'Spies' Were the Least of NATO's Kosovo Woes

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Spy rumors aside, NATO was never going to be the ideal structure for making war on Slobodan Milosevic. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported Thursday that an internal classified U.S. military report found that a spy inside NATO systematically tipped off the Serbs on NATO's targets during the first two weeks of the Kosovo campaign. The allegation, contained in a documentary titled "Moral Combat: NATO at War" to be broadcast by the British network on Sunday, has been disputed by U.S. and NATO officials — some of whom, speaking in the same documentary, blame the limited success of the early phases of the air war on the limits imposed on it by some NATO-member governments. After all, they argue, if the Serbs knew the exact flight path of most NATO bombing sorties in the first weeks of the war (before NATO dramatically curtailed the number of officials who had access to its bombing plans), the Western alliance would have been unlikely to get away without losing a single pilot.

Nonetheless, when Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo at the end of the war with most of their heavy weaponry still intact, it became clear that the air campaign had been singularly ineffective in its primary aim of destroying Milosevic's military capability inside Kosovo. Still, says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, "there's no compelling evidence to back up this spy claim — these allegations are based primarily on the first two weeks of the war, and it has to be said that in that phase NATO's targets would have mostly been quite predictable." More interesting, perhaps, are the BBC documentary's accounts of deep strains within the alliance during the Kosovo conflict. Getting 19 governments with quite divergent political commitments to the war to agree on how to fight it proved immensely frustrating to the alliance's military commanders. "They constantly faced the problem of some country or another holding back on a particular target," says Thompson. "That's an inevitable problem in coalition warfare."