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UN Weighs Credibility Risks of Enforcing Bosnian No-Fly Zone

WHATEVER the decision by Bosnian Serbs on the Geneva peace plan, the United Nations faces a big job ahead in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

If the peace plan is approved by the Bosnian Serb assembly, the UN would probably need to at least double the 7,500 peacekeepers now in Bosnia. New tasks would range from cease-fire and human rights monitoring to disarming troops.

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If the plan is rejected, as many analysts expect, the fighting in Bosnia is likely to escalate. Pressure will intensify on the UN to do more to level the playing field between Bosnian Serbs, who inherited Yugoslav Army weapons and control 70 percent of the land, and the more numerous but out-gunned Bosnian Muslims. (Europeans threaten Serb isolation, Page 3.)

Many documented reports of war crimes, rapes of Muslim women by Serb soldiers, and a new internal US report that Serbs have been siphoning off almost one-fourth of airborne relief supplies to Bosnia add to the pressure on the UN. Many nations want the UN to exempt Bosnia from the Yugoslav arms embargo and to intervene militarily.

Just this week Muhammad Sacirbey, Bosnia's Ambassador to the UN, appealed to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to change the mandate for UN peacekeeping troops so they can use their weapons to protect others as well as themselves. He cited the recent Serb assassination of Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hajika Turajlic while under UN guard as an example of why change is needed. Mr. Boutros-Ghali has appointed a commission to probe the crime and wants a report by Jan. 18.

"Why in the world can't the Security Council say, `We are going to create [land] corridors which need to be 100 percent secure to provide necessary relief ... and if anyone interferes, the UN will react militarily?' " asks Edward Luck, president of the UN Association of the USA, Inc.

UN troops "turn around every 10 seconds and ask the Serbs permission to do this or that," Mr. Luck insists. "They give the impression of being servants, not the enforcers of the international will. It's pathetic."

If the peace talks fail, the Council is expected to move swiftly to enforce its three-month-old ban on military flights over Bosnia. Violations have been numerous. The US has been leading the push for enforcement, and President-elect Clinton strongly supports the move.

Top UN officials have repeatedly urged the Council to wait until peace talks have had a chance to progress. For a variety of other reasons - including danger to peacekeeping troops - the Council has been reluctant to act.

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In addition to jeapordizing troops and putting delivery of relief supplies at risk, says Enid Schoettle, a UN expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, any move to enforce the no-fly zone puts added pressure on peace negotiators: "It's hard to provide third-party mediation for all sides at the same time that you're taking sides on the battlefield."

"If the peace talks break down, the UN simply won't be able to remain neutral," says Frederic Kirgis, law professor at Washington and Lee University.

Details of how to enforce the flight ban are still under debate. They include how long a warning period to give the Serbs, whether to target only planes in flight or also the airfields from which they take off, and whether NATO officials or Mr. Boutros-Ghali would control the operation. NATO is expected to supply the manpower and equipment for the job.

The Council may also need to distinguish between the kinds of flights made over the zone (Serbs have some relief helicopters) and sponsors. The original resolution banned flights by all parties over the zone but recently more Croatian and Muslim than Serbian planes have been using the airspace. "One would have to address the question of selective enforcement," Ms. Schoettle says.

Council members also are concerned about whether enforcing the flight ban would curb Serb action or escalate the fighting.

"I don't think enforcement would have a lot of effect on the ground but ... politically and diplomatically it would send a very strong signal to Serbia that at last the West is taking some kind of action against them," says Janusz Bugajski, an East European specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The willingness to use force ... can be a persuasive argument in diplomacy," Luck says. "I think in Bosnia to a certain extent [force and diplomacy] have been decoupled.... I'm not so confident that there's going to be a diplomatic solution that is just and viable and durable unless there is a real perception, a deep one, among the various groups in Yugoslavia that the alternative is some kind of international military intervention."

"It doesn't mean that one invades or that you get into a quagmire, but that there is a willingness, particularly among the Europeans, to raise the stakes if necessary.... The big stick just hasn't been there," he says.

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