Pentagon pressured on Bosnia Allies seeking military action

December 11, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon stands increasingly isolated i opposing military intervention in the former Yugoslavia as the prospect of a winter disaster mounts and unenforced United Nations resolutions steadily lose credibility with Serbia.

The U.S.-led military humanitarian mission in Somalia has failed to halt pressure among allies and within the U.S. government for stepped-up military action in the Balkans. In fact, the pressure has increased as Serbian forces come closer to taking over Sarajevo and threats of a region-wide conflict mount in Kosovo and Macedonia.

If anything, the intervention in Somalia has provoked reminders of past U.S. commitments to try to ease conditions in the Balkans.

In July, President Bush pledged that humanitarian aid would get through and that U.N. sanctions would be respected "no matter what it takes."

En route to a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney acknowledged that "there seems to be an increasingly widely held view that current arrangements are not working."

But, he added, "I still feel it would be inappropriate to have U.S. forces on the ground in Bosnia."

At the defense ministers' meeting, Volker Ruehe of Germany said several of NATO's 16 member nations were ready to offer troops if the United Nations authorized sending armed forces to Bosnia, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Ruehe declined to identify the countries. A senior U.S. defense official said there was no consensus on what to do.

Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, speaking to his Parliament yesterday, made an impassioned plea for outside intervention.

"I don't give a damn who takes the lead. . . I think it's downright scandalous that there's intervention in Somalia but not in Yugoslavia," he said.

Additional pressure is coming from Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States.

The United States and its NATO allies are wrestling with seeking a U.N. resolution that would authorize the United States and others to shoot down Serbian military aircraft in the U.N.-imposed no-fly zone over Bosnia.

Since the ban was imposed in October, U.N. observers have noted 200 violations. There have been unconfirmed reports of actual combat missions and increasing suspicion that even some non-combat flights may have been used to shuttle troops and weaponry.

Serbia's flouting of the flight ban and other U.N. resolutions has undercut U.N. credibility to the point where Britain and France, -- which opposed an enforcement provision earlier out of fear that it would endanger U.N. peacekeeping forces, including many of their own, are now leaning the other way.

Another U.N. resolution authorized military force to ensure that relief supplies are delivered.

An added argument now is that a tough message has to be delivered to Serbia to prevent expansion of "ethnic cleansing" to Kosovo, which many fear could ignite a conflict embroiling Greece and Turkey.

A senior Pentagon official said last night that the U.S. military endorsed the idea of enforcement when the no-fly-zone resolution was debated in October and presumably would again.

Other government officials, however, say the Pentagon continues to block any increased military action, which they say is why the United States hasn't pushed strongly for enforcing the no-fly zone.

At a meeting Saturday, Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger pressed his department's case for tougher action but failed to zTC persuade Mr. Cheney and White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, sources said.

The Pentagon official noted that although "it may be possible to draw the line" at a no-fly zone, there could well be calls to follow up with ground action.

The United States would be entering enforcement of the no-fly-zone "with the full knowledge that there would be decisions down the road," he said. "The next step could be to do some bombing, then get heavy [equipment] to forcibly run convoys. Guys get killed, so you retaliate."

Ground combat in the former Yugoslavia could require hundreds of thousands of troops and result in many casualties in tough, mountainous terrain, he said, and with uncertain prospects of success.

Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon assistant secretary now at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, said part of the perceived benefit of the U.S.-led military action in Somalia was that it would "inoculate us against Bosnia," which he called the military's "real nightmare."

The Pentagon official rejected the suggestion.

"No one is trying to buy our way out of Bosnia by doing Somalia," he said.

The Somalia operation was embraced, he said, "one, because we can make a difference; two, it's very doable. Neither criteria exists in Bosnia."

Meanwhile, however, the West has been stymied in getting enough relief into Bosnia to prevent what officials fear could be large-scale deaths from starvation and cold this winter.

With no consensus beforehand, NATO foreign ministers will debate next week a series of U.S.-proposed options that might include a clear warning to Serbia on Kosovo, exemption of Bosnia from the arms embargo imposed throughout Yugoslavia and recognition or U.N. membership for Macedonia.

The European Community and the United States have put off recognition because of opposition from Greece.

Other options include tougher enforcement of sanctions, more monitors on the ground and expanded supply routes.

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