March 18, 1999

               Could Serbia be Preparing an Attack on Macedonia?


               With no progress in Kosovo peace talks, it appears that NATO and Serbia are
               headed for a military showdown.  However, Serbian deployments suggest that
               Belgrade may have more in mind than to just follow Baghdad's example of
               professional Tomahawk catching.


               Unless Belgrade suddenly reverses itself, which is always
               possible, the stage is now set for armed conflict between NATO
               and Serbia.  The expectation is that air attacks on Yugoslavia
               will parallel those in Iraq.  In Iraq, the United States and its
               allies have largely determined the scope and tempo of air
               operations.  Iraq has essentially absorbed those air strikes
               without launching its own military counter-operations.  To be
               more precise, Iraq has, on occasion, appeared to try to interfere
               with air strikes using anti-aircraft systems and some air
               interception, but Iraq has never tried to respond with ground
               operations outside of Iraq.

               It has appeared, at least publicly, to be a basic assumption in
               NATO's strategy that Serbia would follow the same pattern.  In
               other words, it has been assumed that air attacks on Serbia would
               be low-risk operations, in which the forces directly involved in
               the attacks would be exposed to Serbian fire, but that no other
               assets would be at risk.  Thus, if NATO relied on a cruise
               missile attack, deployed extensive air defense suppression
               systems and used stealth aircraft, NATO's casualties and risks
               would be minimal.

               This assumption may well be correct, but it is not certainly
               correct.  We do not know how Belgrade is planning to respond to
               NATO air attacks nor even if they are planning to capitulate at
               the last minute.  But assuming that maintaining the territorial
               integrity of their country is as important to the Serbs as it is
               to most countries, it is important to consider what military
               cards the Belgrade has available, should it choose not to behave
               like Baghdad.  Let us further assume that, while Serbia has a
               somewhat more sophisticated air defense system than Iraq, NATO
               would have no real trouble suppressing that system, even if it
               had to incur some casualties in the course of the operation.

               Serbia's primary military goal would be political: to raise the
               cost of anti-Serb operations higher than NATO in general and the
               United States in particular would find endurable.  The key to
               achieving this goal is to inflict casualties and take prisoners.
               A reasonable, though not certain, assumption could be made that
               NATO is prepared to intervene in Kosovo if the primary cost is
               money and effort, but that it is not prepared to intervene if
               intervention means substantial cost in lives or prisoners.  This
               assumption could be taken from NATO's assertion that it would not
               deploy peacekeeping forces without a prior agreement from all
               sides, but would conduct an anti-Serb air campaign in the absence
               of a Serbian agreement.  An air campaign will leave limited
               opportunities for casualties or prisoners, given heavy dependence
               on cruise missiles and stealth aircraft, as well as the heavy air
               defense suppression capabilities of NATO.  With this NATO
               calculation in mind, the Serbs might choose to respond to air
               attacks against Serbia on the ground.

               The situation on the ground is quite different from the situation
               in the air.  Consider the correlation of forces along the
               Yugoslav-Macedonian border, where NATO has staged in anticipation
               of deployment in Kosovo.  First some geography.  The Yugoslav
               border is about 12 miles from Skopje, the capital of Macedonia
               and the focus of NATO activity.  There is a direct, multi-lane
               road from the border to the city.  About 2 miles southeast of
               Skopje, there is the main airport, heavily used by NATO and UN
               forces.  An autobahn/interstate quality road runs from the
               Serbian border to the airport, with lateral roads to the east and
               west.  A division could easily deploy along this route.  There is
               extensive evidence that Serbian forces, including armor, are
               massing along the Pristina-Skopje road.  We infer from some
               reports that there is also massing along the Leskovac-Skopje
               airport superhighway.  There are also reports of air defense
               units moving forward into the border region.  It is clearly a
               multi-divisional deployment including armored and mechanized

               NATO, in turn, has substantial forces in the region, though
               currently less than half of the 26-28,000 troops planned for
               enforcing the as-yet unsigned Kosovo peace settlement.  NATO
               forces in Macedonia include a German armored brigade with Leopard
               2s, a French Mechanized brigade, a British Infantry brigade, and
               other units.  In effect, there is a NATO division in the region
               with supporting units.  What is not clear is whether these units
               are forward deployed between Skopje and the border.  The terrain
               on the border along the Pristina-Skopje highway is quite hilly,
               with the advantage to the defense, while the terrain along the
               Leskovac-Skopje airport route is more favorable to rapid

               It is not clear that Serbia could take Skopje.  It is not clear
               that Serbia would want to take Skopje.  Rather, attacking and
               seizing the airport and encircling and using artillery to bombard
               Skopje could produce an interesting political result: inflicting
               casualties and capturing NATO personnel, while shifting the
               diplomatic conversation from the status of Kosovar Albanians to
               the terms under which Serbians will withdraw from Macedonia and
               release NATO prisoners.  With the weather forecast for the border
               region snow and sleet with low clouds for the next few days, the
               ability of NATO air power to create a "highway of death," Iraqi
               style, faces some limits.

               We are not predicting that this will happen.  We are saying that
               this is a serious option for the Serbs and that their troop
               movements seem to indicate a willingness to at least bluff the
               option.  They have clearly got the attention of NATO command.
               Agence France Presse reported on March 17 that an unnamed NATO
               official publicly warned Serbia that an attack against Macedonia
               would be "a catastrophe" for the Serbs.

               There is little doubt but that NATO could defeat Serbia's armed
               forces.  It is not clear, however, that forces currently in
               Macedonia could do so.  It is certainly not clear that they could
               do so without major casualties.  What Milosevic is doing is
               causing NATO to evaluate the potential cost of intervention.
               Until now, the assumption has been that NATO could carry out an
               Iraq style bombardment without any collateral danger.  Milosevic
               has been attempting to convince NATO that Serbia is not Iraq, and
               that the potential cost for intervention is much higher than NATO
               ought to be willing to pay.  At the very least, he is making it
               clear that the current force structure in Macedonia is woefully
               insufficient to assure their own security, let alone to intervene
               in Kosovo.

               It is not clear to us that the Serbs will take the chance.  They
               are in a powerful defensive position blocking passes into Kosovo.
               The correlation of forces does not give them a great advantage.
               The risk of losing irreplaceable formations is high.
               Nevertheless, a twenty-five mile encirclement could change the
               entire geometry of regional relationships.  In the past,
               Milosevic has not been a serious gambler.  He has consistently
               withdrawn his bluffs at the last minute.  We certainly don't know
               what he intends to do this time, but he has set up quite a bluff,
               at the very least.