Kosovo 1999: Clinton, Coercive Diplomacy,
and the Use of Analogies in Decision
he purpose of this article is to investigate and assess the role of analogical
thinking, and the “Bosnia analogy” in particular, in steering the Clinton
administration toward a strategy of coercive diplomacy during the crisis in Kosovo
in 1998. It is our thesis that, throughout the decision-making process, key
administration figures used a variety of analogies to frame the Kosovo crisis, which
prompted advocacy of conflicting policy options. Specifically, activists like Madeleine
Albright and Wesley Clark pushed for a full military option to complement
diplomatic efforts, evoking the lessons of Bosnia as justification. On the other hand,
minimalists like William Cohen and Sandy Berger invoked images of Vietnam and
Somalia to keep US involvement to a minimum. Ultimately, it would appear that the
Bosnia analogy prevailed, leading the Clinton administration to launch a military
campaign limited to high-altitude strategic bombing, as seen in 1995.
Building on previous studies of American decision making and military actions
in the Kosovo war of 1999, we will expand on the idea that the administration’s
determination not to commit US ground troops to combat operations was partially
responsible for the unforeseen duration of the war.
However, our own analysis will
suggest that this stance stemmed more from a lag in the decision-making process,
caused by an over-reliance on images from Bosnia prior to the military campaign,
than from fears of seeing a Vietnam or Somalia repeated in the Balkans.
In order to assess the importance of analogies in the decision-making process,
both prior to and during NATO’s aerial campaign against Yugoslavia, we will use an
analytic model developed by Yuen Foong Khong in his 1992 book,
Analogies at War:
Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decision of 1965
Khong labels his model
of analogical reasoning the “AE framework.” In our opinion it goes a long way
towards explaining how analogies operate cognitively and clarify the consequences
for decision making.
In the first part of this article, we will revisit the AE framework, describe its
basic tenets, and describe how analogies typically influence decision making and
is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the University of Québec at Montréal
and a research fellow at the Center.
is Raoul Dandurand Professor of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and
Director of the Center for United States Studies at the University of Québec at Montréal. The
authors wish to thank Professor Yael Aronoff from Hamilton College, and all the staff at the
Raoul Dandurand Chair, for their helpful comments on previous versions of this text.