Throughout history, the world's military have prepared for the next war guided by how the last war was fought. In the face of exploding technological advances in weaponry and communications, shifting international political and economic power, and the rise of challenges such as terrorism and international crime, is the last war a true guide or a risky diversion?
As NATO aircraft lit the sky over Yugoslavia at the start of Operation Allied Force last year, NATO's political leaders were stating that "NATO is not at war with Yugoslavia." Tell that to the pilots who flew night and day against the missiles and antiaircraft fire over Serbia and who saw the effects of the ethnic cleansing on the ground!
Operation Allied Force was a campaign extending over 78 days and involving more than 900 aircraft, hundreds of cruise missiles, four aircraft carriers and more than a dozen other ships and submarines. Their mission was to use air power to halt or diminish a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing being carried out by more than 50,000 Serb military, police and paramilitary against 1 1/2 million virtually defenseless ethnic Albanians. More than 250 fixed targets were attacked, including airfields, communications facilities, fuel depots, and military and police headquarters. The more than 1,000 strikes conducted against enemy forces in Kosovo--while not destroying as much Serbian military equipment as analysts initially thought--kept these forces largely undercover and ineffective.
But it was not officially a war. Many peacetime legal and political restrictions remained in effect. Governments limited the pace of the action, the types of weapons that could be used and the targets that could be struck. Our targets were often in the midst of civilians--some of the very people we were trying to help. We looked at each target carefully before we struck, and we used precision weapons--laser-, GPS- or TV-guided bombs and missiles--as often as possible to limit risks to innocent civilians.
We reduced the risks to our own pilots by using high-technology aircraft to frustrate the enemy's air defenses. Video-teleconferencing and virtual-intelligence centers created by using a secret, high-capacity Internet helped keep up with the detailed top-down guidance and changing politics directed by an alliance of 19 sovereign states--all as the world's media looked on. After 78 days, the opposing leader gave in to NATO's demands, without a single NATO ground soldier having to fight his way into Serbia.
Is this the future of warfare? Not necessarily. But many features of this conflict will reappear. Operation Allied Force was one step in the continuing evolution of conflict.
The pattern really began with Napoleon and forces unleashed during the French Revolution. By mobilizing the full resources of France, Napoleon created a new approach to warfare. Young people were drafted, centralized administrative structures were created, and arms production was expanded and standardized. In this new approach the stakes were high. Defeat meant the loss of the state and its territories, as a number of European monarchs discovered.