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Western Press Review: Debate Over NATO's Role In Bosnia

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 12 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - With difficult municipal elections due to be held in multi-ethnic Bosnia Sunday, Western press comment is again focusing on the country's complex problems and NATO's future role there -- particularly the extent of the U.S.' involvement.

FINANCIAL TIMES: NATO has been hesitating for much too long

Carl Bildt, the Swedish politician who served as the European Union's High Representative in Bosnia. says "last-minute maneuvering over the terms of local elections are only the prelude to a bigger struggle over how to implement their results." In unusually blunt language, he writes: "The main challenge for the peace process today is to break the back of the ultra-nationalist Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale in order to end the isolation of the Serbs in Bosnia. In essence, it is about saving the Bosnian Serb state from itself." Bildt calls for "decisive action now to protect (Biljana Plavsic) the legal president...NATO," he says, "has been hesitating for much too long."

Bildt continues: "It should not be difficult to gain control of key TV transmitters and make certain that they are not used exclusively by one side. It should not be beyond the capabilities of NATO to disarm the so-called special police of the hard-liners. And it is becoming increasingly necessary to match rhetoric with reality and apprehend key suspected war criminals indicted by the Hague tribunal." He concludes: "The time for empty rhetoric or empty gestures...has gone. What is needed are soldiers on the ground ready to take risks for peace and democracy. That is why we have soldiers in Bosnia."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: You can't have it both ways: a solution in Bosnia without casualties

Two U.S. commentators provide support for Bildt's appeal. Colin Soloway, a Bosnia correspondent says "If the U.S. hopes to implement (its policy of backing Plavsic), it must be willing to commit strong and consistent military force to back it up. Above all, President Clinton must lead, giving the U.S. military this clear instruction and getting the American public on board. Otherwise, it will mean the collapse of the already damaged Dayton Peace Accords." Soloway goes on: "The goal is not as daunting as it seems. Despite the worry of many senior (U.S.) military officers, Bosnia is not Vietnam, nor is it Somalia." He concludes: "The lack of (U.S.) assertiveness in Bosnia...reflects President Clinton' desire to have it both ways: to give the appearance that the U.S. is working toward a solution in Bosnia, but to risk no casualties."

WASHINGTON POST: You can't have your cake and eat it

Richard Cohen strikes a similar note. He says that many prominent U.S. supporters of NATO's coming expansion to Central Europe "seem to want their cake and eat it too. In other words, they want a strong and expanded NATO but they also don't want it to do much --especially in Bosnia." Cohen continues: "Every Clinton Administration spokesman who goes up to the Hill tells Congress that U.S. troops are coming home in June (1998) --no matter what. This is the date of which Washington is so enamored, since it suggests an all-important exit strategy. But there is no exit strategy, just a determination by the Pentagon to get out of Bosnia before the U.S. gets sucked in and Americans are killed." Cohen concludes: If there is one thing the Bosnian conflict has taught us, it's that there is no NATO without the U.S....Whether the U.S. likes it or not, the stakes in Bosnia have been raised. We cannot have it both ways: an expanded and still-important NATO, and a failed effort in Bosnia. Something has to give --and it ought to be the June deadline."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. no longer plays the role of a neutral peacekeeper

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee who visited Bosnia last month wrote yesterday: "The Clinton Administration has decided, without Congressional consultation, to change (the U.S.) role in the Balkans. Beyond serving as neutral peacekeepers, the mission of American forces now seems to include putting pressure on Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb war-time leader who is an indicted war criminal. We have become partisans in a local struggle between him and (President Plavsic). Neither is interested in a multi-ethnic Bosnian state. This new role could lead to the repeat of the disastrous American mission in Somalia four years ago..."

The Senator continued: "Our peacekeepers in Bosnia have been assigned new missions that are inherently not peaceful (which) will make it hard to withdraw our forces by June as planned. All of this," Hutchison says, "is why President Clinton should reconvene the Dayton parties to reassess the accords....The best hope for peaceful coexistence lies in a formal partitioning of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 1995 (Dayton) agreements would need to be re-negotiated, of course, but the divisions are virtually established."

NEW YORK TIMES: Is it worth losing a life to stand up to genocide?

In a news analysis today Bosnia correspondent, Chris Hedges, says "there is rising concern among NATO commanders and senior Western diplomats that more force will be needed to make the Dayton peace plan work." Hedges writes: "A series of (recent) tense confrontations between supporters of (Plavsic and Karadzic) has persuaded many diplomats here that it is increasingly likely that the only way to make the accords take hold is for NATO troops to arrest Mr. Karadzic..." He quotes one of those diplomats as saying: "We have reached the Rubicon. Either we are happy to pour millions of dollars into Bosnia and get nothing out of it, or we take a step that may mean some soldiers here lose their lives. Is it worth losing a life to stand up to genocide? I think it would be, but I don't know if we are ready to make that decision."

WASHINGTON POST: It is an amusing irony to see a Russian envoy lecturing the Americans about the sanctity of democratic freedoms

William Drozdiak analyzes what he calls yesterday's "vehement criticism of Western policy toward Bosnia" by Vitali Churkin, Russia's new envoy to NATO. Drozdiak says that, at the first meeting of the new NATO-Russia Council, "Russia delivered a harsh warning to the NATO stop putting pressure on the Bosnian Serbs and said that any attack against the Serbian radio and television station in Pale would be an intolerable use of force that could imperil the peacekeeping mission...." Drozdiak notes further that "Mr. Churkin called (the U.S. decision to send three aircraft to jam radio and TV signals from Pale) deplorable because, he said, it violated freedom of the press. NATO diplomats said it was an amusing irony to see a Russian envoy lecturing the Americans about the sanctity of democratic freedoms." He quotes one senior diplomat as saying the three-hour meeting with Churkin "turned out to be very disagreeable. There were a lot of complaints around the table. This was not a good omen for the future work of the NATO-Russia Council."