U.S. May Play Military Role in Bosnia After June
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 26, 1997 The U.S. military may play a role in Bosnia after the June dissolution of the stabilization force, said National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.
Berger, speaking at Georgetown University here Sept. 23, said the SFOR mission will end on time. "But the international community's engagement [in Bosnia] will continue," he said. "Whether an international security presence is part of that engagement and what role the United States might play remains to be decided. In part, that decision will depend on where things stand as we approach the time of SFOR's departure."
The success of NATO intervention is clear when compared to the way Bosnia was two years ago, he said. When the Dayton talks opened, Bosnia was in the midst of the worst conflict on the Continent since World War II. "Opposing armies faced one another in a country scarred by trenches and sown with land mines," Berger said. "Bosnia was literally decimated."
Just on humanitarian grounds, the United States was concerned, Berger said. However, U.S. interests in Europe were also at stake. The Bosnian conflict had the potential to spill over the borders and affect Macedonia and Albania. Further, emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe would have been affected by the example of ethnic hatred and division in the country. "A broader conflict would have threatened the vital interests of Greece and Turkey, two of our closest allies and core members of NATO," Berger said.
He said the international community entered the Dayton talks with three goals: stop the fighting, help the parties form a single nation, balancing unity with autonomy for the Federation of Bosnia and the Republic of Srpska, and provide Bosnia the chance to build a lasting peace.
Once the parties signed the Dayton accords, the NATO-led implementation force -- with a significant American contingent -- separated the opposing forces, supervised exchanges of territory, enforced the cease fire, demobilized armies and heavy weapons and created a secure environment for political and economic recovery. The stabilization force continues these missions.
Berger said the military portion of the accords has gone well, but the civilian portion is "not as far along as we would like it to be. But given the complexity of the challenge, that is hardly surprising. Bosnia still stands on a tightrope, inching towards a better future but still not past the point of danger."
The people of Bosnia still must arrest indicted war criminals, establish a free press and defuse the appeal of ultranationalists, Berger said. "Progress is painfully slow on many fronts."
But he said he believes the effort has been worthwhile. "Some argue we set our sight too high at Dayton, that only the ethnic partition will produce the stability we want and extricate us from Bosnia," he said. "I believe the partitionists are wrong, because accepting partition means ratifying the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe in more than half a century. We should not give up on justice and reward aggression."
The battle between ultranationalists and those who support the Dayton accords in Srpska means the area has economically fallen behind the Muslim-Croat Federation portion of Bosnia. "[The Serbs] have seen the improvements across the border in the federation; they want to share in the benefits of peace," Berger said.
He said the Srpska regime -- while still espousing nationalism -- recognizes the only road forward runs through Dayton and that the United States and NATO have not chosen sides in the political conflict. The coalition is evenhanded in encouraging those who support the Dayton accords and opposing those who don't.
"If Dayton fails, Bosnia will almost certainly slide back into conflict, potentially leading to a wider war in southeastern Europe," Berger said. "But Dayton can succeed. And it will, if Bosnia's leaders take responsibility for their country's future and lead their people to build the peace they deserve, if the international community does not lose patience or determination and if we all look at Bosnia clearly -- not through rose-colored glasses but also not through a glass darkly."