Friday, August 20, 1999 Published at 03:34 GMT 04:34 UK
Nato's inner Kosovo conflict
General Clark: "didn't always defer to those who wanted targets withheld"
In a special Newsnight programme Mark Urban investigates Nato's handling of the Kosovo crisis. Interviewing the key players he finds that the Allies were far from united. (Newsnight - BBC Two - 10.30pm - Friday 20 August)
Talk to the people running Nato's war against Slobodan Milosevic and many will tell you it was a "near run thing".
Mr Talbott, regarded as the man closest to President Clinton in the Washington foreign policy team, adds: "I think it was a good thing that the conflict ended when it did."
The decision to go on bombing was the only thing the Allies could agree because hawks (arguing for all options up to a full-scale invasion) and doves (who wanted a pause in the bombing) cancelled one another out. Alliance decisions had to be agreed by all 19 members.
This meant that clear warnings from Nato's military experts had to be ignored in the interests of consensus.
General Klaus Naumann, chairman of Nato's Military Committee during last summer's first alliance discussions about intervention says he formally cautioned Nato's top political body that, "one has to be prepared to escalate, if one doesn't achieve the political objective with the first military actions".
Gen Naumann is critical of the Americans for ruling out the commitment of ground troops.
Even last October, America's reluctance to endanger its soldiers was limiting Nato's freedom of action.
When an agreement was signed for a ceasefire in Kosovo to be monitored by outsiders it was thought the absence of western soldiers was a concession to President Milosevic.
When June's deal was finally done to send in the international Kosovo Force (K-For), the whole operation had to be postponed for 24 hours because US troops were not ready to go in.
President Clinton was determined to conduct the operation by airpower alone.
And if President Milosevic had still been holding out right now? Then he might have had to consider seriously using ground troops, but what would have been the chances of such an operation being approved by Nato as a whole?
Decidedly slim it is now clear.
Division over bombing
As for the "increasing difficulties" Mr Talbott thinks might have plagued the continued air campaign - it is now becoming clear that several allies came close to trying to "pause" the bombing and that America had to stop them by fair means and foul.
Several countries - including France, Germany, Italy and Greece - decided at this early stage that they were not prepared to escalate the bombing beyond certain limits clearly laid out in the war plans approved the previous 13 October.
These countries made clear though that they were not prepared to got to Phase Three which included targets such as power stations and buildings in central Belgrade connected with Milosevic's system of rule.
General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander by going to Mr Solana and telling him the war could not be run on the basis of "least common denominator solutions".
On 30 March, Mr Solana, Gen Clark and Gen Naumann jointly informed Nato ambassadors that the old phased war plan with its political safeguards was being thrown away.
Gen Clark then hit the Milosevic party HQ, the presidential palace and the TV stations - all targets taken from the Phase Three list that several allies had refused to vote for.
"I didn't always defer to those who wanted targets withheld," Gen Clark now reveals.
Many people at Nato feel the Supreme Commander did the only thing he could to win the war under what were initially very tight political restrictions.
"You cannot fight wars by committee", says one.
The political/military dilemma at the heart of the air war remains unresolved which is why ministers continue to insist only "strictly military targets" were hit whereas it is obvious that most people would not call a TV station or electricitical power plants "military".
So Nato had to sideline its reluctant members in order to win.
President Jacques Chirac of France for example boasted that it was thanks to him that any bridges had been left standing across the River Danube.
What about those like Germany and Italy who were suggesting a bombing pause?
London and Washinton thought this would be disastrous, so they made clear they would not even allow the idea to be formally tabled.
The "triumph of Nato resolve" trumpeted by some leaders after Milosevic agreed to withdraw is therefore emerging now as a triumph of ruthless alliance management by Washington.
When it suited them - for example in keeping the 'bombing pause' lobby in check they used Nato's constitution with its stress on unanimity skilfully.
When Washington needed to escalate the bombing and it didn't suit them, they worked their way around these same rules.
For the decision-makers involved the ends justified the means.
The alternative, a humiliating climbdown for Nato, was too awful to contemplate.
The war though, did not win them a permanent solution to the Kosovo issue. Allied splits are once again evident about what should happen there in the future: America favours independence for the Albanian community, France and Germany are dead against it.
Without the imperative of an on-going war, it will be much harder to keep the allies united on resolving these future problems.