November 28, 1995 in Nation/World

U.S. Military Involvement Worth The Risk Pro

Knight-Ridder
 

Don’t worry, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is said to have reassured American negotiators in Dayton this month, your troops will spend the winter in Bosnia skiing.

No one really believes the pending deployment of an estimated 20,000 American soldiers to the war-torn, wintry Balkan nation will be that easy. But many argue that the job may not be nearly as tough as it seems.

Besides, it is a task, due to be taken up this month by a 60,000-strong NATO peace force, that is vital to the long-term security of the United States, Europe and the Balkans.

Indeed, blocking resumption of the bloody conflict is a moral as well as a national security imperative.

Those were the arguments President Clinton was making Monday, the same ones that members of his administration and supporters of his policy have been making for months: Messy as it is, guaranteeing peace in the Balkans is work that U.S. power and influence can - and must - perform.

First, the administration has stressed over and over that the situation in Bosnia will be as close to peace as possible before the first GI sets foot there: American troops will not be going into combat, Defense Secretary William Perry and Secretary of State Warren Christopher have repeated.

“These forces are not going to be injected into the middle of a civil war,” State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Monday.

To that end did leaders of three warring factions initial the Dayton peace agreement last week, and provide letters guaranteeing “the safety and security” of NATO troops in Bosnia. Despite rumblings of discontent in the Serbian quarters of Sarajevo over the weekend, even leaders of the renegade Bosnian Serbs belatedly signed on to the presence of the NATO force.

Further, the Pentagon has said, the NATO force will be so heavily armed, and free to respond, that any attack on it will bring down a savage counterattack.

But that is seen as unlikely. “We do not expect any organized resistance,” Burns said.

The administration is banking heavily that the prestige, as much as the power, of the NATO and American forces will preclude any such attacks. Americans still are held in high regard - perhaps in some awe - in many areas of the Balkans, officials have said. And the administration has always argued that the magic of American participation was critical to a Balkan peace.

And peace in the Balkans, the United States says, is crucial to peace in Europe: One European conflagration - World War I - was ignited in Sarajevo. Who knows, the administration asks, what might happen if the current fires of nationalism were to spread beyond Bosnia?

The potential dangers from conflict sparked in Bosnia are nearly endless. Civil war in Greece, renewed conflict between Russia and our Western allies, and terrorism across southern Europe by religious extremists are threats that have been suggested.

The Balkans are symbolically closer to home than Somalia, Beirut, Vietnam and even Haiti, administration supporters have said, and the future of NATO is at stake now. There would be no peace to keep in Bosnia without U.S. intervention and no NATO peacekeeping force without American participation.

NATO is important to us, administration aides explain, because it provides a powerful military buttress for our alliances with other Western powers. Without the hammer of NATO, the United States might find itself standing alone in future world crises.

Finally, the United States is plan ning to begin withdrawing its forces within six months of their arrival and intends to be gone within a year. Senior Clinton aides say they will not allow the problems of refugees or other issues on the ground distract them from that goal.

In short, while officials - especially in the Defense Department - expect some American deaths and injuries in the one-year, $1.5 billion deployment, the president believes the job is a challenge that the United States can and must take up.

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