeper

Fighting in an instant media culture

One reputation -- or 19?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On day three of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea issued this simple warning: "Let me make this clear, this is not a one- or two-day affair."

He might as well have been talking to himself, for all the notice most people took at the time.

It has since become painfully obvious that few people expected the airstrikes to last this long -- including many in the military, quite a few NATO ambassadors, not a few NATO nations, most NATO officials and nearly all of the media.

NATO briefing
Brig. Gen. Giuseppe Marani, NATO Military Spokesman, left, and NATO Spokesman Jamie Shea   

Day by day, deeper and deeper

On day one, NATO airstrikes destroyed three of the Yugoslav military's best warplanes. Hopes soared high among NATO's 19 member nations that this would be a short-lived affair, as NATO pilots began to pick off the targets on their list one by one.

No one in NATO ever really expected Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to stand up to the world's largest and most powerful military alliance.

And although they do admit they were forewarned about a possible mass exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, few governments paid much heed until the refugee crisis threatened to significantly destabilize parts of the region.

After 31 days of strikes (Friday is day 31), NATO's air campaign is now openly referred to as a war.

Armchair generals the world over advocate sending ground troops to Kosovo. And even NATO officials muse over the possible deployment of ground forces in what they coyly describe as "a semi-permissive environment."

Fighting in an instant media culture

As the media circus -- 4,000 accredited journalists and counting -- descended on Washington for NATO's 50th anniversary summit this weekend, media criticism of NATO's campaign was mounting.

Gen. Wesley Clark
Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO Supreme Commander   

Increasing public demands on NATO heads of government to come up with a fast formula to solve the crisis are coupled with media irritation at the lack of instant access to operational information.

Media companies with correspondents in Belgrade pester the military with demands for target lists so they can tip off their people in an attempt to keep them safe.

Some journalists who have never covered a military campaign before (and who might not recognize a four-star general if they tripped over one) dare to criticize NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark for being a day-to-day tactician instead of a long-term strategist.

NATO itself is accused by some in the media of making up its Kosovo strategy as it goes along. The alliance is criticized by some in the media for not targeting Milosevic, then criticized again if there is the slightest suggestion the Yugoslav president is on an assassination list.

One reputation -- or 19?

Yet this is NATO's first war, the first time in its history the alliance has gone on the offensive.

NATO outlasted the Soviet threat that created the need for the Western military alliance. Intervention on behalf of Kosovo, justified by NATO in the name of democracy, freedom, human rights and Western values, is reshaping its future.

On the eve of the Washington summit, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana called for patience and perseverance.

NATO graphic

This summit, he said, is one of the most important meetings alliance governments have ever held. Solana described Kosovo as the gravest crisis that Europe and NATO have faced for many years.

"If Europe is to enjoy a stable democratic peace, it is essential that our values prevail in Kosovo, and not those values of Milosevic," he said. He promised the alliance would see the Kosovo crisis through to the end.

If NATO succeeds in Kosovo, alliance governments believe they will eliminate war in Europe caused by nationalism and religious fervor.

"Ethnic cleansing is a crime and we have to reverse it," Solana said.

If NATO fails to achieve its objectives in Kosovo, it's been publicly argued that the alliance will have failed as an organization as well.

But at NATO headquarters, the majority of officials fear it's not so much the organization but the 19 democratic nations that belong to it that will have suffered defeat.

y: CNN's Nic Robertson with a rural view of Kosovo's bumpy road to peace
February 4, 1999

More CNN correspondent analysis -- find by dateline

CNN In-Depth: NATO at 50

CNN In-Depth: Strike on Yugoslavia

NATO -- official homepage

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