Review Essay

Compromised Command

In This Review

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat

Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat
By General Wesley K. Clark
PublicAffairs, 2001, 479 pp. $30.00 Purchase

As NATO's Supreme Commander during the air war over Kosovo, Wesley Clark should have been the most supreme commander ever. In theory, he controlled history's biggest and broadest alliance in its first venture into combat. In fact, however, his command was compromised by more conflicting pressures -- political, diplomatic, military, and legal -- than any other in history. Given these constraints, keeping the enterprise from flying apart was no mean feat, and Clark has a right to be proud of the victory he helped to achieve. But the story he tells in Waging Modern War makes one wonder how much that victory owed to luck -- despite the utterly lopsided balance of power between the West and Serbia. As Clark's account suggests, we have reason to worry if NATO ever has to maintain solidarity and combat effectiveness in a fair fight.

Many of the problems Clark confronted were typical of any war. Others, however, were unprecedented. The Kosovo air war was waged by a 19-member coalition operating by consensus, making it the most multilateral campaign ever. Clark's position in the resulting maelstrom was also unique: he was the nexus of American and European demands and of civilian and military authorities. From this vantage, he observed a slew of serious problems in NATO's approach. In less diplomatic terms than Clark uses to describe them, these problems included making war without admitting that it was war, and a clash of confused notions of how to use force effectively. Clark also faults the American military for failing to support the war properly. His accounts of the straitjacket that NATO legal advisers put on tactical options are laughable -- but only because Serbia's inability to fight back kept such restraints from endangering NATO forces.


Clark cites Karl von Clausewitz's dictum that sane people should not start wars unless they have plans for how to finish them. Clark does not mention Napoleon's more adventurous view, which turned out to characterize NATO's approach

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