Balance the Power

By WILLIAM SAFIRE
The New York Times, October 9, 1995

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.

Peace will not come to the Balkans as a result of
inserting outside peacekeepers. Peace will come only when
Serbs, Croats and Muslims strike a balance of power that
makes aggression too costly.

After being jerked around for more than two years by
the British and French, President Clinton was forced by
Congress to exert NATO leadership. Primarily as a result
of the belated application of air power against Serbian
forces, the tide of war turned, making possible a serious
cease-fire.

Now the U.S. President is being jerked around again.
Last year, our European allies elicited a promise from
him to put in 25,000 American ground troops to police a
peace agreement.

But we have since learned that the only time progress
was made in Bosnia was after peacekeepers were taken out.
Putting outside troops in is a step backward into the
morass that existed before our air strikes.

Clintonites say he’s “given our word.” But
can a President without public debate or Congressional
support, and with no emergency, commit substantial U.S.
forces to open-ended police duty anywhere?

No. Secretary of State Christopher’s claim that to
withhold U.S. ground troops would mean “the end of
NATO” is rhetorical blackmail.

I am a card-carrying interventionist. All the wrong
people — Pat Buchanan and the military
“experts” who mistakenly foresaw disaster in
using force to stop Saddam Hussein — are my strange
bedfellows in opposing the insertion of outside troops
today. Clinton is already denouncing all Americans who
denounce his wrongheaded strategy as
“isolationists.”

Clinton’s model is Haiti. He was right to use force
to build democracy there: it stopped an invasion of
refugees. But Bosnia ain’t Haiti.

Our First Armored Division in Europe was designed and
equipped to take on a Soviet tank offensive, not to
patrol mountain borders of a Bosnia we deliberately keep
weak. Nor is Bosnia Berlin, to be defended by great
powers in sectors, with Tuzla the new Checkpoint Charlie.

Bosnia already has 120,000 troops, all the troops it
needs today to defend its whittled-down borders. They are
mainly Bosnian Muslims, with some indigenous Croats. What
those troops need is defensive arms, the training to use
those arms, and the sustained air cover to give them the
time to get that training.

Here’s where Clinton has been snookered again by
Europeans who want no Muslim state on their Continent.
They keep claiming that lifting the embargo on arms for
Bosnian self-defense would prolong the war.

Time has demonstrated how mistaken that defeatist
European story is. One-sided arming led to war; only by
equipping Muslim troops with comparable firepower can a
balance be struck that could lead to peace.

The Serbs attacked because they thought they could
conquer; they will not attack again if they think they
will be beaten back. Nor will a well-armed Bosnia become
irredentist if Muslims know that Western air power would
then be turned against them.

What’s a workable interventionist strategy for
Congress to consider?

  1. NATO’s air arm, primarily American, should
    maintain control of the skies over the original
    Bosnia, ready to retaliate disproportionately to
    violations of the peace agreement. Air power was
    underrated in warmaking; let’s not underrate it
    in peacekeeping.
  2. NATO nations and Russia should manipulate
    economic sanctions and incentives to induce
    Serbia and Croatia to cooperate with what’s left
    of Bosnia.
  3. The arms embargo keeping Bosnia weak should be
    lifted forthwith. Mr. Clinton should lead the
    West to join nations like Pakistan, Turkey and
    Saudi Arabia to finance purchase of antitank,
    antiaircraft and intelligence-communications
    equipment.
  4. A NATO team, including Americans, should set up
    training centers in Croatia to ready Bosnian
    troops for self-defense.

An imbalance of power in the Balkans always leads to
war. Defense Secretary Perry’s expressed expectation that
Serbs will give up their arms to enable Muslims to
achieve a balance of power is ludicrous.

The Congress should restrain the President from
blundering into Bosnia’s occupation. Instead, we should
use the weapon that works — the credible threat of harsh
punishment from the air — to enforce a peace among
military equals.

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