by Claudio Nino
(IPS) ROME --
difference between the wars in the Balkans
this past decade compared to previous European conflicts has not been the
massive use of new technology, but rather the casualties -- civilians are now
on the front line of combat.
This occurred in earlier conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and the trend has been accentuated in Yugoslavia, as much is Kosovo as in Serbia.
Civilian casualties also were numerous in the U.S.-led war against Iraq and the blockade imposed by the United Nations. This phenomenon indicates that a new epoch has arrived in the history of warfare: that of the post-modern war.
When the current conflict started with bombing raids on Yugoslavia in March, three U.S. soldiers were taken on the border of Macedonia. They were freed a few weeks later and two Yugoslav soldiers, captured and delivered by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to the NATO, were liberated immediately.
The only deaths incurred by NATO forces have been two crew members of an Apache helicopter that crashed during maneuvers in Albania. "There are less (deaths) than occur during normal barracks life," declared a U.S. official.
Neither NATO nor the Yugoslav federal army command have released statistics on military or militia casualties from the bombing of the Atlantic alliance.
But they are aware of the figures of thousands of deaths in Kosovo and Serbia resulting from the war, some deemed "collateral damage" by Brussels and the others labelled "troop excesses" by Belgrade.
The UN's Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in the Hague, has opened a criminal case against Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the current Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) for being involved in the deaths of 340 Kosovars. The NATO bombing has caused more than 1,300 civilian casualties.
This is a strange war at the turn of the millennium, where the most advanced technology in the field of electronics is being displayed -- from air supremacy and dominance over the theater of operations, to missiles and "smart bombs" that cost up to $1 million each.
They have wreaked havoc among the population, in both direct and indirect forms, but the front line where the mortality rates are highest does not involve obsolete trenches, nor even marching troops or real or simulated military objectives.
Rather it is the civilian population, who have become the principle victims of the pinnacle of advanced military technology.
In World War I, the proportion of deaths was six soldiers for each civilian. In World War II, this ratio changed and the number of civilian victims was double that of the military.
Now, they are rising to the level where losses among the populace surpass the deaths of combatants by more than 10 times.
The new Western military doctrine, and that of NATO, is based on a concept that is novel in the history of warfare: to fight a war without incurring casualties to themselves.
The combat strategies used in Yugoslavia are the clearest demonstration of this new doctrine. The planes that daily attack Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia fly higher than 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) to avoid risk to their crews.
"They run greater risks during training than during the bombing," commented one NATO pilot.
The A-10 planes, which in the Gulf War caused destruction among Iraqi tanks and armored carriers, have not been deployed in Yugoslavia. Neither have the Apache helicopters, stationed in great numbers at the NATO base in Albania, because this would have implied risking their crews.
In bombing or launching missiles from aircraft flying higher than 5,000 meters, it is natural that the margin of error rises drastically.
The Air Force General Santiago Valderas, head of national defense in Spain, responded in a recent interview to the question: "Should the pilots go lower, even though that implies greater risk?"
He replied: "Yugoslavia's air defense system is important. To fly lower than 20,000 feet incurs a very high risk."
Meaning that it is better to run a high risk of extensive collateral damage than to endanger the lives of soldiers, according to the highest commander of the Spanish Armed Forces.
The attacks on refugee convoys, and bridges used by civilian vehicles and trains, is only explained by this tactic of relying on fighter-bombers and cruise missiles.
The case of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is quite different.
The selected target was perfectly triangulated by three missiles and, according to the NATO explanation, the attack resulted from an error in intelligence gathered from outdated maps.
Many analysts are now pondering the fate, and ultimate destination, of the large contingent of NATO and U.S. ground troops and their expensive armored equipment.
There is no literature, treaties or documents on which to base this new doctrine of post-modern warfare, or at least none that have been released to the public, but the military operations are on open view, as well as their impacts.
This new doctrine naturally will be applied only on the part of the United States and NATO.
Russia, China and India, whose technological equipment at the level of conventional units is notoriously backward, will continue to rely more and more on their nuclear weapons and enormous human reserves.
The technological differences between the technical-industrial-military complex of the North and those of the Southern developing nations is greater every day.
In addition, the Pentagon has for many years engaged in a slow but steady process of redefinition of the functions of the national armed forces and regional alliances, in order to assume police roles under the auspices of combating drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.
Therefore, technological assistance and professional training to those armies is increasingly oriented towards these ends.
The evolution of new technologies, of new doctrines for their use and new global strategies are redefining the character of conflict. The Cold War has evolved into the post-modern war.
June 7, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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