DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
(Note: Participants included Secretary Perry, French Minister of State for Defense Francois Leotard and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA))
Mr. Bacon: Secretary Perry will start with a brief statement, followed by Minister Leotard, and then we will take questions.
Secretary Perry: Minister Francois Leotard and myself and some of our staff have had very good discussions this morning focused on ways of the United States and France cooperating in the ongoing operations in Bosnia. Both the United States and France believe that the UNPROFOR--that is, the UN mission in
Bosnia--performs a very valuable function. In the absence of UNPROFOR, there would be a very great difficulty in delivering humanitarian aid. We fear that if UNPROFOR leaves, there would be an increase in the violence associated with the war, and an increased danger of the war spreading to other regions.
For all of those reasons, we believe it is important for UNPROFOR to remain in place.
We discussed ways of making UNPROFOR more effective. And we'll discuss those further and make specific suggestions and proposals, both to the UN and NATO.
We also discussed the contingency of UNPROFOR leaving. We recognized that if UNPROFOR is not able to perform its mission--becomes ineffective--there would be great pressure on the nations involved to leave. We also recognize that if the United States were to unilaterally lift the embargo that the nations that are in the UNPROFOR forces, many of them would leave. That's one of the reasons that the United States is strongly opposing the unilateral lifting of the embargo.
However, if UNPROFOR does leave, the United States has agreed to participate in a NATO operation to assist in that withdrawal. Minister Leotard and myself discussed this morning how that operation would be conducted, and ways in which the United States and France could cooperate in its execution. We both agreed that in any such operation, the military force that goes into Bosnia for that purpose should have overwhelming military strength so that it would not invite an attack and so that it could confidently execute its mission. We also both agreed that the United States and France would be major participants in any such operation.
Let me now invite Minister Leotard to make some opening comments.
Minister Leotard: I beg your pardon for my bad English, and I prefer to speak in French.
[Through a translator]: I would like to begin by underscoring the friendly and open atmosphere that existed throughout this morning's discussions. They are a reflection of the kinds of relationships that we've had for many, many months between myself and Bill Perry. In fact, ever since the Aviano meeting before the Sarajevo ultimatum [and] all the way up to this day, our relations have been characterized by fruitful contact and cooperation on a constant basis. This is not a reflection of the two men you see sitting here, but also a reflection of the general relations between the United States and France.
I'd also like to express my government's respect for the U.S. presence in the former Yugoslavia. Many people often forget that the United States is present in the area. They have troops in Zagreb. The Navy is present in the Adriatic. The Air Force is present in Italy. There are AWACS planes and there are also American troops present in Macedonia. This is very important.
I expressed to Bill Perry this morning my government's position regarding the contingency of a withdrawal of the UNPROFOR forces in Bosnia. My government does not wish to see this withdrawal take place, and this is due to what we see as being four dramatic implications of such a withdrawal. Firstly, this would imply a massive displacement of population. Secondly, it would lead to the mechanical spreading of the conflict--both to the north and south. It would also change the nature of the conflict because it would bring in the Islamic forces into this area. And finally--and this is the most serious implication of all--it would undermine the credibility of international organizations, namely, the United Nations and NATO.
We look at all the different scenarios that are before us, and France welcomes very positively the United States commitment to engage ground troops in case of the contingency of a withdrawal of UNPROFOR forces from Bosnia. We also discussed how France might be involved in such a withdrawal operation. But that was not the only thing that we discussed. We discussed other scenarios as well. All of the scenarios that would enable us to develop further cooperation in the future.
Obviously, there will be future meeting--meetings at NATO level, bilateral meetings with our British counterparts, with our Spanish counterparts and other European counterparts. That being said, I'm now willing to field any questions you have.
Q: I might ask the Minister, if UNPROFOR cannot be made more effective, is it then an obvious result that peacekeepers would be withdrawn? And how could UNPROFOR be made more effective? Would it require more troops? Would it require peacemaking instead of peacekeeping?
Leotard: There are two ways of strengthening the efficacy of UNPROFOR forces. One would be, of course, to send in reinforcements, to increase the number of troops on the ground. However, in the near future this does not seem like a very likely scenario.
The other thing to do would be to strengthen the actions that the UN forces are currently involved in in the field. And that is one of the things we discussed this morning--how we can strengthen those actions and make them more effective.
We've looked at several possibilities. For example, how we could further strengthen the protection of supply convoys, how we can further strengthen the protection of all the humanitarian activities that are taking place in Bosnia. How we can, for example, guarantee and provide for the security of the airport in Sarajevo. These are some of the questions that we looked at this morning.
Q: (In French)
Leotard: That is up to Bill Perry to state the U.S. position on this particular point. It is my understanding that the government's--the Administration's
position--is quite distinct from that of Congress which is something that not only we, but our European partners--the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, other countries that have troops in Bosnia--welcome with great joy. We are very, very pleased to see that the Administration has accepted and taken on board our arguments against lifting the embargo unilaterally.
Q: Have the events on the ground over the past couple of days eased the pressure for withdrawal of UN troops? Or have the recent actions by the Bosnian Serbs to block convoys made a withdrawal more likely?
Leotard: Obviously, the most recent news we've got is very bad news. The Serbs are continuing to pressure the UN forces in the field and it's something that we regret. However, that being said, we will not let down our guard and we will not stand idly by.
We, therefore, have decided to maintain our humanitarian effort at current levels, and also to try to strengthen the mission which has received international support of the UN forces in Bosnia. That is to say, we refuse to grant the Serbs the reward that they are apparently seeking and think that they will get. That is, the withdrawal of UN forces from Bosnia.
Q: Mr. Secretary, with this idea to improve or increase the protection of supply convoys, would that involve American air power?
Perry: That would involve American air power under the same rules that it will now be used. That is, they have to be called for by UNPROFOR. Given that it's called for, that's a perfectly appropriate use of American air power, and one in which American air power could be quite effective.
Q: Regardless of the dual key, can you see a situation in which those NATO planes would begin flying air cover over convoys?
Perry: Yes, I can see the circumstance in which they would be flying air cover for convoys. Whether they're called upon to attack forces on the ground, again, would require--under present rules of engagement--would require the UN to request that strike.
Q: There's been some discussion in Congress about if there is a withdrawal of UNPROFOR, then there could be a heavy air campaign launched against the Serb forces. This has been a proposal made by the incoming speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Gingrich. Do you have an opinion on that question?
Leotard: I've always said that air strikes are an option. However, they cannot be seen as the sole military tool, nor the most adequate military tool for managing this type of conflict. There is the possibility of even closer support--air support--for specific missions. This is something that we have been envisaging, as well as providing air attacks--air strikes--against larger objects.
Bill Perry and myself in Seville actually came out in favor of stronger action on the part of the UN forces along these lines. But one of the things, that for us is totally unthinkable and totally unacceptable, is to carry out air strikes without the prior agreement of the UN forces in the field. They are the sole judges of the situation in the field.
Q: Can either of you run down for us some more examples of ways in which the UNPROFOR mission and forces can be strengthened in this new context, besides air cover for convoys?
Perry: The measures which UNPROFOR should be considering for strengthening involve not only more troops and more arms--the new rules of engagement--they will certainly be considering restructuring the forces and redeploying the forces. In particular, regrouping them in more defensible positions. All of those are decisions for UNPROFOR to take, not for us to take. But as Ministers of Defense concerned with this, we discussed various alternative ways and are prepared to make recommendations to UNPROFOR as to actions they can take along that line. Perhaps Minister Leotard would like to add to that.
Leotard: I would firstly like to pay tribute to all of the general officers of UNPROFOR in the field, for they recognize the difficulties they are up against and they accept them and try to overcome them.
We have already counter-attacked, we have already used firepower to try to retaliate against some of the Serb attacks. There are daily examples of this kind of action that are played out. It's very important that you bear in mind that the weaponry that the UN forces have in the field is not just light weaponry. They do have the means to defend themselves.
Going back to this point of regrouping our troops, this is something that we have been doing gradually. If you recall, at the beginning of 1993, French troops were spread out to seven different sites. We now have brought that down to four different sites, so that is definitely part of our strategy.
Q: You mentioned that the force that should be sent to Bosnia in case we have to pull out UNPROFOR should be of overwhelming military strength. Can you tell us in terms of figures how many troops? And also in terms of command and control--who would be in command of such an enterprise?
Perry: In my judgment, a military operation of that nature should be under the command and control of NATO. NATO is, at this time, in the process of putting together a plan that could conduct this military operation. They haven't completed that plan yet so it's premature to speak in numbers, but the guidelines that they've been given for that preparation are to go in with overwhelming military force.
Minister Leotard and I this morning both agreed that that was the proper guideline for the force. To put this in rough perspective, it is clear that would require more than a number of battalions. It would not require many divisions. So we're talking about a number of brigades. Heavily armed, well armed brigades. The exact number of brigades and the exact plan is still under discussion.
Q: Dr. Perry, can I ask you to clear up one thing, if you would? You've talked about strengthening the UN force, perhaps its mandate, reorganizing it; and you've talked about additional troops. Does this in any way change the United States opposition to putting ground troops into Bosnia to take part in a peacekeeping force?
Perry: Our position on ground forces in Bosnia remains as the President announced the other day, which is we reaffirm our commitment to provide ground forces for peacekeeping operations if a peace agreement has been reached. We
also--I also-- today reaffirm that we have agreed in principle to supply ground forces to make a major participation in any NATO extraction. We have not changed our views, however, that we are not sending in ground forces to participate in UNPROFOR under the present conditions.
Q: Are you talking further UN mandate changes in the Security Council, Mr. Secretary? Is that going to be necessary?
Perry: I do not believe that it is necessary to have changes in the UN mandate in the Security Council to have an effective force. I do think that what will be required is a change in the procedure, the organization, and the rules of engagement compatible with the charter which they already have.
Q: The existing mandate?
Perry: Yes. Compatible with the existing mandate. Yes, I believe that can be done.
Q: Minister Leotard, do you believe a mandate change is necessary?
Leotard: There is a mandate that does exist within the UN resolution. Nearly 60--59--resolutions have been adopted to date. This provides us with ample leeway. One of the things that we did discuss within this framework that does exist was providing heavy protection to a humanitarian corridor that would go from the Adriatic coast to Sarajevo. This is one of the hypotheses that we've been exploring, especially given the fact that doing so would be much easier now than it was in the past, since this area is now fully under the control of Croatian and Muslim forces.
Perry: Thank you very much.
Press: Thank you.