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Western Press Review: Is There Finally A Firm Hand Inside NATO's Kid Glove?

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 October 1997(RFE/RL) -- One of the two dilemmas that challenge the NATO-led Security Force in Bosnia is whether to pull out by an artificial deadline even if the mission isn't accomplished, or to stay indefinitely without a clear exit strategy

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Whoever goes in must know how to get out

"Whoever goes in must know how to get out; that is the oldest piece of military wisdom there is," writes commentator Josef Joffe.

Other Western commentary examines this conflict, as well as the other pressing dilemma. That is whether to be super-cautious in dealing with officials undermining Bosnian peace, and be perceived as weak-willed, or to be over-aggressive, and possibly exacerbate the problems.

Joffe continues: "As NATO, especially the United States, committed itself in Bosnia, everyone acted as if the operation were a sort of trip which would end after a year. But it was a hope which deceived then and which continues to deceive. That is why it is correct that the NATO defense ministers, currently meeting in Maastricht, have given not the slightest indication of when the SFOR mission will end after its term runs out next June."

He writes: "The Americans also know that if SFOR were pulled out on time, it would not leave behind it a country at peace. But U.S. President Bill Clinton has to carefully use tactics because of growing resistance in the Senate to any SFOR extension.

"If the Americans pull out, the Europeans would follow -- that demonstrates nothing more than the reality of power on the threshold of the next century. SFOR will need to remain for a long time in Bosnia - which is precisely why the Europeans would be well advised to use all their powers to keep the United States on the ball."

NEW YORK TIMES: The operation differed from a former bungled U.S. attempt

Christ Hedges reports that SFOR troops took a strong action yesterday in seizing TV transmitters controlled by supporters of accused Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic. He writes: "NATO peacekeepers seized four key television transmitters controlled by hard-line Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, putting his party's television station off the air because it had refused to end attacks against international organizations working in Bosnia."

Hedges says: "The last straw, the officials said, was a broadcast in which footage of a U.N. official's news conference was dubbed so that she appeared, falsely, to be admitting that the war crimes tribunal was politically biased against the Serbs."

The writer contrasts yesterday's action with earlier, more tentative, SFOR operations. He writes: "The operation differed markedly from a bungled attempt by American troops in August to seize a transmitter on Mount Kozora near the Bosnian Serb town of Prijedor. In that operation the troops had to withdraw after mobs of Karadzic supporters, many of them policemen in civilian clothes, collected at the site and attacked the soldiers with clubs and stones. Yesterday by contrast, heavy security was set up near the towers to prevent people from reaching the sites. Combat helicopters hovered over the transmitter on Mount Trebevic, near Sarajevo, and NATO troops blocked the roads, including those leading from Karadzic's stronghold in Pale, with armored personnel carriers."

WASHINGTON POST: Officials have no firm idea of exactly how to proceed

Lee Hockstader calls the seizures a "surprise move" instigated by "furious" Western officials. Hockstader writes: "The surprise move at dawn by hundreds of U.S., French, Italian, Spanish and other soldiers capped weeks of contention between the state television station, which is loyal to former president Radovan Karadzic, and top Western military and civilian officials, who are furious at broadcast distortions and attacks against NATO and international officials in Bosnia."

The writer says that NATO's leaders, having moved assertively, now are unsure what to do next. "For more than a month, the Americans have been eager to take decisive steps against Karadzic, a rigid Serb nationalist who has blocked the U.S.-brokered peace settlement in Bosnia, and in favor of Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic. But within hours of Wednesday's move, officials conceded privately that they have no firm idea of exactly how to proceed now: whether to hand control of the airwaves over to Plavsic exclusively -- and if so, for how long -- and under what conditions to return some air time to the Karadzic camp."

TIMES: Action is considered within three months

Describing the SFOR operation today defense correspondent Michael Evans says NATO defense ministers meeting in Maastricht, Holland, received a briefing on the action from the NATO supreme allied commander, who had directed it. Evans writes: "NATO defense ministers yesterday considered three options for the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia over the next nine months: to continue with the current 36,000 troops until the pullout begins from July 1 next year; to reduce the current force to 30,000, withdrawing three battalions supplied by America, France and Spain; or to cut the strength by half to 18,000.

"A senior NATO official said that plans were under way for dealing with indicted war crime suspects still at large in Bosnia, who include Dr Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president. Action was expected within the next three months."

WALL STREET JOURNEY: Pessimism about the U.S. mission is plumbing new depths

A commentary by Robert Kagan and Morton I. Abramowitz calls for the United States to extend its commitment in Bosnia. Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Abramowitz is acting president of the International Crisis Group, an advocacy group based in Brussels.

They write: "Pessimism about the U.S. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia is plumbing new depths these days, at the very moment that prospects for the mission's success are brightening. Since June, NATO forces have finally been leaving their bunkers and taking action to implement the Dayton peace accords. But these first signs of hope have been greeted only by renewed calls for withdrawal."

The writers say: "The overarching goal of the Dayton peace plan was not to teach Serbs, Muslims and Croats to love each other, or even to bring complete justice to the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Rather, the goal of Dayton was pragmatic and closely attuned to U.S. and European interests."

They conclude: "The United States would survive if we walked out of Bosnia without achieving what we went in to do. But many thousands of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats wouldn't, and neither would America's position as leader of the NATO alliance. Atlanticists like Henry Kissinger, who have beaten the drums for the expansion of NATO, ought to keep that in mind as they help set the stage for the alliance's failure in Bosnia."

LE FIGARO: Is this world real or virtual?

Commentator Patrick de Saint-Exupery writes off with heavy irony what he sees as the futility of much Western behavior in Bosnia. He says that Western officials delight in "surrealistic press conferences where the big bosses from the UN, the OSCE the HCR or the SFOR announce -- and they are dead serious during these incredibly stiff ceremonies -- that the peace process has made a gigantic step forward because a Croatian policeman helped on one occasion a Muslim policeman in Mostar. Don't they remember that these two ethnic police forces were supposed to be joined in one unit three years ago?"

De Saint-Exupery writes: "Is this world real or virtual? It does not matter: Bosnia is perpetually oscillating from one side to another. On one side there are all these diplomats, military and humanitarians who, to justify their presence, think they should constantly make declarations concerning illusory improvements. On the other side are the real towns (of Banja Luka, Mostar, Srebenice) still vibrating from the echoes of the war."