U.S., British, Germans Commit to Bosnia Deadline
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BONN, GERMANY, March 7, 1997 U.S., British and German defense officials are committed to pulling out of Bosnia at the end of NATO's 18-month stabilization force mission. "The president said the mission will end in June 1998, and I intend to see to it that directive is carried out," U.S. Defense Secretary Bill Cohen said.
Before leaving Washington on his first overseas trip since taking office, Cohen met with British Defense Minister Michael Portillo, who said NATO went into Bosnia together and will come out together.
During the first leg of a trip to Germany, Bosnia, Italy and Belgium March 3 to 7, Cohen met here with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and with Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, who voiced support for the deadline. "What happens at the end of this period must be crystal clear," Ruehe said. "We are in this together as NATO -- it is a NATO mission run by a NATO headquarters. If we approach it in this way, then we will have the maximum results in the next 16 months."
About 31,000 troops, including about 9,000 Americans, 5,700 British and 3,000 Germans, comprise the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia. Their mission is to provide a secure environment so the Bosnian government, with the help of private organizations, can rebuild the nation's economy and infrastructure. Reconstruction efforts have not proceeded with the same intensity as the military mission, Cohen said.
"SFOR is not there to guarantee peace in perpetuity," Cohen told reporters who accompanied him to Europe. SFOR provides more time for "seeds of peace to sink a bit deeper so that peace can be self-sustaining," he said.
Setting a firm deadline gives the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats a chance to rebuild the country. At the end of SFOR's mission the factions will have to choose between pursuing peace or returning to old antagonisms, Cohen said.
"We cannot make that decision for them," he said. "All we can do is help stabilize the region for a period of time ... we can help make improvements as far as infrastructure is concerned. But ultimately, we cannot be the guarantors of their peace."
The cost of U.S. operations in Bosnia to date is about $6.5 billion, Cohen said. During the mission's remaining 16 months, Cohen said, NATO allies need to work aggressively to accelerate economic and political rebuilding. Municipal elections must go forward and efforts to achieve a military balance will continue. "Civil authorities have a great deal to do in the next 16 months," he said.
After meeting with Kohl, Cohen said the German chancellor wants the United States to remain engaged and deployed in Germany and in Europe. "Since World War II, forward deployed U.S. troops in Europe have been the key to Europe's stability," he said.
They also discussed NATO enlargement, a proposed NATO-Russia charter, and command of Allied Forces South, Cohen said. "We would very much like France to come into NATO," Cohen said. "We think it would be good for France and good for NATO itself. We are willing to consider a variety of proposals, but one thing we can't be flexible on is that command in [Allied Forces South] be with anyone but the United States."
German officials have taken the lead in proposing alternatives. These include rotating command between the United States and Europe or rotating command among the European members.