Trouble Spots in Dayton Accord

IN this season of peace, the world is looking to the Dayton agreement to end hostilities in the former Yugoslavia. But at least four elements of US policy diminish its chances for success.

1. Limiting the time. President Clinton, in his Nov. 27 speech to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded: "This mission should and will take about one year." That time commitment has been reiterated by the Secretary of Defense and others. Yet few outside observers believe the mission can be accomplished in one year. Emphasizing withdrawal raises the risk that opponents of peace will merely wait out the year before resuming the conflict.

2. Arming the Muslims. The president stated the intention of the United States and others to "make sure that the Bosnian Federation has the means to defend itself once IFOR [the NATO force] withdraws." Under the Dayton agreement, IFOR will implement arms-control measures, primarily by reducing Bosnian Serb arsenals. The US has added a unilateral commitment to provide additional arms to the Muslims, reflecting long-standing pressures both in Congress and within the administration to correct the military imbalance between Muslims and Serbs. Even if arms are provided indirectly, the US role will be evident, seriously threatening the neutrality toward the forces in conflict so essential to the peace mission's success.

3. Removing the mujahedeen. During their isolation in the Balkan war, Bosnian Muslims turned for assistance to Islamic fundamentalist fighters trained, ironically, by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and now militantly opposed to US policies. An estimated 4,000 of these fighters in Bosnia have become a force of their own, difficult for even the Bosnian government to control. Washington, aware of the mujahedeen's threat to peace and to US personnel, is demanding that the Bosnian government send them home. Not only will this demand be difficult to implement, but, if implemented, the Bosnian Muslim military strength could be weakened at the very moment the US wants to see it strengthened.

4. Responding with force. Clinton also emphasized that the US would "respond with overwhelming force to any threat." Given the UN forces' humiliation by factions in Bosnia, such rules of engagement are essential if any US deployment has a chance of public and congressional approval. As incidents involving the US in Lebanon and Somalia have demonstrated, however, shows of force can quickly turn peacekeepers into enemies.

In a further irony, the US is responding to the Bosnian crisis in large measure to avoid weakening ties with Europe. Yet few Europeans would subscribe enthusiastically to any of these four policies. European countries are not setting time limits for their troops, although the presumption is that when the US withdraws, the public pressures for all countries to get their troops out will be strong. Most European governments oppose arming the Muslims and few, if any, are prepared to press for the expulsion of the mujahedeen.

US presidents who see the need for high-risk foreign-policy actions in the face of public doubts have at least three options. They can quietly move the nation toward conflict, presenting fait accompli; they can seek formal approval from Congress, as George Bush ultimately did in the Gulf war; or, without seeking such approval, they can craft policies intended to minimize public and congressional opposition.

Clinton has chosen the third option by limiting the time, arming the Muslims, evicting the mujahedeen, and authorizing forceful responses. In doing so, he has added complications to a mission that even in its simplest form faces major obstacles.

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