WASHINGTON -- In an effort to minimize the chances of a clash with Serbian forces, NATO planes policing the no-flight zone over Bosnia have been instructed to refrain from firing on Serbian aircraft that violate the ban except as a last resort.
NATO is to begin enforcing the ban today. But NATO's rules of engagement stand in sharp contrast to the aggressive enforcement of the air-exclusion zones over northern and southern Iraq by the United States and its British and French allies.
Iraqi planes violating the no-flight areas in their country may be shot down by allied aircraft without warning.
The United Nations Security Council established a no-flight zone over Bosnia in October. After repeated violations, the Security Council voted on March 31 to authorize military action to police the zone.
Even so, Britain remains apprehensive about confronting the Serbs with force. Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council and has sought to protect the interests of the Serbs, also did not want the zone to be enforced aggressively. Nor is there much appetite on the part of the Clinton administration to use force despite its strong statements about the need to stop Serbian "ethnic cleansing."
Taking into account these political factors, NATO's enforcement of the no-flight zone over Bosnia reflects apprehension as much as resolve.
According to senior Western officials, NATO planes enforcing the zone are to follow a three-phase process. If aircraft violate the no-flight zone, NATO planes will try to encourage them to leave by waggling their wings or contacting them on international radio frequencies. If the violations persist, NATO planes may fire warning shots. Finally, if military aircraft continue to violate the ban, the NATO planes are permitted to fire.
Civilian planes that violate the no-flight ban will not be shot down.
Unlike the case of U.S. planes enforcing the no-flight zones in Iraq, NATO planes will not be authorized to bomb anti-aircraft positions or surface-to-air missile positions if the NATO air patrols are attacked by ground fire.