The Lessons Of Kosovo:
Fighting The Wrong Enemy?
When Carl von Clausewitz articulated the principles of modern warfare two hundred years ago, he focused on four areas: the actors of war, their interests in waging war, the rules of war, and the technical means of combat. The actors of modern warfare are, according to Clausewitz, sovereign states, whose interests in waging war include defense or acquisition of territory, honoring or violation of treaties, and national prestige. Wars between states are "games" declared and conducted according to established international laws, and they are fought by means of conventional weapons, regulated and approved by these laws.
Although Clausewitz’s principles are still widely recognized, it is important to realize that some recent international conflicts, like the one in Kosovo, do not conform to any of these criteria. Kosovo is not a sovereign state, neither is Serbia. Yugoslavia is, but one of its constitutive parts, Montenegro, refused to be involved in that war, despite the NATO bombs. Neither is NATO a sovereign state; it is a political and military alliance created for defensive purposes which, this time, found itself on the side of the aggressor.
The principal interests of the sides involved in the conflict were not those listed by Clausewitz. The Serb forces did not try to gain new territory but to reclaim control of territory which, according to internationally recognized borders, belong to Yugoslavia and Serbia. NATO was guided, at least officially, by even loftier goals: the humanitarian concerns triggered by the escalation of fighting in Kosovo and especially the forced exodus of thousands of Kosovo Albanians. While genuine philanthropy should always be a desirable goal, the chosen means were morally dubious: NATO engaged itself in a self-proclaimed "humanitarian intervention" by dropping bombs that literally tore Serbia and Kosovo apart. Unlike Clausewitz (and Hobbes before him), who believed that war is a permanent state of affairs interrupted by short periods of peace, NATO’s proclaimed goals involved establishing long-term security and stability in the entire region. Whether or not bombs and destruction can, indeed, bring genuine peace and stability is another question; at any rate, more time is needed to reveal the full political and moral consequences of the NATO campaign.
It is, however, immediately obvious that the war in Kosovo was characterized by many flagrant violations of international laws. While the Serb government broke the agreement regulating the number of their troops in Kosovo, and its forces blatantly violated the human rights of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, NATO also violated just about any law it could: the United Nations Charter, the NATO’s own Charter, the U.S. Constitution, The War Powers Act, and so on. Moreover, NATO used bombs with low (depleted) uranium and cluster bombs, which are not conventionally approved weapons. Although the question of establishing proper authority with enough power to enforce international laws is one of the burning problems in today’s world, I would like to focus here on the technologizing of wars, since this represents the most decisive departure from the Clausewizian canon and which may, indeed, seal the fate of our entire civilization.
Clausewitz could not predict the remarkable developments of technology that have radically changed the character of modern warfare. He depicts war as a "game" of sorts: he frequently uses the analogies of a "duel" and a "wrestling" match. The seventy-nine day NATO campaign did not conform to this paradigm. When NATO’s airplanes were mercilessly dropping bombs from 15,000 feet above, Serb forces could hear them, but they did not see them. NATO missiles launched from the ships stationed in the distanced Adriatic sea literally came out of nowhere. This was a war in which one side was almost invisible to the other.
NATO’s super-technical military campaign was far more "Kafkaesque" than "Clauzewitzian," not only in character, but also in the extent of destruction caused. According to the sources in the British government and a BBC special study (very similar results were announced by the German government), NATO war planes flew 35,000 missions, including just under 10,000 bombing missions, dropping over 23,000 bombs and missiles (a third of which were guided weapons), on a territory far smaller than that of New England. The number of casualties is not publicly known and is susceptible to political manipulation of all kinds. According to various Western sources (ranging from NATO official figures to UN forensic teams), the estimated number of deaths in Kosovo alone, including the victims of the Serb forces, the Serb-KLA fighting, and the NATO bombing, ranges from 100,000 to less than 2,000. The estimated number of casulties in Serbia and Montenegro, as a direct result of the NATO bombing is, according to the Yugoslav government, around 2,000 dead and 10,000 wounded. Whatever the exact numbers, and however "smart" the bombs NATO used, it was the civilian population that was, once again, the main victim of war.
The extent of material and economic damage is far less controversial, although even more devastating and surreal. The bombing destroyed almost half of Yugoslav industrial production and caused $2.8 billion damage to the Yugoslav economy. The targets included military camps and airports, government buildings and refineries, electric plants and factories, bridges and roads, hospitals and schools, TV transmitters and hotels, market places and civilian houses. If left to rely on its own resources, without international help, Yugoslavia will need 25 to 30 years to bring its economy back to where it was before the bombing started. Immediate aid for Kosovo and the Balkan region requires $4 billion, and reconstruction of the region in the next five years will cost an estimated $32 billion. The peacekeeping operation in the next five years will require a minimum of $9.6 billion. Altogether, the amount of economic damage together with the peacekeeping operation and reconstruction efforts will amount to (approximately) $50 billion. Let me remark that these figures do not include the expenses of the military machines of the nineteen NATO countries (the first day of bombing alone cost over $40 million), nor do they take into account the enormous environmental damage to Yugoslavia, the neighboring countries, and the Adriatic sea, which at this point cannot be even estimated; it will take years, perhaps decades, before we see the full effects of the 23,000 bombs dropped during the Kosovo crisis.
Nor could anyone possibly calculate the amount of pain, psychological stress, and moral damage that was inflicted on the civilians and solders who were—directly or indirectly, willingly or not—involved in that immensely violent campaign. Foreign aid may help rebuild factories and electric plants, but what will heal the human wounds, hatred, and distrust that the war escalated or produced?
NATO’s superior technology certainly dominated the military aspect of the Kosovo crisis. There is every indication that technology will even further modify and determine the character of future international conflicts to such an extent that these conflicts could not be properly called ‘wars’ any more. It is already evident that technologically advanced nations no longer need standing armies. It is also well known that many countries are already capable of waging ‘war’ with chemical and biological weapons. In a frightening yet realistic scenario, a group of well prepared ‘terrorists’ may be sent to a foreign country to create chaos by means of man-made poisons or viruses. A planned action of that kind may have truly disastrous consequences, without the victims ever being able to determine the identity or motives of their assailant.
The way our modern technology develops creates many further destructive possibilities of which I will mention only one more, since it could have been (and to a certain extent was) used during the Kosovo crisis. The supreme allied commander of the NATO forces in Europe, General Wesley Clark, stunned a recent session of the US senate armed forces committee (early November 1999) by questioning the need for the aerial assault on Serbia and Kosovo, and calling for a complete rethinking of western military strategy. General Clark gave his highest endorsement for the use of various forms of ‘cyber-war’ which, according to his testimony, could have stopped Serb ethnic cleansing faster and with far less bloodshed and material damage. For instance, it was quite possible to use "offensive hacking" against Serb computers and jam or subvert their military communications and political propaganda. Instead of bombing and physically destroying Serb TV stations and transmitters, NATO could have used transmissions from neighboring countries or electronic warplanes (like the EA-6B Prowler) to subvert Belgrade’s TV broadcast by slotting in reports of Serb atrocities in Kosovo, or by replacing Serb TV broadcast wholesale with CNN or BBC programming. To give another example, it is possible to use microwave technology that could disable the opponent’s electronic equipment, erase bank accounts, change electronic military commands and messages, and create chaos in the entire software system. Fortunately or unfortunately, NATO’s leaders preferred massive civilian casualties to opening up the new dimension of warfare. They clearly recognized that cyber-combat would reveal the vulnerability of capital assets that ultimately mattered far more to them than civilian lives.
Even an inspired prophet of the caliber of Clausewitz could not have envisioned our progress in building sophisticated military technology. Instead of being limited to a fair-play duel of massive proportions between two standing armies, our technology makes it possible to destroy, disable, or paralyze our enemies without them realizing the who, the how, or the why behind the phenomenon of destruction. One problem with this is that the victim does not have to be someone else; it could just as well be ourselves. Justly or not, like Kafka’s tragic hero Joseph K., we could be "arrested" by an invisible accuser for an unknown charge. And although we have not yet witnessed an all-technological ‘war’ (whether nuclear, chemical, biological, or cyber), there is a real and threatening possibility that such a ‘war’ may break out in any part of the globe, at any time. The apocalypse has left the pages of science fiction to become a threatening reality. War, destruction, and violence have for a long time been mankind's obsession and way of life. Must they also be our destiny? Do we still have a choice?
Theoretically speaking, there is always a choice. From a practical point of view, however, things look far more hopeless. As a civilization, we have—consciously or not—already made our choice. We have opted for a paradigm of constant competition, mistrust, and innovation that is expected (somehow, miraculously) to solve our problems.
Competition has become the modus vivendi of our lives. We constantly compete – at all ages, at all levels, for all kinds of ends. We have forgotten that there may be other modes of existence and we have turned our lives into a continuous race and a constant fight. The ultimate goal is success; we worship the goddess of success with far more fervor and irrational devotion than any religious deity ever received in the past. What is important is to succeed; why is it so important and how are our lives made better and richer when we do so remains beyond our grasp and even our reflection.
Competition does not create companions and friends but opponents and enemies. It does not enhance our capacity to trust our neighbors, but only creates suspicion and distrust. It makes us unable even to trust ourselves and our more generous impulses. We have convinced ourselves that we should always be in a state of alert, for not only could our opponents deprive us of success, they may do so by means of deception. Thus, we cannot trust anyone; to prepare ourselves for the worst possible scenario, we erect fences and build powerful armies and weapons that should deter our enemies and give us the capability to strike back whenever needed.
In our constant competition and deep mistrust toward others, we have invested enormous financial resources and employed some of the best minds in order to build defense systems and weapons of destruction. It would be incorrect and unfair to say that we have invested only in destructive machines and weapons. The fact is, however, that we are far more successful in creating means of destruction, and that we have lost control (partially or fully) over the technologies we have created. The fact is that our technologies, even when invented with the best intentions and for constructive purposes, almost always turn out to have negative, poisoning, or destructive effects as well. When we realize that these techniques create problems for us, we invest even more in newer, more potent technologies, only to realize that we have both rendered our better selves impotent and pushed ourselves even closer toward the abyss of complete self-destruction.
I will be so pessimistic to claim that we are not only headed toward self-annihilation, we are racing toward it. And our superior technology is the vehicle that is delivering us into the hands of the devil. The problem, however, is not so much with the vehicle but with the driver. Naively, or ignorantly, we are not even aware how close we have brought ourselves to the brink of the abyss.
Do we still have a chance for survival and sanity? Maybe we do. But we have to stop fighting the wrong enemy and radically confront and change our own attitudes and values. The Kosovo crisis was yet another chapter in the history of human destructiveness, and yet another illustration of our blindness and inability to adjust to reality. As if we still live in the Clausewitzian world of classical duels and battles of honor, and do not recognize the quite different real world where such "games" have enormously tragic and potentially apocalyptic consequences, we still take pride in the wrong things: having superior weapons, winning the war, defeating our enemy… Nothing will change our course of self-destruction as long as we always suspect our enemy to be someone else and somewhere else. Yet like Kafka’s tragic character Joseph K., we really have only one enemy—ourselves. We are our biggest enemy. We are passing a sentence of death on ourselves. There is every indication that as a civilization we have neither the insight nor the courage to understand and confront our predicament. If we are realistic and serious, we have to predict that humanity will self-destruct. Taking into consideration our moral cowardice, culpable ignorance and deadly weaponry, and factoring in the effects of increasing ecological degradation and the unstoppable demographic explosion, it is not very realistic to expect that humanity will survive the twenty-first century.
I challenge myself and all of you to prove this prophecy wrong.