U.S. Bosnia Plan Links Air Strikes, Arms Aid : Balkans: Details of the Administration’s overall strategy emerge. Diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions against Serbia would continue in an effort to end the war.


The Clinton Administration is preparing a campaign of air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets during which arms would flow to embattled Bosnian Muslims to enable them to defend themselves and to safely resupply towns now under Serbian artillery bombardment, White House officials said Friday.

As foreseen by U.S. officials, the aerial assault would last a few months while arms shipments to the Muslims evened the opposing forces on the Bosnian battlefield. Air strikes would end when a rough parity in armaments--or an enforceable peace agreement--had been achieved.

During this period, international diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions against Serbia would continue in an effort to bring about an end to the Bosnian civil war.


Although the various U.S. options have been known for weeks, the overall plan, including the timing and relationship of its elements, is only now emerging. Information about the plan was obtained in a series of interviews with U.S. aides and from public statements by President Clinton and other top officials this week.

Though the plan is being strongly pushed by the United States, it remains unclear how European objections to lifting the arms embargo for the region will be reconciled and whether this strategy will be fully embraced in any final agreement.

Clinton confirmed in a news conference Friday that the limited use of air power is one of the options he is formally considering to try to force the Serbs to end their aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He said that air strikes would be employed as part of “a very specific, clearly defined strategy . . . which would have a beginning, a middle and an end and which . . . our military advisers had advised me could be achieved.”

Clinton added: “I assure you today that if I decide to ask for the authority to use air power, from the Congress and from the American people, I will make it very clear what the tactical objectives are and they will be objectives that our military leaders say can, in fact, be achieved.”

The new details of the Administration plan for Bosnia emerged as Clinton said he is close to arriving at a common policy with the Europeans on how to end the fighting in the Balkans.


“There’s been a lot of agreement on what should be done,” Clinton said during a news conference with European Community leaders. “There’s still some disagreement around the edges about what the overall specific tactical steps should be. But I think there’s a lot more agreement than you think, and I think in the next few days we’ll see a common approach emerging.”

Despite a weeklong tour of European capitals to drum up support for the Administration’s plan for Bosnia, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has been unable to secure British and French acquiescence for exempting Bosnia’s Muslims from the U.N. embargo on arms deliveries to all of the republics in what used to be Yugoslavia.

Christopher returned Friday night from Europe and planned to brief Clinton and national security aides on his talks today.

Clinton indicated that he is not yet ready to make a final decision on military action. He said that he will consult further with congressional leaders and foreign officials before formally setting his course of action.

But a senior White House aide said Friday that the President has concluded that only a combination of air strikes and a lifting of the arms embargo will put sufficient pressure on the Serbs to end the fighting. The aide said that the air campaign would be of limited duration and designed solely to provide cover while the Muslims rearm, deliver humanitarian aid to besieged cities and protect safe areas for refugees.

“That is the scenario we are talking about,” the official said. “There would be clearly defined objectives of each phase of whatever we undertake. That’s what made Iraq and Somalia successful--we outlined our objectives and when we’d get out before we went in.


“The American people will support action in Bosnia if the objectives are clearly outlined,” the aide predicted.

Those objectives, officials said, will be to end the sectarian mayhem in Bosnia and to get all parties to agree on a formula for lasting peace. Force is one instrument to be used, diplomacy is another and economic sanctions a third, Administration officials have said.

“The overriding objective is to end the bloodshed under an internationally recognized solution,” a White House official involved in the Bosnia deliberations said. “There are a lot of ways to get there, but any action you take must be linked to the objectives you outline, and you must define how you get in and how you get out and define what you intend to accomplish.

“At a minimum, you must give the Muslims a chance to defend themselves and help humanitarian aid reach Zepa and other places under siege,” the aide said.

The U.N. arms embargo has left the Bosnian Muslims heavily outgunned by the Serbs, who inherited weapons stocks of the Yugoslav federal army. Administration analysts said that the Serbs have an advantage of at least 10 to 1 in weaponry over the Bosnian Muslims.

European leaders have said that sending more weapons into the Balkans is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. But Clinton said Friday that “other considerations” outweigh the arguments against exempting the Bosnian Muslims from the U.N. arms embargo.


He said that the embargo has given the Serbs “an insurmountable military advantage which they have pressed with ruthless efficiency.” He said that exempting Bosnian Muslims from the embargo would be useful as a lever against the Serbs. “I think we’ve got to keep the heat on,” Clinton said.

Clinton wants to help right the military imbalance that now favors the Bosnian Serbs by shipping artillery, antitank weapons and small arms to the Muslims and training them in their use. He hopes that such shipments will induce the Bosnian Serbs to accept a peace plan formulated by U.N. and European Community negotiators.

The self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament rejected the peace plan this week, saying that the issue would be put to a vote of the Bosnian Serbs next week.

Clinton and the European Community leaders dismissed the Serb parliament’s move as a delaying tactic. Danish Prime Minister Poul Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating EC presidency, said: “We . . . do not take the so-called Bosnian parliament’s ‘No’ for an answer.”

Rasmussen said that the West is keeping “all options open” in terms of possible punitive action.

Asked later about the Europeans’ reluctance to modify the arms embargo to help the Bosnian Muslims, Rasmussen declared: “We haven’t closed any option--any option.”


Some analysts warned that, while the Clinton plan may have clear political advantages, it has a variety of shortcomings. They argued that while such a strategy could punish the Bosnian Serbs, it would be less likely to even the playing field odds between Muslims and Serbs or to accomplish the allies’ ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable peace.

John D. Steinbruner, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said that neither destroying Bosnian Serb artillery nor equipping Muslim forces could be easily accomplished without the ground forces that the United States and its allies do not want to commit.

The best way to knock out artillery would be with helicopters from nearby ground bases, he said, while the only effective way to even the military balance would be to provide the Muslim fighters with trainers and advisers as well as arms. But the allies do not want to do either, he noted.

“They want to do something symbolic, without moves that are politically unacceptable at home,” said Steinbruner. “You can’t blame them. But you can’t level the playing field that way.”

He said that a campaign of air strikes--no matter how brief and limited--would also risk “making a permanent enemy of the whole Serb population.” And there is the risk that Serb counterattacks would drive out U.N. peacekeeping forces and leave the United States to shoulder the entire burden of the war, Steinbruner said.

Anthony H. Cordesman, military adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said there are a variety of obstacles to any attempt to better arm the Muslims. The only Muslim-controlled airport in the region is in Sarajevo--and it has Serb artillery aimed at it from surrounding hills.


If the Muslims are to be supplied from the West, he said, the arms would have to come through a coastline that is controlled by the Croats, whose willingness to aid the Muslims is uncertain.

Times staff writer Paul Richter contributed to this article.