Bosnia Chews Up Hopes of Top UN General

Britain's General Rose departs his stormy assignment with the city of Sarajevo calmer but still sealed off

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LT. GEN. MICHAEL ROSE will end his one-year tour as commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina today, but the colorful British general's presence will hang over Bosnia and future UN peacekeeping operations for years to come.

Mr. Rose has been the most publicly outspoken and personally divided figure in a historic and at times ugly struggle to decide what role the UN will have in post-cold war peacekeeping.

To the delight of his British and French supporters and the fury of his US critics, Rose eventually settled into the traditional UN approach of staying neutral instead of using force to ''make peace'' in Bosnia.

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Critics say a golden opportunity to strengthen the UN, stabilize the world, and rein in rampant nationalism has been lost.

''Everything he was supposed to deliver on -- the heavy weapons exclusion zones, the blue routes, the safe areas he failed miserably at,'' a US official says.

''The classic UN peacekeeping mode backfires terribly where you try and pretend to be impartial, but you're not. I think there's really only one way to deal with it -- taking sides,'' he adds.

But to his supporters, Rose's restraint saved the UN's reputation for neutrality and prevented hundreds of French, British, and other peacekeepers from being killed by stopping the UN from attacking the Bosnian Serb forces.

''Given the mandate he has and the resources he has, I think Michael Rose can be very proud of his time in Sarajevo,'' a Western diplomat says.

A failure of force

Despite the current four-month cease-fire, improvements in Muslim and Croat relations in central Bosnia, and relative calm in Sarajevo, he is derided by Bosnian government officials and Sarajevo residents for failing to use force against the Serbs.

Alternatively described as arrogant, heavy-handed, and colonialist by critics in the press, Rose is known for rarely missing a photo opportunity and sharply controlling what information goes to reporters.

Only a year ago, Rose was the darling of the media and the Bosnian government. Both diplomatic camps -- the British and French in favor of the UN status quo and the Americans and Germans in favor of more aggressive UN military action -- thought they had their man.

With a Rose that appeared to favor using force leading the charge, the UN operation in Bosnia -- its largest and most expensive ever -- quickly became a testing ground for an unprecedented expansion of UN methods, goals, and mandates.

Within a week of arriving last January, Rose's reported threat to dispatch armored vehicles to blow their way through a Bosnian Serb roadblock stopping traffic into Sarajevo prompted the Serbs to dismantle it themselves.

After a shell killed 68 people in a Sarajevo market last February, Rose was praised by then Bosnia-hawk President Clinton for ''making a real difference'' by using the threat of NATO airstrikes to get the Serbs to withdraw their heavy weapons from around the city.

Calling in airstrikes

Later that month, four of six Bosnian Serb jet fighters caught violating a UN-declared no-fly zone over Bosnia were shot down by NATO aircraft.

And in April, Rose called in two NATO airstrikes to halt a Bosnian Serb attack on the UN-declared civilian ''safe area'' in the surrounded enclave of Gorazde in southwestern Bosnia.

The attempts to establish -- and enforce militarily -- heavy-weapons exclusion zones, civilian safe areas, and secure supply routes for humanitarian aid in an active war zone were unprecedented steps for the UN. Riding the heady talk of a post-cold war ''new world order,'' the world body tried to take humanitarian ideals to new heights.

But during Gorazde -- which Rose calls his most troubling days of his command -- something changed. Two pinprick airstrikes on Bosnian Serb command and control centers -- to the horror of the pro-intervention lobby in Washington and the Bosnian government -- failed to stop the offensive, and Rose did not call in additional strikes.

A steady reduction in Rose's willingness to use airstrikes or force continued throughout the year, culminating in the UN's refusal to call in airstrikes to halt a Bosnian Serb counteroffensive against the Muslim enclave of Bihac this fall.

Responding to questions about not calling in airstrikes on Bihac, Rose said, ''We can't allow ourselves to be dragged into a war. It's not in our mandate. The troop contributing nations wouldn't want it.

''I don't think the world would want it. Therefore, we have to be very guarded about creating images outside Bihac that might put pressure on our troops to cross the Mogadishu [referring to UN troops changing from peacekeeping to peacemaking forces in Somlia] line.''

Rose's critics say his refusal to use more force has humiliated NATO, prolonged the war, and made him the chief appeaser of the Bosnian Serbs. He now represents everything that is wrong with today's UN -- eager for good publicity, but lacking the backbone to deliver.

But his supporters argue that Rose is the fall guy for an international community that wants to stop the war in Bosnia, but is unwilling to sacrifice the Western lives needed to do it.

An era of high-stakes UN experimentation -- when the right combination of international attention and commitment came together in Bosnia -- appears to have ended with Rose.

But even his critics agree the problem goes beyond the general himself. The UN's new goals were either too lofty, the international community too divided, or asking generals to make peace too flawed.

''Rose had been sent on a mission impossible in Bosnia,'' the Western diplomat says.

''Why should someone with no experience in the Balkans end up with this in his lap? I'm sure if he'd been given and order to take [the Bosnian Serb stronghold of] Pale, he'd have done it beautifully The UN always fails when there's no superpower agreement on what to do,'' he adds.

With the West showing less and less interest in Bosnia, few officials expect any major changes in the UN's use of force policy under Rose's replacement.

Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, commander of British forces in the Gulf war, is described as intelligent, aggressive, and more low-key than Rose, and is not expected to buck the precedent Rose has established.

''He'll be different personality wise. He's more of a sotto voce and not as much of a media personality as Rose,'' one UN official in Sarajevo says. ''But I don't think the policy will change.''

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