The Failure of Intervention

A worker walks in front of the remains of the former Chinese embassy during its demolition in Belgrade, November 10, 2010. Marko Djurica / Reuters

On the night of May 7, 1999 -- the 45th day of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia -- bombs struck the Chinese embassy in downtown Belgrade, crushing the building and killing three Chinese who were said to be journalists. An investigation revealed that American intelligence had misidentified the structure as the headquarters of the Yugoslav Bureau of Federal Supply and Procurement. On that basis, NATO planners had put it on the list of approved targets and, guided by satellite, an American b-2 bomber destroyed it.

The attack on the embassy was therefore a mistake. It was not, however, an aberration. It symbolized NATO's Yugoslav war, a conflict marked by military success and political failure. The alliance's air forces carried out their missions with dispatch; the assault forced the Serb military's withdrawal from the southern Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The wider political consequences of the war, however, were the opposite of what NATO's

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