LONDON — BRITISH Prime Minister John Major is coming under pressure from the Clinton administration to change his government's foreign policy priorities in the post-cold-war era.
But Mr. Major's Cabinet members and backbench supporters in Parliament are resisting calls for Britain to support deeper military involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina and agree to have Germany and Japan join the United Nations Security Council.
Senior ministers have already decided that United States pressures for a stronger commitment in Bosnia should be opposed. Last week Major wrote to President Clinton urging him to proceed cautiously in Bosnia, British diplomatic sources said. The letter argued against aerial bombing of Serbian targets and said arming Muslim forces would be unwise.
Britain's reluctance to bend to US pressures is likely to make it difficult for Major to forge a relationship with Mr. Clinton as close as the one the British prime minister enjoyed with former President Bush. In a widely reported speech Jan. 27, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd argued that Britain's forces are already overstretched. His remarks to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Britain's top foreign policy forum, were directed largely at the new US administration, government sources say.
A day earlier the prime minister deflected a suggestion by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the Security Council should be enlarged to "bring it into tune with 1993 realities."
Major, visiting India, said he was "happy to look at new ways of making the Council effective," but his officials privately criticized Mr. Christopher's remarks. Adding Germany as a permanent Council member, they said, could build up pressure for the European Community to be allotted a single Council seat.
France and Britain are already permanent Council members. Major is said to be as determined as French President Francois Mitterrand that his country keep its Council seat.
Bans on external military action in the German and Japanese constitutions, the British are saying, would make it difficult for the two countries to join the Security Council without modification of the UN Charter.
In his comments Mr. Hurd took a sharp tone with Washington. He noted that Britain "always paid its UN dues on time" and said he hoped the US would "find a remedy for past delays" in its payments to the UN.
London officials say Major and his ministers hope that when the president and the prime minister meet in Washington later this month they will be able to iron out disagreements.
Major wants to develop a "special relationship" between London and Washington. Successive British governments have seen close ties with the US as a counterweight to their sometimes difficult dealings with the European Community.
British officials say Clinton's apparent wish for Britain to commit its troops in Bosnia beyond their current humanitarian role is the most awkward problem posed by the new administration in Washington. They said Christopher's suggestions about the composition of the Security Council could be discussed later.
Pressure is growing from Tory backbenchers to withdraw Britain's 2,400 troops from Bosnia altogether, one government minister says. The government "lacks the stomach" to respond positively to US approaches, he says.
It was not possible, a government source said, for Britain to take a leading role among European countries in intervention in the former Yugoslavia, as reportedly suggested by Clinton officials. The source stressed that bombing of Serbian targets would risk the lives of British and other peacekeeping troops in Bosnia.
In his comments, Hurd warned that working for a "safer and more decent world" required "disciplined and constrained" effort. In responding to demands that Britain should deepen its involvement in world trouble spots, he said, the government would "probably have to say `no' more often than `yes.' "
BRITISH sources confirmed last week that a US request for British troops to be sent to Somalia to supplement US forces there had been refused.
Despite the tough line on military intervention adopted by government ministers, there are signs that Britain may be about to increase the planned number of troops available for military service overseas.
Under plans hatched immediately after the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, the British Army's strength is set to fall from its current strength of 140,000 to 116,000 by 1995. Members of the House of Commons all-party defense committee, however, have said that in a report to be published on Feb. 9 they will urge the government to think again about the cuts.
After a visit to the former Yugoslavia last week, Baroness Chalker, Britain's overseas aid minister, said it was "crazy" to think that direct military intervention would stop the fighting.