Europeans look to U.S. to supply troops to enforce Balkans peace plan

February 04, 1993|By Newsday

WASHINGTON -- Military planners for NATO have estimated that as many as 200,000 ground troops would be required to enforce the complex and controversial peace plan for the former Yugoslavia proposed by Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen, Clinton administration officials said yesterday.

And one U.S. official involved in policy-making on the Balkans crisis said that the Europeans had made it clear that NATO would not participate in what would become the largest U.N. peacekeeping force unless the United States contributed a significant number of troops -- perhaps half the total.

The Clinton administration, in the midst of an intensive effort to review the crisis and come up with a policy, has been considering military intervention, limited to air power, to help get humanitarian aid to the besieged Bosnians and curb Serbian aggression that has already taken 70 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

So far, however, the Pentagon and the NATO allies have been cool toward the use of even limited force, and U.S. military commanders have warned that air attacks could become the first step into a quagmire.

But the administration official said, "If the U.S. buys into the Vance-Owen plan, we will have to commit ground troops, not just air power, because there is no way Europe will let us off the military hook. They will not agree to become part of a U.N. force without us. And if the U.S. goes in on the ground, the Vance-Owen peace plan could take us into a quagmire."

A senior Pentagon official said, "If there is a genuine peace agreement, to which all parties agree and adhere, we might get away with less than 100,000. But that's dreaming. If we have to clear roads, and go from peace-keeping to peace-making, figure a force of anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000, most of them troops on the ground."

That has become an important reason for the deep skepticism toward the plan expressed by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, said the official, who has been among those in the administration pressing for more limited military and diplomatic actions under consideration.

During his campaign for the White House, President Clinton called for the possible use of air power to break the Serbian siege of Sarajevo and other Bosnian areas and to protect humanitarian shipments to Bosnians.

Mr. Christopher has backed away from earlier suggestions that the new administration would take action quickly, and that led to speculation he might endorse the work of Vance, under whom he served as deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration.

But Mr. Christopher says that he endorses only the "process" of negotiations, and he pointedly stopped short of supporting the peace plan, which would carve Bosnia up into 10 autonomous ethnic provinces and allow the Serbs to keep about half the territory they won with military might and "ethnic cleansing."

Although Mr. Vance and Lord Owen have scoffed at suggestions that a peace-keeping force of 100,000 may be required, they have declined to provide their own estimates. Lord Owen told one interviewer that the force would be similar in size to that in Somalia -- about 35,000 U.S. and other troops.

But the Pentagon official noted, "There is no real opposition in Somalia and what there is does not have tanks, artillery and an air force."

Thus, officials said that if a force is sent to Bosnia, it most likely will be larger than any U.N. force since the Korean War, because of the bitterness of the ethnic and religious warfare and the complicated nature of the proposed settlement.

Under the patchwork Vance-Owen plan, the peacekeeping forces would be required to maintain their routes of supply through the mountains and keep open other corridors that would permit Serbs to cross Bosnian areas and vice-versa.

The U.N. forces would be required to police the separation of the warring forces, which include many irregulars, protect the provinces set up by the plan and enforce requirements that the Serbs withdraw their heavier weapons to central locations. And under the plan, most of the fighters would be allowed to keep their lighter weapons.

Earlier this year the Pentagon brass indicated it would take a force of 400,000 to keep the warring factions apart. Yesterday an administration official familiar with estimates being provided by NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, said, "Planners there are talking about numbers in the six-figure range, and they go as high as 200,000, depending on whether the peacekeepers play an active role in enforcing the plan or a more passive role."

A top congressional military expert said, "No one knows the number that would be needed because the level of conflict would be unknown."

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