Courtesy Reuters

The New Way of War?

In This Review

NATO's Air War for Kosovo

By Benjamin S. Lambeth
Rand, 2001
276 pp. $20.00

Stephen Biddle is on leave from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, while serving as Associate Professor of National Security Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. The views expressed here are his own.

From March 29 to June 9, 1999, the NATO alliance, led by the world's only superpower, waged war on a lone republic in an already conflict-ridden region. The combined population of NATO's 19 countries exceeded Serbia's 11 million people by a factor of 65. NATO's annual defense budget was 25 times larger than Serbia's entire economy. Its armed forces outnumbered Serbia's by a factor of 35.

The big news: NATO won.

Does this feat really merit three books in a single year? Actually, it does, for mundane as it should have been, NATO's success was far from certain at the time. And this curious little war has had important implications for U.S. military policy in the three years since. As Andrew Bacevich and Eliot Cohen argue in War Over Kosovo, the conflict helped crystallize a fundamentally new "American way of war." The merits of this new approach have been hotly debated ever since, and this debate frames the central themes of all three books.


For Cohen and Bacevich, this new way of war stems from a collision between subtle strategic problems and an unsubtle strategic culture. With communism's demise, they argue, the United States found itself in a world of legitimate but lesser security concerns. Balkan thugs posed no existential threat to America, but civil war in Kosovo could lead to ethnic cleansing, which could create a refugee crisis, destabilize Macedonia and Albania, draw Greece into war, spur renewed Greco-Turkish conflict, and on and on. To prevent this cascade, and potentially others like it, U.S. leadership and military muscle would be needed. Americans, however, are uncomfortable shedding blood for such murky causes. The country likes its aims noble, its objectives clear, its enemies evil, and its commitments short. Americans do well in crusades to end fascism

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