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U.S. Policy on Bosnia Remains Consistent
Prepared statement by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry , the Senate Armed Services Committee and House National Security Committee, Wednesday, June 07, 1995

I am pleased to be here to discuss U.S. policy on Bosnia, and to inform you of the results of a meeting that Gen. [John] Shalikashvili [chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] and I attended in Paris last Saturday with our counterparts from the NATO and European Union countries that contribute to and support the U.N. operations in Bosnia.

The outcome of that meeting was agreement on a rapid reaction force that will substantially upgrade the capability of the U.N. peacekeeping force. This is a welcome development, and we have pledged to make available to the new force certain U.S. equipment and capabilities that will enhance its capacity to operate.

Let me begin by outlining the overall U.S. policy on Bosnia. Our policy consists of four elements: first, to not take sides in the war as a combatant. Second, to be fully engaged in the diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated peace settlement which preserves Bosnia as a state within its internationally recognized borders. Third, to keep the war from spreading. Fourth, to mitigate and reduce the impact of the violence on innocent civilians. And as we pursue this policy, we will do so in a way that contributes to unity with our NATO allies.

Our goal is to protect U.S. interests in the region. It is true that we do not have what I would call vital national security interests in Bosnia. That is to say, the survival of the United States is not threatened by actions in Bosnia. But we do have a security interest in preventing the violence from spreading and from stimulating a broader European war. We do have a security interest in limiting the violence and the flow of refugees. And we certainly have a humanitarian interest in mitigating the violence. So in my view, walking away is not an option.

At the same time, we are not going to take sides in the war as a combatant. That is not to say we have no point of view about this war. We believe that the aggressors are the Bosnian Serbs and that the victims are the Bosnian government and their people. Some have argued that America has a moral obligation to see that justice is done by entering the war as a combatant on the Bosnian government side. I respect the moral aspect of this argument, but I do not accept the conclusion, based on three separate judgments.

In my professional judgment and the professional judgment of our military leaders, that decision would entail the commitment of several hundred thousand troops, a long war and thousands of casualties. In my value judgment, I do not believe that the Bosnian war poses a threat to U.S. interests grave enough to risk the lives of thousands of our troops. And in my political judgment, there is no support among the public or in the Congress for entering this war as a combatant. So we will not commit ground forces to the conflict in Bosnia.

Our policy on Bosnia has been consistent throughout the 2 1/2 years of the Clinton administration. What has changed is the strategic implementation of the policy as the facts on the ground change. In that light, let me describe how the implementation has evolved in the four prongs of our policy.

First, we reaffirm that we will not commit ground forces to the conflict in Bosnia or join the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia. However, there are three strictly prescribed conditions under which we might use U.S. troops in discrete, temporary conditions -- and then, only after consulting with the Congress: First, as part of a NATO force to help implement a peace settlement, if one is reached. Second, as part of a NATO force to help withdraw the U.N. peacekeeping force if it decides that it can no longer perform its mission and requests NATO's help in withdrawing.

This is the essence of NATO's preplanned withdrawal operation known as OPLAN 40104. This plan has not yet received the final and formal endorsement of NATO. Some technical and political details remain to be worked out, but we expect final NATO approval by mid-month. That plan has sufficient flexibility to respond to the remote possibility that the U.N. could ask NATO to help in an emergency extraction of UNPROFOR [U.N. Protection Force] from Bosnia. We do not expect that to happen, especially in light of the latest steps taken by key allied troop contributors to strengthen UNPROFOR's ability to defend itself.

And third, we would be willing in principle to use U.S. troops to assist in the emergency movement of UNPROFOR units within Bosnia. Specifically, as a last resort, if needed - and whether it would be needed is an open question, because our allies in UNPROFOR have formidable capabilities themselves - we should be prepared to assist NATO in an emergency extraction of units whose positions had become untenable to points of safety in Bosnia.

Any such operation would be short term and aimed at specific problems and tasks. Once a specific limited operation were completed, our troops would withdraw immediately from Bosnia. But let me be clear on this: The United States will not become UNPROFOR's transportation service. And let me also be clear that we have not been asked to undertake a commitment to assist in emergency relocation. We think that it is unlikely that we will be asked to do so, in part because our willingness to consider such a request has given UNPROFOR a greater sense of confidence.

Under the diplomatic prong of our policy, we will continue to fully engage in the diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated peace settlement. Some have said this is a failed policy, because the war continues. But it is easier to criticize the peace negotiations than to actually achieve a peace settlement in Bosnia. And the peace negotiations have, in fact, yielded some progress -- for example, the Croatian-Muslim accord last year, spearheaded by efforts of Secretary [of State Warren] Christopher and Ambassador [to Germany Charles] Redman. The stakes are great, so we must keep trying, while at the same time keeping our expectations in check and recognizing that real progress may take many months.

That is why it is all the more important to hold steady on the other two prongs of our policy: preventing the spread of the war and reducing the impact of the violence. Both prongs have been successful. That's self-evident when it comes to preventing the spread of the war because, in fact, the war has not spread. This is a very important success, because if the conflict in Bosnia were to spread into a wider regional war, it could threaten to engulf our NATO allies Greece and Turkey. This would threaten our vital national interests.

But while the war has not spread, we cannot be complacent, which is why U.S. troops will continue to participate in the U.N. peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and why our diplomats have worked so hard to keep the U.N. force in Croatia.

We have also been successful in limiting the violence and civilian casualties. The key to this success has been the U.N. peacekeeping operation, supported by NATO. Nineteen nations have provided about 23,000 troops in Bosnia to reduce the level of violence on civilians and to mitigate the effects of the violence by ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This is a tremendous outpouring of international support and a clear demonstration that the world takes the crisis in Bosnia seriously.

The U.N. has been criticized for being ineffective or even counterproductive. Granted, the peacekeepers have had their problems, given the great difficulty of their mission. But in the face of this great difficulty, the peacekeepers have done a tremendous job in minimizing civilian casualties and relieving human misery. In 1992, before they arrived in full force, there were about 130,000 civilian casualties in Bosnia. Last year, there were fewer than 3,000. Three thousand civilian casualties is still a tragedy, but the selflessness and courage of these peacekeepers has made a critical difference. If the U.N. force comes out of Bosnia, we'll turn the clock back to 1992, and we could again see annual casualties in excess of 100,000 civilians.

So, in spite of the criticism of the U.N. force, it has saved tens of thousands of lives. NATO has played a critical role in the success of the peacekeepers' humanitarian mission. Six NATO nations, including the United States, have been participating in operations providing airlift and air drop of food and medicine when U.N. humanitarian convoys cannot get through. NATO also provides, on request from the U.N., close air support to protect the peacekeepers from attack and air interdiction, under Operation Deny Flight, to stop the bombing of cities.

We've conducted thousands of sorties, more than 60,000 sorties in Deny Flight alone. These missions have not been risk-free. During these 60,000 sorties, there have been two aircraft shot down, one British, and just a few days ago, the American F-16. The risks will remain, but the value of Deny Flight is unquestionable in terms of the thousands of civilians saved from the shelling and bombing that would otherwise have occurred. So during 1993 and 1994, the U.N. force, with increasing support from NATO, became increasingly effective in reducing civilian casualties.

Which brings us to recent events. During 1995, Bosnia had settled into a virtual military stalemate, but a stalemate in which the momentum seemed to shift away from the Bosnian Serbs and toward the Bosnian government. In the face of this, the Bosnian Serbs brutally upped the ante by harassing the peacekeepers and by launching a rain of shells on innocent people in Sarajevo, more than 1,000 in one day.

This was incompatible with the U.N. peacekeeping mission and left the U.N. with a choice either to give up the peacekeeping mandate and withdraw the peacekeeping forces or call in NATO air support to conduct air strikes. The U.N. decided to call in the NATO air support, and NATO responded, fully aware of the risk that the Bosnian Serbs would retaliate. But that risk had to be balanced against the risk that the Bosnian Serbs would continue to slaughter the civilian population if NATO air support was not called in. I believe the U.N. made the right decision. And the NATO air strikes were the right thing to do. Bosnian Serbs should not be given free rein to slaughter innocent civilians or harass the peacekeepers.

The Bosnian Serbs responded by taking U.N. peacekeepers hostage. Given the escalated Serb aggression, the international community had three choices: first, to pull out the U.N. peacekeeping mission; second, to insert a military force to wage war on the Bosnian Serbs; or third, to strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

They rejected the choices of pulling out the U.N. peacekeeping mission or of waging war on the Bosnian Serbs. Either of these choices would have led to a humanitarian disaster. Instead, they decided to strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping mission so it can do its job better.

The NATO defense ministers met in Paris on Saturday to develop the plan for strengthening the U.N. force. We decided that the key to strengthening the peacekeeping force is to create a multinational rapid reaction force that would protect and support the peacekeepers. You might think of this rapid reaction force as a 911 emergency number for the peacekeepers. For example, if the peacekeepers escorting a convoy delivering food or fuel to civilians come under attack, the peacekeepers can call on this rapid reaction force, who would quickly come to their assistance. That not only should allow the peacekeepers to do their mission, it should also serve as a deterrent to that kind of attack.

The key contributors to this force would be the British and the French, who are contributing about 10,000 troops to the force. Several other nations have also indicated their interest in providing troops.

The United States will not be providing ground troops to the rapid reaction force. We strongly support the objectives of this force, and we will provide support in four different areas: First of all, we will continue to provide close air support. Second, we offered to provide various systems, including attack helicopters, artillery-locating communications gear, global positioning satellite navigation systems and night-vision equipment. Third, we offered to provide lift, especially strategic airlift of forces and equipment, to the theater of operations. And fourth, we have offered to provide U.N. commanders in Bosnia with what we call an intelligence communication cell.

This is a significant military technological advancement. The first time such an intelligence cell was used in warfare was in Desert Storm. It will be a communications network that will receive intelligence data on Bosnia collected by several nations and many sources, including tactical and national assets. It will synthesize and display these data, and reduce them to intelligence products tailored to the tactical needs of the commanders of the rapid reaction force. Finally, it will disseminate the intelligence products to the relevant commanders at headquarters and field units.

This intelligence cell will provide the field commanders with the timely situation awareness that will greatly enhance their ability to carry out their protection mission. It is also envisioned that this cell will have access to data collected by low-cost, unmanned aerial vehicles. These UAVs would be designed to fly under the clouds and take high-resolution imagery of areas of interest.

I believe that this additional U.S. support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission can make a key difference. Our support through NATO has already made a difference. I am also fully aware of the limitations of our present approach -- that by itself, it will not quickly end the war in Bosnia. People find this frustrating. This frustration has led to proposals to take active measures to help the Bosnian government achieve its political and military goals, including proposals for the United States to conduct air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets or unilaterally lift the arms embargo. But if you follow these proposals to their natural conclusion, they lead down a slippery slope to the same unintended consequence: an end to the U.N. peacekeeping mission and a humanitarian catastrophe, with the distinct possibility of a wider war breaking out and drawing in of American combat troops. And the unity of the NATO alliance would be shattered.

We cannot force a peaceful conclusion to the war in Bosnia. Only the parties can decide to end the war, and we will continue our diplomatic efforts to encourage a negotiated peace. The Bosnian government has made the right choice in accepting the contact group plan; regrettably, the Bosnian Serbs have not. In the meantime, we will also support efforts to keep the war from spreading, reduce the violence and mitigate the suffering.

The British poet A.E. Housman wrote, "The troubles of our proud and angry dust are from eternity and shall not fail. Bear them we can, and if we can, we must." Housman's poem is about perseverance. And perseverance is what we need in Bosnia, where the troubles of its proud and angry dust do seem eternal and unfailing. We will persevere, but we will also put limits on our actions, because when we put the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk and commit our nation on a military course of action, the price we pay must be commensurate with the risk to our nation of not acting. Our course of action in Bosnia has reflected this important balance, and it will continue to do so.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at