Bosnia dilemma: SFOR, what for?
The first deadline for a NATO pullout passed just about a year ago
December 18, 1997
Web posted at: 3:02 p.m. EST (2002 GMT)
In this story:
(CNN) -- President Clinton's decision to make U.S. military
involvement in Bosnia an open-ended commitment is just the
latest example of a withdrawal deadline set, then pushed
The question now is, why bother to post a deadline at all for
the 32,000 peacekeepers in the NATO-led Stabilization Force
(SFOR), 8,500 of them Americans?
An international peace implementation force (IFOR) was sent
to Bosnia two years ago to ensure that the military aspects
of the 1995 Dayton peace accords were carried out. A year
ago, SFOR took over with a different mission -- creating a
stable environment for civilian reconstruction.
Last year, as the original mission was about to expire,
Clinton felt a smaller commitment lasting through next June
would be adequate to bring stability to Bosnia after a
3 1/2-year civil war.
That view softened in recent months as it became apparent
that a peacekeeping force without American participation
would not succeed, and that Bosnia's peace was too fragile to
endure without an international military presence.
It has been said from the beginning that NATO could only hold
down the lid in Bosnia, that it was the Bosnian factions
themselves, and only them, who could make a durable piece.
So far they haven't done so because they still need more
time, according to Michael Williams, a former spokesman for
U.N. forces who once served in Bosnia before NATO-led troops
"The politicians frankly did not level with their own people
and their own parliaments and congresses," he told CNN. "It
is obvious ... that this was not going to be solved in two
years or three years for that matter, that it needed four to
Britain and France are among a total of 35 countries -- both
NATO and non-NATO members -- with troops in Bosnia.
- Britain, which has about 5,300 soldiers there, has seen 41 killed since 1992 when it went in to try to make peace.
- France, the third-largest contributor, has 3,300 troops in Bosnia and has lost 70 over the years, 14 of them since the Dayton peace accords.
Like Washington, the two U.S. allies have been looking at
various options for re-stabilizing Bosnia, but nobody doubts
war will break out again unless they, too, are prepared to
stay well past June 1998.
'A dependency culture'
IFOR peace keepers
"Before 1995," Williams said, "the Europeans, frankly, could
not hack it in Bosnia on their own. It needed not only U.S.
participation but U.S. leadership."
But even as SFOR troops try to push Bosnians toward
normality, their very presence keeps Bosnian politics
immature, says London newspaperman Simon Jenkins.
"They stop policing themselves. They're relieved of the
obligations to make compromise. They don't have to police
their own cease-fire. They get a mass amount of aid. It
produces a dependency culture. You do not have what you need,
which is the firm basis for a political dispensation, to
enable you to withdraw," said Jenkins, editor of the Times of
But by turning their backs, the world's leading nations would
be admitting that the international community is powerless,
that its power doesn't carry responsibility and that its
strongly promoted standards of behavior are not universal.
Those are confessions that nobody seems ready to make.
Correspondent Richard Blystone contributed to this report.