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Why Has Serbia Not Collapsed Under NATO Bombing: lessons from history and economics

Postscript, September 1999

This paper was written in April 1999, when the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia was at its most intense. It suggested that the campaign was unlikely to bring about a speedy Yugoslav collapse.

In fact, the war was brought to an end within a few weeks with a Yugoslav climbdown and the transfer of effective control over Kosovo from the Yugoslav armed forces to K-FOR and the Kosovo Liberation Army. How does this end of the bombing campaign reflect upon the validity -- or otherwise -- of the basic propositions advanced in my paper? Unfortunately, the lessons of hindsight are not conclusive.

Essentially I see three possibilities:

  • My argument was wrong: air power can today achieve what was impossible fifty or even twenty or ten years ago.

  • My argument was conditionally valid: the war was terminated only when NATO's threat to convert the air campaign into a ground war became credible, and the one defect in my argument was that I did not make allowance for the power of expectations.

  • My argument was unconditionally valid: the war ended when Milosevic made an unforced tactical decision to retreat and come to terms, but the manner in which the war ended illustrates the limits even of modern air power since neither Yugoslavia nor the Milosevic regime has collapsed.

I leave it to the reader to decide whether history has refuted, qualified, or vindicated the arguments which seemed so convincing to me last spring.

Go to paper.