By George Kenney and Michael J. Dugan;
Published: November 29, 1992
Here's how the Balkan crisis could unfold.
It is late January 1993. President Clinton decides it is in the American security interest to oppose Serbian aggression in the Balkans with force, in particular to permit the Bosnians to defend themselves. His advisers believe there is a third option beyond the choices President Bush claimed he faced -- either doing nothing or sending in hundreds of thousands of ground troops. Mr. Clinton's advisers develop a three-step plan based on the use of American competitive advantages.
The first step is coalition building. The U.S. should not act unilaterally -- that was the mistake we made in Vietnam -- yet the U.N. Security Council is deadlocked on the use of force, as is NATO. A coalition is possible only through ad-hoc arrangements. Three allies, Great Britain, France and Italy, must be included; they provide staging bases and a limited number of air, naval and ground forces which support a U.S.-dominated air power operation. The coalition arms and trains Bosnian forces, who conduct unconventional operations on the ground to recover their country.
President Clinton persuades several allies to agree to this plan. Here, Russia is a key player. Were Russia to disapprove at the start, the coalition would still keep it fully informed, while leaving the door open for cooperation. There is reason to believe Russia could be talked into participating: it has a natural interest in being seen as a player on the world stage in this peace-making effort.
The second step is insuring coordination with United Nations operations and deliveries of humanitarian relief. U.N. personnel become Serbian targets so the U.N. suspends its convoys. The U.N. operations are thus subordinated to larger war aims.
But with coalition support, the armed Bosnians are as able as the U.N. to deliver aid. In addition, the United States drops food packages on refugee areas from planes flying above ground fire. Bosnian forces create "safe haven" areas, which help prevent the depopulation of Bosnia and save tens of thousands of lives. The havens also keep hundreds of thousands of refugees out of Western Europe.
The third step is active belligerency, in two phases: first, destroying Serbian forces in Bosnia and, second, using concentrated force against Serbia itself.
In phase one, the U.S. uses Awacs aircraft and F-15 fighters to establish visible allied air supremacy over all the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Next, Serbian heavy artillery and armored units in Bosnia are prime targets for air strikes. British and French infiltration teams deploy anti-battery radar to locate Serbian artillery positions near areas under siege.
From bases in Italy and from one carrier in the Adriatic, U.S. F-15's, F-16's, F-18's and F-111's systematically neutralize the Serbian artillery units with precision-guided bombs and missiles. Using the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System -- Jstars -- or other sophisticated monitoring systems, the U.S. finds Serbian armored units; fighter aircraft destroy them. Where necessary, A-10 ground-attack aircraft help escort Bosnian convoys carrying relief supplies. Lacking heavy weapons and facing a resurgent Bosnian force, Serbian forces begin to fall back.
At this point, the Serbian Government in Belgrade could either up the ante or back off. Desperation, however, may drive the Serbs to test the coalition's resolve by sending new forces into Bosnia from bases in Serbia and Montenegro, by renewing the conflict in Croatia, or by starting a diversionary war in Kosovo, or any combination of the above.
Such action would prompt phase two: U.S. aircraft and Tomahawk missiles destroy centers of gravity in Serbia. We instruct Serbian troops to stay in their barracks; if they do not, we track their movements with Jstars and hit them with air strikes. Technology using carbon-fiber strands allows us to render useless Serbia's electricity grid, without destroying it, so that once hostilities cease power may be restored.
Other technology allows us to turn petroleum products in refineries and storage tanks into useless jelly, without destroying the facilities. We destroy Serbian communication installations. At the same time, we take over Serbian air waves to make our intentions to end the war clear to the Serbian people.
That is a war the Serbians cannot win.
Such an operation need not involve huge forces. This would be a joint Air Force-Navy operation of moderate difficulty. The U.S. would need, approximately: one carrier battle group with about 60 aircraft in the Adriatic; plus 3 Awacs, 1 Jstar, 5 to 10 KC-135 tankers, 24 A-10's, 24 F-15's, 18 F-111's and 24 F-16's with assorted stand-off and precision-guided weapons.
The operation would not be free, but United States costs in blood and treasure would be modest compared with that of the Bosnian trauma. Moreover, there are indications that, if asked, Saudi Arabia would be willing to consider paying a substantial share of these costs. Other states would also likely contribute.
A win in the Balkans would establish U.S. leadership in the post-cold war world in a way that Operation Desert Storm never could.