'Send the Marines?'
Much of the political debate around the campaign against Serbia focused on the question of whether NATO could impose its demands by making air strikes only or whether an invasion with ground troops would be needed. A related issue was whether the air strikes were likely to have indiscriminate effects and produce more civilian casualties compared to a war with ground forces, which might avoid these effects. The most important consideration, however, was that bombing from the air was by far the safest option, to be preferred given the assumed reluctance of the public to incur casualties on the side of the NATO forces. In America, as mentioned before, President Clinton had already stated in advance of the action that the US would not send ground forces into Kosovo. Because of all of this, much attention was paid to what publics in the countries concerned felt about this issue. At first sight, the results vindicated the fear of the respective governments.
At least initially but probably throughout the conflict across all NATO countries as well as the Atlantic, a considerable gap existed in general, between the (more or less) high support for the bombing actions on the one hand and the much smaller support for the alternative or complementary strategy of sending ground troops, should bombing turn out to be ineffective, on the other. Figures 5.3 and 5.4 give the data for the US and Europe respectively. The general figures also illustrate the spread among the various survey results, and, in the European case, again hide considerable differences among countries.
On average, this gap was about sixteen percentage points in the US and thirteen percent in Europe but this average hid considerable differences among the various countries. According to different polls, the gap was 15 percentage points in Belgium,14 24 in Canada,15 in Denmark 19, the Netherlands 29,16 and in the UK 18 (in other polls in that country, however, 15 and 39 percentage points respectively). In Italy it was between 11 and 17 percentage points according to various SWG surveys. In France it was only between five and eight percentage points in various polls, and in Spain it was non-existent.17 In the United States,
Figure 5.3 Support for sending ground forces in war against Serbia over Kosovo, US (1999) (in % support)
Figure 5.4 Support for sending ground forces in war against Serbia over Kosovo, EU (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom) (1999) (in % support) where the largest number of questions were posed, the overall gap was around ten percentage points, but it could be higher or lower depending on the wording of the question.18 The general picture of the gap is given in Figure 5.5.
Figure 5.5 presents an overall picture showing not only the evolution of support over time but also the two gaps, one between support for air strikes in the US and Europe, the other between support for air strikes compared to sending ground forces. In those countries where support for air strikes was high, this was also the case for sending ground troops, and the other way around.
Figure 5.5 suggests, moreover, structural similarities in public opinion, not only in terms of patterns of fluctuation, but also in
Figure 5.5 Support for air strikes and sending ground forces in war against Serbia over Kosovo, US and EU (1999) (in % support)
Note: For European support of air strikes, EU = France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and UK For European support of war with ground troops, EU = France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and UK
Sources: Various. EU includes: France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland.
absolute levels. Where support for the air strikes was (relatively) high there was not much difference between the number of supporters of air strikes and those of ground troops, because these were truly the 'hard core' supporters who would be prepared to accept almost any (military) means, whereas the opposite was the case in countries with low levels of support for the air strikes, where supporters included those who really had mixed feelings and certainly wished to do no more than bombing. Hence the gap.
The existence of a gap is one thing, the absolute level of support for sending ground troops is another. On the one hand, support was high in the United Kingdom, France and the US, whereas on the other, in Germany and Italy support was much more lukewarm. While a majority could be marshaled in support of sending ground troops if necessary in the former group of countries (most clearly in the British case, less so in France or the United States), only one-third or even less in the Italian and German cases were in favor of this.
As far as the evolution of support is concerned, the picture in the US was mixed. Depending on the way the question is formulated, one can observe different patterns, showing a certain degree of sensitivity to question wording, an issue to which we return in the next chapter. In all cases, however, there is no sign of escalating sentiments in favor of the use of force (as argued by Larson (1996a) and Mueller (1985)). Support for the ground operation was always lower than for the air strikes, it did not move up dramatically and it divided American public opinion, with only pluralities or slight majorities in favor. The highest level of support was 57 percent at the beginning of April (the period, by the way, in which also support for air strikes was at its highest point), a possible effect of the capture of three American soldiers patrolling the Serb-Macedonian border around that time.
As far as Europe is concerned, one might think that the gap between support for air strikes and for sending ground troops would have diminished over time, as it became evident that the bombing campaign did not have the immediate effects that were both expected and promised to the public by NATO, and thus in the form of decreasing support in general, or, inversely, in the form of mounting sympathy with the idea that action by ground troops would be indispensable, both to shore up NATO's overall loss of prestige and to effectively provide protection on the ground to the persecuted Kosovars. Neither of the two happened, at least not in France, Germany, Italy or the United States, for which time series data are available. Where there was a gap, the width remained the same.