During the four-year siege of Sarajevo, poorly armed Bosnian policemen, shopkeepers, and students defended their city against Serbs backed up by the arms and soldiers of the mighty Yugoslav Federal Army. If peace fails in Bosnia, the next war might not be so lopsided.
In a program that some American allies object to, the United States has been delivering arms, advisers, and ammunition to the Bosnian Federation. The rationale is this: If the 1995 Dayton peace process fails to bring peace and stability, then a well-armed Bosnian Army might deter Serbs from attacking, and avert war.
With an eye toward eventual pullout of international forces, US officials hope to unite the Croat and Bosnian government armies into a single, efficient fighting force capable of deterring Bosnian Serbs.
"We do not seek an offensive force, but in the future if somebody wants a fight it will be more than fair," said Ambassador James Pardew Jr., head of the State Department's task force for Balkan military stabilization, "This war had an aggressor, and it had a victim. The program ... is to ensure that there will be no future victims and no easy prey for partisans of war."
US takes the lead
While the program was conceived as an international effort, the US is providing the largest share of the money and materiel. By the time the mandate of the NATO-led peace implementation force (IFOR) ends Dec. 20, the US plans to have delivered $100 million in surplus military equipment, much of it designed in the Vietnam War era. The US consignment includes 45 M-60 tanks, 80 M-113 armored personnel carriers, 15 Huey helicopters, 46,100 M-16 rifles, 4,100 machine guns, and 15 antitank guns.
Other countries have provided an estimated total of $140 million to fund extensive military training, which is provided by a private US military advisor firm, the Alexandria, Va.-based Military Professional Resources Inc. "The training component is enormously important particularly in bringing the [Croat and Muslim] entities together into a single army under civilian control," says Joseph Allred, an MPRI spokesman.
Muslims help their brethren
The American-led program was unveiled by President Clinton in early July and is open to any donor country that wishes to take part.
This invitation has been taken up by nations apparently motivated to help fellow Muslims: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Turkey. Conspicuously absent are US European allies, who opposed lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government during the war.
Britain and France treated the conflict in Bosnia as a civil war, not a war of aggression, and sought to avoid NATO action against the Bosnian Serbs or a lifting of an arms embargo against the landlocked Muslims. The British foreign minister at the time, Douglas Hurd, said such action would "only level the killing field." Aspects of his Bosnia policy remain.
Bosnia needs more guns?
"We recognize the need for the Bosnian Federation to defend itself and that stability requires a military balance in the region," says Richard Potter, deputy chief of the British mission in Sarajevo.
"But we are concerned about the possible results of bringing more weapons into the country in general. Wherever possible, we should try to achieve balance through reductions on one side rather than increases on the other," Mr. Potter says.
Germany, which has historical ties to the region, has given tacit approval to the American plan through a separate program to provide the Bosnian Federation Army with training such as mine clearing. Potter says Britain is considering similar measures.
After the international community's failure to intervene forcefully on behalf of the Bosnian government during the war, many Bosnians are skeptical of its commitment. "We've had so many bad experiences with foreign promises that after five years we know that promises mean nothing," says Sarajevo-based political analyst Zlatko Hadzidedic. "Even a signed contract means nothing if your country is not large enough to interfere with the interests of the 'Great Powers.' "
Meanwhile, MPRI's staff has its hands full. The armies of the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats were themselves at war until 1994. Creating a truly integrated force from the two will be difficult. Since its contract began July 16, MPRI has been able to achieve only partial integration.
"We realize that integrating these forces won't be easy," MPRI's Mr. Allred says. "But we see a basic feeling on both sides that unity is strength. And strength is survival."
* Laura Kay Rozen in Sarajevo contributed to this report.
Muslim Likely to Lead Bosnia's Co-Presidency
Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim lawyer who headed the Bosnian government during the war, appears to have won the chairmanship of Bosnia's three-person joint presidency, according to early results.
Croats, Serbs, and Muslims voted separately for their presidential representatives. The 1995 Dayton peace accords mandate that the candidate who wins the most votes serves as chair of the joint presidency for its first two-year term. Muslims outnumber Serbs and Croats, but Muslims were divided as Mr. Izetbegovic faced a strong challenge from former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
Izetbegovic: bringing Islam into political arena
Izetbegovic is president of the Muslim-oriented Democratic Action Party, or SDA. A non-Communist dissident, Izetbegovic served two prison terms for "advocating Islamic nationalism," including five years after the 1973 publication of a book that compared communism unfavorably with Islam. Elected president of Bosnia in 1990, he did not prepare Bosnia for war, refusing to believe it was inevitable.
Momcilo Krajisnik: a Serb who wants to secede
Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb representative on the presidency, is a powerful figures in Radovan Karadzic's Serb Democratic Party, which orchestrated Bosnia's genocidal war. The party wants the Bosnian Serb entity to secede from Bosnia and join Serbia. A prominent Communist politician, Mr. Krajisnik was speaker of the parliament before the war.
Kresimir Zubak: a moderate Croat
Kresimir Zubak, the Croat member of the presidency, represents the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, which only recently abandoned its own Croat statelet in Bosnia after considerable outside pressure. He is a moderate, but has expressed opposition to "Muslim domination" of Bosnia.