WASHINGTON -- In a signal that the Bush administration is inching toward possible military intervention in Yugoslavia, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft said that the conflict in the Balkans could soon become a threat to the security of the United States and its European allies.
"It's already out of control," Mr. Scowcroft said of the war among the former Yugoslav republics. "As the conflict goes on and defies attempts at solution, the risks of it directly impinging on the interests of the Euro-Atlantic community increase."
Mr. Scowcroft said that the United States still hopes that the Serbs and Bosnians fighting around Sarajevo will agree to a cease-fire and allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to secure the city. And he refused to forecast what the administration would do if it becomes clear that no cease-fire is possible.
But his comments reflected a gradual shift in the thinking of administration officials, who earlier insisted that the fighting in Yugoslavia did not affect U.S. national security interests and virtually ruled out military action, even as part of a multinational force.
Other officials said that Mr. Scowcroft and aides have been preparing options, including U.S. participation in a multinational military force, for President Bush to consider if the current U.N. effort fails.
A White House official described the internal discussions as "very intensive" and said that they included options for the use of U.S. air power to protect a multinational force that would open the Sarajevo airport for relief shipments. Still, he added, "The situation is so fluid it's hard to resolve."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., meanwhile, called on the administration and its European allies to put jet fighters into the air over Bosnia to protect relief convoys, authorize the use of troops on the ground to stop Serbian attacks, and issue an ultimatum to Serbia to halt the fighting.
"We are confronted with the fact of a bloody conflict and the possibility of a broader war on NATO's doorstep," Mr. Dole told the Atlantic Council. "The bottom line is [Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic must be stopped now."
Mr. Scowcroft, speaking slowly and pensively, made it clear that the administration has not yet made up its mind but he also made it clear that military intervention had not been ruled out.
"Yugoslavia is a painful case study for all of us," he said. "On the one hand, there is the trepidation of involvement in the stickiest kind of conflict possible. On the other, there is the painful vision of slaughter going on while we all stand aside and watch. I don't really know what the answer is here."
"I think we need to recognize that not every conflict in the world has to be taken on by multilateral institutions," Mr. Scowcroft said. "But the Balkans are the Balkans, and Sarajevo has a history that we should forget only at our peril."
World War I was touched off by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian capital in 1914.
He added that neighboring Albania, Bulgaria and Greece could all become embroiled in the war, and noted that the world's Islamic countries have become increasingly concerned about Bosnia's large Muslim population.