WASHINGTON -- The prospect of peace in the former Yugoslavia advances the timetable for deployment of U.S. troops to one of the world's most explosive areas, and confronts defense planners with crucial questions.
How many U.S. troops should be sent, under whose command and for how long?
The Clinton administration has put a ceiling of 25,000 peacekeepers, or about a full division, on a U.S. deployment in Bosnia. The U.S. force could be smaller, but Defense Secretary William J. Perry said this week that it would be "the biggest, toughest, meanest force in the area strong enough that it provides an enormous disincentive to anyone messing with it."
The U.S. troops would be under NATO command, but the two senior allied officers would be Americans -- Army Gen. George Joulwan, NATO's commander in chief, and Navy Adm. Leighton W. Smith Jr., the allied commander in Southern Europe, which includes the former Yugoslavia. U.S. units in the field also would be under American leadership.
The Clinton administration consistently has refused to commit U.S. ground troops to Bosnia under United Nations command and has made participation in a NATO force conditional on a formal peace agreement being signed. Mr. Perry cautioned that, even with peace, "there is no risk-free operation."
Mr. Perry and NATO defense ministers, meeting in Williamsburg, Va., were briefed yesterday by General Joulwan on the NATO peace plan, which could involve as many as 60,000 international troops. Most of the U.S. ground contingent would come from Army bases in Europe, primarily Germany. The force would include special operations forces, air crews, Marines, ships and support units.
NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes called this week for deployment of the peacekeepers "immediately" upon the signing a peace treaty. For the allied nations with troops already there as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force, the change to NATO command would simply involve the replacement of the blue helmets of the United Nations with NATO's camouflaged helmets.
The peacekeepers will stay until the Bosnian government forces are rearmed and trained to a level that will enable them to defend themselves against the heavier-armed Serbs.
Pentagon officials estimate this could take nine months to a year, and Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that "under no circumstances" would U.S. troops stay beyond the end of 1996. Maintaining a division-strength force for a year would cost $1 billion to $2 billion, according to Mr. Perry.
Who will train and arm the Bosnian government troops?
Not the peacekeepers, who are to remain neutral. There has been no agreement on which countries would contribute to training and arming the Bosnians.
France signaled this week that it would oppose arming the Bosnians. Defense Minister Charles Millon said: "France looks forward to organizing a multinational force rather than arming the belligerents and possibly facing the horrors that could follow."
According to Mr. Perry, the basic aim would be to "professionalize" the Bosnian army, to make it the equal of the Bosnian Serbs so that the military balance is stabilized and the NATO peacekeepers can withdraw.
"If there is such an effort, we would certainly be involved with it," he said.
He denied that this would start an arms race, with the West supplying the Bosnians and the Russians supplying the Serbs, and contended that military stability should spur eventual disarmament.
The NATO plan would include "some arrangement," he said, to minimize the risk from heavy weapons. But it would be impossible to eliminate small arms from "a country awash in assault rifles."
Will the GOP-controlled Congress agree to deploy U.S. peacekeepers?
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have launched a barrage of criticism against sending U.S. troops, citing the danger and the cost, and asking why the Europeans should not take sole responsibility for a regional crisis.
They contend that Americans would become "special targets" for paramilitary groups, many of which appear to be beyond control of the central authority of the factions. They point to the experience in Somalia, where U.S. troops were singled out for attack, and 18 were killed in a single firefight with rebel forces. They also point to the cost.
Bob Dole, the Republican majority leader in the Senate and one of the harshest critics of Clinton administration policy in Bosnia, has said that he is against the proposed deployment, but has RTC also noted that the Republicans frequently swing behind the president on national security issues.
How can the Russians, who are not members of NATO, be involved in a NATO-led operation?
This is one of the thorniest questions for NATO defense ministers. The Russians are traditional allies of the Serbs, and their involvement is deemed crucial to reassuring the Bosnian Serbs of equitable international treatment.
But NATO is also determined to keep total control of the peacekeeping operation to avoid the sort of confusion and indecision that has characterized its joint operations with the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia.
Russia has indicated its readiness to participate in the international peace initiative, but has rejected serving under NATO command. The trick, according to Mr. Perry, will be to find peacekeeping functions for the Russians that do not clash with NATO's overall military control. For example, the Russians might be asked to build roads and bridges to ease movement of peacekeepers.
"One of the new ideas is to split the work into functions, rather than geographical areas. We don't want to re-create Berlin," said a NATO official attending the Williamsburg summit. After World War II, Berlin was split into four national zones by the Allies.
To try to resolve the conflict, Mr. Perry will meet with Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev in Geneva on Sunday.
Walter Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters in Williamsburg yesterday: "We believe the best way for this to work out would be for the Russians to participate as part of the force under NATO operational control. We understand the reasons why that may be a sensitive issue for the Russians."
The Russians have criticized NATO's airstrikes in Bosnia and its plans to expand eastward by permitting former members of the old Soviet-led Warsaw Pact to join the alliance.