Bosnia Update by GEN. Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, May 21, 1998
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
General Clark is here to talk about Bosnia. He has to see the Secretary relatively soon, so he's got about 15 minutes. So he'll start with a brief statement, and then take your questions.
General Clark: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to be before you to answer some questions.
I'm back here in Washington on routine consultations. I've seen various people today. I was over at the ceremony at the White House a few minutes ago. I'm back on, as I said, routine consultations.
In Bosnia this is a basic, emerging, good news story as we see it right now. There's been, I believe, some remarkable progress made when one looks back six months or a year. There's a lot of work to be done, but we're doing it. We're very proud of the forces of all of the members of SFOR there -- some 39 nations who are participating, and I'm particularly proud of the work of our American troops there in Multinational Division North. I think things are moving in the right direction. As I said, we've got some more work to do, but I'll be very happy to take your questions.
Q: A good news emerging story? It's been a couple of years now. When's it going to arrive?
A: I think if you look back at where we were a year ago you'll see substantial progress has been made. If you look back two years ago you'll see even more progress. Go back two years. We separated the warring factions, we returned the territory, the armies were demobilized, weapons were put in weapon storage sites, national elections were held, parliamentary elections were held, local elections were held, refugees returned home, the rule of law is taking hold in that country.
I think if you look back even six months ago we had an SDS government in Pali that was, despite their avowed statements, pretty determined to resist many of the aspects of the Dayton Agreement. We have a new Prime Minister there now, a man named Dodik, 38 years old. He's very pragmatic. It's been his determination to align the Republik of Srpska government more closely with the West. He's made a number of very successful trips. He's taken some very important steps internally. He's receiving aid from Western institutions at this point and he's doing his best to reorient the Republik of Srpska. So I think that in itself is an enormous step forward.
Q: Given the state of progress, when do you see U.S. troops no longer being...
A: I don't put a date on this. As we said, we're not putting dates on these. We're looking at the specific benchmarks and every six months we'll assess progress and then we'll take it from there.
Q: How confident are you that peaceful negotiations will settle the Kosovo situation? And if not, do you see the need for NATO troops? Do you think NATO troops will be needed if those negotiations are not successful?
A: Well, we watch with some concern as Kosovo has spiraled downward into violence. We've been very disappointed to see the repression by the Serb ministerial police there. We're also concerned about the growing propensity to violence and the reported influx of weaponry into Kosovo from outside.
Now I do think that the onset of dialogue is a hopeful sign between President Milosevic and the Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova. I wouldn't give any specific prospects for success, but we do see that the onset of dialogue is a hopeful sign. We have to take and nurture that now and seek a solution to this potentially terrible problem through dialogue and negotiation.
Q: If it is not successful, do you see the potential of Kosovo becoming another Bosnia?
A: Well I think everybody is well aware of what the potential here is. This is a country that is, as you know, it's 90 percent ethnic Albanian; it's got a 10 percent Serb minority. It holds a special significance in Serb lore. On the other hand, the people in Albania have been very patiently waiting to regain their rights since their status as an autonomous region was rescinded some nine years ago.
So I think everyone has always realized that this was perhaps the ultimate and toughest challenge that might be confronted in the Balkans. So we're aware of the potential, but thus far, at least, it has not spilled over into our activities in Bosnia and we're able to deal with the Bosnia problem largely separately, an as I said, we're hopeful that we'll get a solution through negotiation and dialogue.
Q: On the same subject, have you made or been asked to make up any contingency plans for NATO intervention in Kosovo? Have you been to Kosovo yourself, or gotten closer to the issue?
A: No, I have not been to Kosovo, and no, we have not made any NATO contingency plans on this issue.
Q: Back to Bosnia real quick, the war criminals that are still at large. To what extent do you believe they limit your ability to execute the Dayton Accords?
A: The mandate before the Stabilization Force has not changed. We said when we encounter these people in the course of our duties, if and when the situation permits, they will be detained and taken into custody and turned over to the appropriate authorities. We've proven that we will do that. The consequence has been, I think, that the activities of the war criminals have been greatly restricted. I have information that indicates a number of them no longer stay in Bosnia. They've had to give up their previous activities there and seek refuge elsewhere. So I think this is an indicator that the policy is indeed working.
Q: In Bosnia, are you still considering establishing a paramilitary force to serve as a police element within the country? And if so, what kind of numbers do you have in mind, and would their mission include going after what's left of the war criminals?
A: First of all there is no consideration for anything of the type that you've suggested. But let me clarify I think what is behind your suggestion.
For some time now, we've been calling for the requirement for some special units who are more capable of dealing with civil/military interface and in particular the problems of riot control and crowd control than many of our NATO and SFOR troop contributors could deal with themselves. These special units would be operating under the SFOR rules of engagement. They'd be operating as part of SFOR. And, in fact, in the new operations plan which is about to be finally approved by NATO, there is in fact a provision for these units. They're called MSU -- multinational specialized units. Italy has volunteered to lead the first of these groupings. They're providing a brigade level headquarters with a battalion carabinieri. The Argentines have volunteered to provide a second battalion headquarters and also a company of Argentine gendarmerie. So, at least initially, it will be a two battalion organization with one Italian carabinieri battalion. It will have an Argentine, a second battalion of Argentine leadership with an Argentine company, and we have a number of other countries who are considering providing their troops to this second battalion. This will be operating underneath the operational control of COMSFOR, General Shinseki, and he will then dispatch them from a central location at the time that they're needed to some place where they may be of use.
But I want to underscore, this is not intended to replace local police. It's not in any way going to take away local police responsibilities to do what they have to do to provide local law and order. It is not a law enforcement agency. It has no specific role in the capture of war criminals.
Q: Going back to Kosovo. Given the violence, doesn't it make sense to put NATO troops into Albania, along that border, and increase the levels of forces in Macedonia?
A: That's an issue that's still under consideration in NATO. There's been some preliminary estimates done. When we did our preliminary estimates we looked at this fairly closely and we discovered this would be quite a challenging mission.
The terrain is extremely difficult. It's an underdeveloped area, so the kinds of host nation support that we're used to relying on probably wouldn't be there. The government doesn't have full control up there. There's not much Albanian military to rely on.
So we'd be talking about a very challenging mission from the military perspective. I would leave it up to the alliance's civilian leadership to determine whether such a deployment would make sense or not at the appropriate time.
Q: Any other alternative besides...
A: I think there are a number of alternatives. NATO has looked at a number of these including Partnership for Peace and exercises and various other measures. Some nations are considering what they can do to strengthen the capabilities of the Albanians themselves to control their border, by strengthening their border police and perhaps working with their military. But there are no easy solutions in this case.
Q: May we have your assessment on the Greek/Turkish dispute over the Aegean Sea, the areas connected with the Balkans, and is there any U.S. strategic plan to reduce the crisis?
A: We've been watching with some concern over the past months as concerns over the Aegean have come and gone. Of course we're very concerned about the SA-300 situation as it might emerge in Cyprus. We're also concerned that Greece and Turkey remain at peace and strengthen their cooperation in the Aegean.
We've seen some signs of progress over the past year, and I would cite, in particular, the development of the recognized air picture which has enabled us to quickly locate and confirm incidents involving the air forces of Greece and Turkey, in which information is easily shared and compared between the two. This so-called RAP -- recognized air picture -- is being run out of Armed Forces South, down in Naples, Italy, the NATO Southern Regional Command. And I think that's one sign of some progress that's been made.
Q: ...very concerned for S-300 Russians missile system (inaudible)... another 40,000 troops by Turkey (inaudible) more than 35 years now.
A: The reason we're concerned is because we see this as a possible focal point for tension, and we think that the best way to resolve this is to get rid of the tensions that are there. So we are concerned on this from a military perspective.
But I would tell you that we sent Ambassador Holbrooke over to Cyprus. He's made a couple of trips there as you may know. We'll have to wait and see what the ultimate outcome of that would be.
Q: Do you think that NATO is going to play any role in the Cyprus...
A: I do not foresee that.
Q: There's been some concern expressed on Capital Hill about the Pentagon continually coming up with a Bosnian supplemental and perhaps putting it in a more regular budget approach. Also there was a team that went over and Senators came back and they said they thought that morale was pretty high among troops in Bosnia.
Do you think people are getting used to the idea of a longer term deployment there?
A: I think we've made a very important step forward when we recognized that it's time to look not at a time-based policy, but at a results-based policy for our deployment in Bosnia. And, I think, already we've seen the positive impact of that on the parties in Bosnia. And those who formerly believed that they could sit on the sidelines and wait out the deployment have recognized that that's no longer an option. They've got to get with the program and actively participate in the implementation of the agreement they signed and they've got to follow through on the obligations that they undertook at Dayton. So I think that's very positive in itself.
Q: Do you think the deployment is having an affect on locations in the Army? Is there any kind of affect on the readiness of forces elsewhere because of the movement of troops in and out of Bosnia?
A: I will tell you this. We've reached a very important decision in the United States military, and that is that we're going to spread the load of the Bosnian mission beyond Europe. So as you probably know, the United States 1st Cavalry Division is due to take the place of the current deployed unit 1st Armored Division.
But the numbers that we're dealing with here are relatively small. As you know, under the followon force, I think you know, our commitment's going to be about 6900 Americans there as part of the mission. So this is down from where we started which was around 20,000 some two years ago. It's down from where we are right now, which is an authorized strength of some 8500. So we're continuing to see reduction and therefore a proportionate decrease in the burden it puts on the armed forces.
Q: The Senate recently approved the addition of the three countries to NATO and you work with these countries in Bosnia. I'm wondering if either in general SACEUR terms or in Bosnia, is there any practical effect that you've seen, or any change in attitudes, any effects that this vote has had?
A: I'm speaking now as SACEUR, and I'll tell you that these countries are enormously pleased and proud to have been accepted by the United States Senate and by the people of the United States for membership into NATO. They have long wanted, long sought an association with the United States. When I travel and speak with these officers, it's just with an enormous sense of pride and a tremendous sense of relief with which they greeted that vote. It's been very important.
I will also tell you, speaking at the NATO commander, SACEUR, that the troops on the ground that we've dealt with from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in Bosnia have done a very, very creditable job. So I think we can be very proud to have these people with us in NATO.
Q: A couple of months ago when you were on the Hill you told the House National Security Committee you were reconsidering the rule that restricts American troops to their base camps in off-duty time. Can you offer any update on your thinking on that?
A: We've looked at it. We still think that the rule that's in place right now is the rule that makes best sense.
Q: Have you got any grip on the volume of arms smuggling into Kosovo? And secondly, do you know where Radovan Karadzic is?
A: On the first question, I can't release information like that to you in this forum. The second one, I can't release that information to you in this forum. (Laughter)
Q: Back to NATO expansion. Can you briefly discuss your view of what the challenge that lies ahead in terms of integrating not only the new militaries into NATO, but improving the overall integration, especially in light of new technologies and how the U.S. Army's moving to a digital force.
A: NATO writes a strategic concept and it does a defense requirements review every two years. It's on a two year force planning cycle that's taken out of the strategic concept. The strategic concept that we're currently working with was written in 1991. It's still guiding us and it's being updated this year. It will be ready, we believe, next year by the time of the Washington Summit, although I don't believe any commitment has been made to that, but that's the general expectation.
Then we do the force planning on a two year basis of looking at what nations plan to do with their forces, and then asking them to consider their own force plans in view of alliance requirements. I'm encouraged to say that we've seen a lot of progress. We're getting a better focus on some of the key force structure elements that are required to implement NATO strategy concept. I'm talking about long haul communications, better intelligence, better deployability, logistics, and the other things that are required to take what was formally main defense forces who fought essentially in their own countries or in the western part of Germany, and be able to transform those forces into the forces that can operate under the challenges NATO currently faces.
Now we have this process in place for the three new members at this time, and we've met with them and we've been very encouraged by their response. They have faced up to the responsibilities of providing adequate resources. They have realistic plans in place, and based on my visits to the three countries, they've got some good people leading their armed forces that can handle these plans. So I feel very comfortable about that.
We do say that we need to make sure we've got the air picture interchangeable, the ability to conduct secure communications in a crisis at a high level, we need interoperability, and we need the reinforcement capability. These four areas, we're working on all these areas. As I said, I'm optimistic that this will work out.
In the mean time we're using Partnership for Peace to strengthen the interoperability with other non-NATO members.
Q: On Kosovo, you say NATO has done a preliminary estimate on a force along the border. What's involved in this estimate? What was the maximum number of troops they're looking at in terms of being able to...
A: It was in Albania. We looked at the monitoring mission along the border between Albania and Kosovo.
Thank you very much.