Lessons from NATO’s Military Missions in the Western Balkans

The subject of learning lessons is fraught with difficulties, not least because lessons,like beauty, are often in the eye of the beholder. It has been the author’s experience that many lessons that are formally identified as such are not learned. The reasons for this are varied: those identifying the lessons may be biased; the resources to enable learning may be lacking; and the lessons simply may not “stick.” Nonetheless, those lessons that do become embedded in the human and organizational psyche are those that have created new doctrines, reshaped institutions, become an integral part of new training standards, and demonstrably shown an improvement in the conduct of business. NATO’s involvement in the Western Balkans over the past fifteen years has provided a rich vein of experience and has fomented considerable change. This article examines that experience and analyzes some of the major lessons that have been identified. Some will have been learned, while others have not; in some instances, the lessons that were identified will subsequently prove to be flawed. Throughout this analysis the paper will attempt to chart the metamorphosis of NATO from a passive Cold War military alliance to an active political and security actor on the world stage.

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