Officials seek military move against Serbs State Dept. aides stage rare revolt

April 23, 1993|By Michael R. Gordon | Michael R. Gordon,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- In an unusual revolt against U.S. policy, the State Department's top specialists on the Balkans have sent Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher an impassioned letter that calls Western diplomacy a failure and recommends military action against the Serbs.

The 12 specialists, career diplomats serving in Washington, said in a petition to Mr. Christopher that the United States has a moral obligation to save the Muslims from "genocide" at the hands of Serbian nationalist forces in Bosnia.

"We are only attempting to end the genocide through political and economic pressures such as sanctions and intense diplomatic engagement," the letter said. "In effect, the result of this course has been Western capitulation to Serbian aggression."

The diplomats include the desk officers responsible for nearly all Balkan countries.

Senior administration officials also said that the U.S. representative at the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, had sent the White House a memorandum urging air strikes to protect the predominantly Muslim towns and cities under siege in Bosnia.

If the European nations decline to take part, Mrs. Albright said in the memo, the United States should act on its own under existing United Nations authority.

"We should not turn our backs on our international responsibilities," she wrote.

The petition and Mrs. Albright's memo were described by officials on both sides of the debate over using force in the Balkans. They provide a dramatic look at the debate within the administration over whether to use U.S. military force.

Mrs. Albright argued that Western air attacks would reduce the military threat to the relief effort, slow the supply of arms from Serbia to the Bosnian Serbs and demonstrate U.S. resolve.

President Clinton has said that he is not prepared to act unilaterally, but Mrs. Albright argued that the United States already has sufficient authority to stage air attacks under the U.N. Charter and the Security Council resolution authorizing "all measures necessary" to deliver relief aid.

A spokesman for Mrs. Albright, Robert Nevitt, declined to comment on her memo, saying her advice to the president was private.

TC The highly unusual petition to Mr. Christopher was signed by the State Department desk officers for Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia, along with other officials involved in East European affairs and U.S. policy at the United Nations.

"There are few people in State who believe the current policy is useful, consistent with our values or has any prospect of success," said a State Department official who was not among the petitioners.

Mr. Christopher, who has been cautious in his public comments about military action, met with the State Department specialists Monday, officials said.

"He found the exchange helpful and timely given that the administration is reviewing its options with respect to the former Yugoslavia," a senior official said. "This secretary of state does not consider such sessions a revolt against policy; he considers it a healthy part of the policy-making process."

Mr. Clinton has been consulting with European allies over a range of options in the Balkan fighting, including lifting the arms embargo against the outgunned Muslim-led Bosnian defenders and air strikes against the Serbian attackers.

The administration's debate has been focused by Serbian attacks on Srebrenica. Some administration and U.N. officials are concerned that the current cease-fire may break down and that the Serbs plan to press the attack until they sweep the Muslims out of their remaining enclaves in eastern Bosnia.

In their petition, the State Department officials told Mr. Christopher that they consider U.S. policy toward Bosnia a failure.

"Today, Srebrenica is on the verge of falling, in part because we have failed to take forceful action against Bosnian Serb forces," the petition said, according to officials who have read the document.

A failure by the United States to take military action "would teach would-be conquerors and ethnic bigots throughout the world that their crimes will go unpunished," it said.

Discussing military force, the appeal called for lifting the arms embargo so that the Bosnians can arm themselves.

It also recommended that U.S. air power be used to protect the Muslims in Srebrenica and urged the administration to determine immediately whether air strikes alone could be used to destroy or drive back the Serbian forces.

As Mr. Clinton has reviewed his options on Bosnia, Pentagon officials have reached conflicting conclusions about the effectiveness of air strikes.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he does not believe air power alone would be decisive.

But Defense Secretary Les Aspin has argued that air attacks might be effective in deterring Serbian attacks, administration officials said.

Administration officials said the arguments by the State Department specialists had been echoed in private communications to their superiors by other ranking officials, including Victor Jackovich, the ambassador-designate to Bosnia, and Laura Clerici, a deputy director of the office of Eastern European and Yugoslav affairs.

But not all State Department officials involved in policy toward Eastern Europe agree with the group's recommendation for military intervention.

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