How NATO works in Bosnia Stabilization Force: U.S. troops needed, likely to remain past deadline.

December 17, 1997

PRESIDENT Clinton is right to visit American forces in Bosnia to show they are not forgotten this Christmas season. They are carrying out a serious mission in the U.S. national interest.

The administration made a rash commitment to bring them out by June 1998, which never was a realistic expectation. Even Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who opposed U.S. participation in the peacekeeping mission, came back from a fact-finding mission to Bosnia saying the deployment should last at least two years more.

Mr. Clinton will not have much credibility asking Congress to let the troops stay beyond June, given his promise, but he should do so. After the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) failed to prevent Yugoslavia's breakdown and genocide, it has led the Stabilization Force that for two years has prevented more slaughter in the heart of Europe.

As the 16-member alliance takes in three former Soviet satellites, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, the importance of its stabilizing role in Eastern Europe grows. NATO has been looking for a revitalizing purpose after the collapse of its Soviet adversary, the former Warsaw Pact. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from under it, as a total U.S. troop withdrawal from Bosnia would do.

At peacekeeping in the limited sense, the 34,000-member Stabilization Force is successful. At implementing the rosier notions embedded in the 1995 Dayton peace accords, it fails.

There is no reconstruction in former Yugoslavia. Left to themselves, the surviving statelets would slaughter each other's people again. Serb war criminals flout the orders for their arrest. The continued sanctions against Serbia and Bosnia keep them in thrall to organized crime which monopolizes smuggling and is connected to powerful figures. No outside investment arrives under these circumstances.

But it is in the U.S. interest that war not resume there, that the tyrants not resume genocide of Bosnian Muslims or initiate it against Albanians in the interest of their own aggrandizement. The Stabilization Force has prevented this for two years. It should not be abandoned now. The 8,500 U.S. troops are essential. As NATO foreign ministers struggle for a way to slim down that force, none believes the presence is wrong or the expenditure wasted.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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