The Clinton Administration sought Tuesday to make its case to Congress for deploying about 20,000 U.S. troops for peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, but the effort drew decidedly mixed reactions, from grudging acquiescence to skepticism and opposition.
In Capitol Hill hearings, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary William J. Perry contended that such a mission would be in the national interest because without enforcement of a new peace accord, the conflict in Bosnia could spread throughout Europe.
They also assured lawmakers that the peacekeeping force would be under the command of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization, would have the authority and the capability to defend itself fully and would not require permission from the United Nations to act.
"We're not going over there to fight a war," Perry told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, he added, "if U.S. forces are attacked by anyone, they will bring a large hammer down on them immediately."
The full day of hearings, first before the Armed Services Committee and later before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led off a series of such sessions that Congress has slated to hear out the Administration on its peacekeeping plans for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Today, the two Cabinet officers will appear before the House National Security Committee and the House International Relations Committee. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is accompanying them at all the hearings.
Shalikashvili endorsed the mission as "achievable" from a military point of view.
Few lawmakers support deploying U.S. troops in Bosnia. Some, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), flatly oppose it. But the lukewarm reception that Perry and Christopher received was not regarded as critical. Indeed, neither panel showed any indication that it would try to block the Administration's plans.
Virtually everyone on both Senate panels strongly urged the Administration to seek congressional authorization before sending U.S. forces to Bosnia, but no one threatened to challenge Clinton's authority if he did not do so.
Administration officials have indicated that while Clinton would "welcome" a statement of support from Congress, he did not plan to seek formal authorization for the mission, as former President George Bush did at the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Some lawmakers appeared even to have become more resigned to the deployment than they were a month ago. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), who last month flatly opposed sending U.S. troops to Bosnia, concentrated Tuesday on urging the Pentagon to take more precautions.
In addition to the argument that the peacekeeping mission is necessary to keep the Balkan war from spreading, the Administration's view is that U.S. participation is essential for Washington's continued leadership of NATO.
The two Cabinet officers and Shalikashvili conceded that although the allies would take all precautions to minimize deaths and injuries in the operation, there still is a risk that U.S. troops might suffer some casualties and that the mission might fail.
The three officials also reiterated these points:
* U.S. forces sent to Bosnia would be part of a NATO-led operation comprising about 60,000 allied troops, and would stay no longer than a year--the deadline that Clinton and NATO have set for the peacekeeping contingent to accomplish its mission.
* The cost to the United States of deploying the U.S. troops alone would be about $1.5 billion, with an additional $250 million earmarked for the U.S. share of financing the economic reconstruction of Bosnia once the peacekeeping process is under way.
* Apart from the U.S. participation in the peacekeeping operation, Washington also may help finance a program to train and possibly arm the Bosnian government forces--a move the officials said would come only if Bosnian Serbs refused to "downsize" their military after the peace pact.
* U.S. participation in the peacekeeping operation probably would require the call-up of 2,000 to 3,000 reservists, mostly to support peacekeeping troops by filling such roles as military police, civil affairs specialists and logistics experts.
Perry and Shalikashvili said the Administration is still negotiating with Moscow over what role Russian troops might play.
Separately, Gen. George A. Joulwan, supreme commander of NATO forces, told reporters that the Bosnian Serbs have rebuilt part of their air defense network, disabled in NATO air attacks in August and September, and that it once again poses a threat to allied aircraft.
Both the Administration and NATO officials have said they will not be able to complete firm plans for the Bosnia operation until all three warring parties have signed a formal peace accord. Peace talks are to be held beginning Oct. 31. They will take place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, the Washington Post reported today.
Christopher on Tuesday warned Croatia against attacking the Serb-dominated area of Eastern Slavonia, following Zagreb's cancellation earlier in the day of a new round of peace talks with rebel Croatian Serbs.
"We have made it absolutely clear to [Croatian] President [Franjo] Tudjman that we think that area should not be conquered or taken by force," he said. "He knows it'll be very costly to Croatia . . . and I intend to tell him again as forcibly as we can."