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Bosnia dilemma: SFOR, what for?

U.S. soldier
The first deadline for a NATO pullout passed just about a year ago   

An Analysis

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 back.

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.

Bosnians seem unable to solve own problems


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 took over.

"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 five."

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
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 London.

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.


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