By Allen Myers
A month after the beginning of the US/NATO air war against Serbia, political and military preparations are clearly under way for a possible land war.
A report by Martin Walker in the British Guardian on April 22 stated bluntly that Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Washington for the NATO 50th anniversary summit, would put to US President Bill Clinton a plan to "impose a solution" by sending ground troops into Kosova.
The official line of the Clinton administration has consistently been that there is no intention of using ground troops. This position is dictated by fears that a ground war would arouse widespread opposition from the US public. However, it is highly unlikely that NATO can accomplish its proclaimed goals without at least a serious threat of war on land, so there are ongoing, if still cautious, attempts to test public opinion and to modify it.
As early as April 11, US military and civilian officials were suddenly willing to discuss on Sunday television the possible use of ground troops. General Henry H. Shelton, the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an interviewer that military planners had decided already last year that around 200,000 troops would be required to invade Kosova.
Shelton specifically included the possibility of entering Kosova from the north, that is, through Serbia proper. "We haven't excluded using more than one point of entry or numerous points of entry", he declared.
On another TV program on the same day, John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff, said, "The president does not have the intention to use ground troops", but added, "Those plans and assessments could be updated quickly if we decide to do that — need to do that".
General George A. Joulwan, formerly NATO's military commander, told still another TV program that NATO might need to march on Belgrade.
The effort to swing public opinion towards a land war is receiving backing from the congressional leaders of both parties.
Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has publicly stated, "I don't think we should have ever taken [the option of] ground troops off the table".
Biden and Republican Senator John McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, have introduced a resolution that authorises Clinton to use "all means necessary", including ground troops, in order to achieve NATO's stated goals.
Many of the NATO forces already in the region, ostensibly for other purposes, could easily participate in an invasion. The Associated Press noted on April 18 that equipment now arriving in the Balkans includes "US Army Bradley infantry carriers and Apache attack helicopters, and British battle tanks".
Indeed, Michael Evans wrote in the London Times of April 13 that British special forces were "believed" to be already present in Kosova, providing information on targets for NATO bombers.
At a press conference in Washington on April 20, US "defence" secretary William Cohen confirmed General Shelton's disclosure that the Pentagon has been planning a ground war in the Balkans for some time.
Replying to a question, Cohen said that NATO "is dedicated to carrying forward an air campaign. An assessment was done last August and September for a full-scale type of invasive force ... and that was not accepted by the alliance as the course to pursue. Instead, an air campaign was unanimously endorsed, and that's the campaign that we're carrying forward.
"That assessment was done last fall, [and] can be updated should the military authorities and the political leaders decide that they want to update it."
Short of a land war — or in preparation for one — the US has raised the prospect of a blockade to cut off Serbia's oil supplies, although this course is reported to be opposed by several NATO governments.
The type of "solution" that NATO is likely to try to impose has been made clear, and it has nothing to do with defending the interests of the Kosovar people. In a statement to parliament on April 19, British foreign secretary Robin Cook outlined a plan to ensure that the Kosovars would not have control of their own affairs.
Rupert Cornwell reported in the Independent: "Until democratic institutions had been rebuilt, [Cook] said, Kosovo would be administered by bodies including the UN, EU and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which ran the ill-fated peace monitoring mission in Kosovo.
"... He expressed Britain's preference for a Security Council mandate that would turn Kosovo into a UN protectorate ..."
The kind of "democratic institutions" that would be imposed by such a "protector" can be seen from Bosnia, where the US has ensured the protection of its own financial interests, regardless of what the people may wish or vote for.
Interestingly, NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea on April 21 cited the "success" in Bosnia as a model for ensuring that Kosovars would not be able to resist their protectors: "... this is a country which has far too many weapons ... and one of the essential tasks of the international community once peace comes to Kosovo will be to start trying to remove those weapons, along the same lines as we have been successful at doing in Bosnia".