Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Senior Diplomat Marc Grossman Reflects on NATO’s Bombing in the Balkans


Marc Grossman’s distinguished Foreign Service career put him in the center of multiple crises, including NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign in the Balkans.  Grossman supported President Clinton’s decision to use only air power during the NATO intervention.  As Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, he briefed Congress on the conflict almost daily, including after American forces accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.  Visiting Belgrade in later years, he marvelled at the impact of the bombing campaign — and Serbia’s insistence on showing selected ruins to one of our most senior diplomats.  Grossman’s career with the Department of State spanned almost three decades and included posts in Islamabad, Amman, and Brussels.   In addition to service as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs (1997-2000), Grossman served as Ambassador to Turkey (1994-1997), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (2001-2005).   Ambassador Grossman was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 2006.

Read Marc Grossman’s full oral history HERE.

 

Excerpts:
“I don’t know what would have happened if we’d have faced the issue of ground forces. President Clinton took it off the table. ”

 

Assessing President Clinton’s Air-Only Strategy in the Balkans: “Ultimately military operations are properly decisions for the President based on advice from the Secretary of Defense and the military leadership, but I think the idea that we were able over a period to do this job without having to use ground forces turned out to be a good one. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d have faced the issue of ground forces. President Clinton took it off the table. I think that probably extended the time we had to do the bombing, but that’s what he felt was necessary and yes, I can remember daily—certainly twice, three times a week—going up to the Hill and briefing what we were doing, where we were going. I can remember Tom Pickering [Under Secretary of State] and the Vice Chairman of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff], General [Joseph W.] Ralston, having to go to China to explain the mistaken attack on the [Chinese] embassy.”  [Note:  the mistaken bombing occurred on May 7, 1999.]

 

“The precision of the bombing was remarkable . . . you could go down the street in Belgrade and everything was standing except this fourth building.”

 

The aftermath of aerial bombing in Serbia: “I visited Belgrade on a number of [later] occasions and it was interesting to still see the bombed out buildings.  The precision of the bombing was remarkable. You could go down the street in Belgrade and everything was standing except this fourth building, which was the former defense ministry building or a former secret service building or a former police building. They were gone. I thought it was interesting that the Serbs had kept it like that and that we always were driven by it. On the other hand, compared to the devastation that could have been done through a bombing campaign, this was pretty remarkable.”

 

Drafted by Tyler Ventura

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Senior Diplomat Marc Grossman …

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