David S. Bennahum on Wed, 31 Mar 1999 04:23:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Kosovo: repercussions?

In December 1996 I spent time in Serbia, chronicling the use of the
Internet during the popular uprising against Milosovic.  Back then, there
was a certain optimism that the days of the Milosovic regime were waning,
accelerated by the daily protests of thousands on the streets of Belgrade
and in other cities in Yugoslavia. 

Two years later I find myself, as so many others, compulsively reading
bulletins from Yugoslavia, scanning the Internet for the news, and feeling
utterly awful about a situation that, two years ago, seemed unimaginable. 

When the bombings began, I felt to immediate emotions-- that it was about
time the USA and its European allies stopped talking and use force to end
10 years of abhorrent mayhem led by Milosovic; and worry for the safety of
the people I'd come to know in Belgrade, who, two years ago, had tried to
unseat Milosovic. 

Now, as the days go by, the horror of taking military action without a
full military commitment is becoming apparent.  To begin a war, yet be
unwilling to finish it, is a cruel thing indeed.  Every day NATO dumps
tons of ordinance on a small country, bombs that can do little to stop the
immediate reality of a vengeful hand-to-hand paramilitary war against
civilians in Kosovo.  With the backdrop of cruise missiles, F-117A stealth
fighters, and B-2 bombers there is little these fancy tools of modern war
can do to stop the ruthless intent of people willing to kill civilians
using machine guns.  How the war planners overlooked this scenario is
utterly strange.  All modern war is scenario planned, with outcomes
estimated.  Somewhere this outcome was overlooked, or worse, dismissed. 
So now we have the extraordinarily cruel situation of mass-murder underway
by Serbian paramilitaries, while NATO bombs alienated the parts of Serbia
and Montenegro that stood in opposition to Milosovic, further solidifying
his power. 

And without ground troops, this war lurches toward Phyrric victory.  NATO
will destroy most of the Yugoslav military's command and control structure
for big operations using its airforce-- the structure that is useful for
an old-style Warsaw Pact vs. NATO battle-- but not so relevant for
coordinating Arkan-style death-squads.  All those need is a ready supply
of bullets, light vehicles, and cell phones.  The stuff anyone can get,
and that bombs do little against. For that you need soldiers on the
ground. And that's the last thing NATO wants to do. 

So NATO may well find itself guilty, if any organization can be "guilty,"
of starting a war without being willing to pay the price of finishing it.
But not risking NATO lives, NATO has chosen to trade off the lives of
American and European soldiers for the lives of Kosovo's civilian
population. It's old fashioned military calculus, the stuff that makes war

Every village massacre is a result, indirectly, for NATO's refusal to
bring armor and infantry to the battle.  American soldiers will live
because of this. Kosovars will not.  While I can understand the political
calculus of this, it is fundamentally cruel and immoral.  There is no
point of waging war if its commanders cannot pursue the war to its
fullest.  All this does is prolong the agony of civilian deaths and

Somewhere in the Pentagon odds are that you can find scenario plans that
take into account the dollar value of every American soldier.  This is a
function of expected annual income (the average US citizen earns around
$27,000 a year), times expected years of lifetime work, plus the cost of
training, outfitting, and supporting each soldier, weighted by rank.  That
will yeild the "value" in economic terms of every US casualty (pilots are
very expensive; support personnel like mechanics, less so).  Place that
value next to the value of a Kosovar, and you get some ridiculous lopsided
number.  That's the sort of calculus behind war planning, and the USA has
pretty much decided that it is too expensive, both politically and
economically, to suffer casualties of our citizens.  So we trade off those
lives for the lives of Kosovars. 

I didn't quite understand this outcome until yesterday, when it became
clear we'd utterly acted in error, unleashing a maelstrom of mass murder
and producing thousands and thousands of refugees.  This war was a
mistake, not because it was inherently wrong, but because NATO chose to do
it half-assedly.  And now the consequences have started to unfold; the
suffering only begins. 


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