UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — IF the United Nations Security Council moves to enforce its ban on military flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina, will it widen the war? Or are Serbian troops likely to back off?
Questions such as these have delayed the Council's long-expected move to add teeth to its resolution on a "no fly" zone over Bosnia adopted in October. (UN grapples with changing world, Page 3.)
After weeks of constant negotiations, the Security Council may move to authorize enforcement as early as next week. The United States has been leading the effort to persuade members to make good on the promise in their October resolution to consider further measures if the zone were violated. More than 300 incursions have been reported.
Yet US efforts have hit a string of red lights. Much of the reluctance to move faster centers on the expected impact of the shift and on enforcement tactics.
The US wants Council authorization to include possible attacks on Serb airfields as well as aircraft in flight. As a US diplomat explains, the best way to stop a violation is to take out the airport from which the planes took off rather than wait for more violations. There is little support in the Council for that view. The final resolution may avoid mention of specific tactics.
Without the Council's enforcement of the flight ban, the US argues, Serbia may expand the war to the province of Kosovo. "We think the Council action would make things better by asserting UN authority and reminding Serbs there's a price to pay for misbehavior," a US diplomat says.
Last week Yugoslav leaders warned that any Western intervention is likely to lead to all-out war.
France and Britain have about 7,400 troops participating in UN peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. The two nations want to ensure that their troops do not become retaliatory targets.
UN relief operations also could easily be blocked by Serbs. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali says the peacekeepers may have to be withdrawn.
The most recent stall in UN enforcement efforts is based on the diplomatic moves under way in Geneva. Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, co-chairmen of the peace talks on Bosnia, which resume on Jan. 10, have urged Council members to avoid any enforcement move until negotiations have a chance to progress. Other top UN leaders from military commanders on the scene to the secretary-general also urge restraint.
The final resolution is expected to include a 15- or 30-day warning period, which the Council used with Iraq in 1991. One reason for the delay, a Western diplomat says, is to give the Serbs a last opportunity to "come to their senses." "We're hoping it may not be necessary to move to enforcement, but the Council is making clear its willingness to do so if violations continue."
In the last few days the US, France, and Britain have been patching up their differences on the enforcement issue. President Bush, who met with President Francois Mitterrand of France over the weekend, says the two countries now are "very close together."
Stressing that France has favored enforcement of the no-fly zone from the start, a French diplomat says, "What we are still against is the [proposed] bombing of airports."
"The safety of our troops has been one of our concerns from the word `go,' " a British diplomat concurs.
The US has no troops in Bosnia.
The other two Council members with veto power - Russia and China - are considered unlikely to cast a veto even if they do not fully approve of the move.
The UN General Assembly and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have vowed to consider further action of their own if sufficient progress is not made in the Bosnian conflict by Jan. 15.
"There's not a lot of disagreement," insists one Western diplomat. "It's been more a matter of interpretation of how to enforce the ban."
"It's a very serious matter [for the UN] to move to enforcement; the risk is enormous," says Indar Jit Rikhye, a special adviser for UN affairs at the US Institute for Peace and a former military adviser to two UN secretaries-general.
Though lightly armed UN troops on the ground perform humanitarian tasks, Yugoslav combatants are unlikely to distinguish between UN peacekeepers and UN forces who shoot down violators of the no-fly zone, Mr. Rikhye says.
Yet many diplomats and analysts say UN credibility is at stake. They say the Council made a promise in October, which it is honor-bound to fulfill.
"It's very important to do it because the UN's word is on the line," says Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "The Serbs have brazenly defied the ban on flights. Those who argue against enforcing the no-fly zone [undercut] the hope that the UN can finally become a serious instrument in world affairs."