U.N.-NATO Unity on Bosnia Survived ‘Wobble’ : Balkans: Accounts reveal that brief discord over resuming bombing of Serbs had threatened newfound cooperation.


The new spirit of cooperation between the United Nations and NATO that brought the first sustained air strikes of the Bosnian war last week “wobbled” briefly Saturday during a pause in the strikes, according to several accounts.

Details of the incident, which was quickly resolved, underscore the tentative, delicate nature of the new cooperation between the world body and the globe’s mightiest military alliance--an improvement widely seen as vital to the exertion of military and diplomatic pressure needed to bring the stubborn conflict to the negotiating table.

Those familiar with the sequence of events said the problem arose when the U.N. commander of peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslav federation, French Gen. Bernard Janvier, wanted to extend the cessation of NATO bombing after a meeting with Bosnian Serb army leader Gen. Ratko Mladic.


The meeting with Mladic, which began late Friday and ended after several stormy hours at 4 a.m. Saturday, reportedly led Janvier to believe that there was a chance the Serbs might comply with demands to ease the siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

Janvier’s assessment reportedly unsettled the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s regional commander, U.S. Adm. Leighton W. Smith, and angered NATO ambassadors, who later the same day turned a scheduled 90-minute briefing on Bosnia-Herzegovina into a marathon nine-hour meeting here.

By the end of that meeting, the alliance and the United Nations were once again together, having agreed that if no significant pullback of Serbian weapons away from Sarajevo was under way by Monday evening, air strikes would resume.

“It was a momentary wobble, and we managed to get over it quickly, before it went public and gave the Serbs the idea they could split us,” said one member of NATO’s headquarters staff.

An alliance diplomat familiar with events added, “Mladic had somehow wrested the lead away from NATO and the U.N. in his handling of Janvier. Our goal was to retain the psychological advantage and close the distance that had opened up between us and the U.N.

“I think we achieved this,” the diplomat added.

Whether the new NATO-U.N. relationship can withstand severe strain remains unclear. “It’s the $64,000 question,” said one diplomat. “Certainly the conviction to make it work is stronger than ever before.”


That determination may also be the key to ending the war. The reason is simple: Before any air strikes are launched to punish those violating U.N.-declared “safe areas” and weapons-exclusion zones, both the United Nations and NATO must agree to them.

A Bosnian Serb mortar round slammed into Sarajevo, one of the declared safe areas, on Aug. 28, killing 37 people and triggering the first sustained use of NATO air power since the alliance became involved in the conflict two years ago. The strikes were also approved by the United Nations.

Previously, long months of mutual recrimination and differences between the two organizations had effectively undermined international efforts to act decisively to resolve the crisis.

While many factors were involved in changing the relationship, the decision by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali last month to delegate authority to approve air strikes to the senior U.N. military commander--in this case, Janvier--was pivotal. It effectively removed from the equation Boutros-Ghali’s special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, who is widely regarded as weak and indecisive.

For Smith, Janvier was a fellow officer he could work with.

Indeed, when Smith last Thursday briefed reporters on the first day of sustained alliance air strikes over Bosnia, he went out of his way to praise his U.N. counterpart.

“Our working relationship is sound and, in fact, I believe responsible for the successes we have enjoyed,” Smith said of Janvier.


Smith repeated this praise at a second briefing Wednesday, but much had happened in the interim. Sources at alliance headquarters here said Smith initially backed Janvier’s call Saturday for extending the pause in air strikes, in part because he did not want to damage his relationship with his U.N. colleague.

However, Smith quickly kicked the decision to his political masters--the ambassadors from the 16 NATO nations in Brussels. In the process, he emphasized that the air strikes had not yet removed the threat of Serbian attacks on Sarajevo.

The ambassadors reacted sharply.

At their long meeting Saturday, France reportedly pressed for an immediate resumption of bombing, while the United States urged that any extension of the delay be kept to a maximum of 24 hours. Others advocated a pause of three days or more.

The ambassadors eventually agreed on a 48-hour deadline, meaning that Janvier and Smith should assess the Bosnian Serb equipment movements Monday evening to determine if the Serbs were moving toward compliance.

At the same time, Janvier’s own superior, the head of U.N. peacekeeping in New York, Kofi Annan, reportedly also rejected calls for a longer pause, a move that helped bring the two organizations back closer together.

By the time the NATO ambassadors’ meeting broke up shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday, Janvier had also accepted the 48-hour deadline. Although bad weather prevented an accurate assessment Monday evening, NATO reconnaissance early Tuesday showed that the Serbian weapons that had moved around Sarajevo were merely repositioned and not withdrawn.


“We therefore collectively decided at around 9:45 a.m. local time yesterday that we should . . . recommence air strike operations . . . ,” Smith told reporters in Naples, Italy, on Wednesday.

The “wobble” was over.