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Alliance Has No 'Will' for Military Effort in Bosnia, NATO Chief Says

September 11, 1993|WILLIAM TUOHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner declared Friday that the Atlantic Alliance lacks the "political will" to intervene militarily in Bosnia.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Woerner said that "disorder and a crisis of confidence" dominate NATO's European agenda.

The former German defense minister, in unusually frank terms, told an audience of diplomats, senior officers and strategic scientists that the West's "passivity" in dealing with collapse and conflict in the former Yugoslav federation has taught the North Atlantic Treaty Organization some bitter lessons.

Among them:

* "Political solutions and diplomatic efforts will only work if backed by the necessary military power and the credible resolve to use it against an aggressor."

* "If you cannot or do not want to help the victim of aggression, enable him to help himself."

* "Threaten only if you are determined to implement the threat."

* "Crisis prevention, like deterrence, will work only if your resolve to prevent conflict is credible and accompanied by firm action."

* "Avoid situations in which your own troops become hostages." By implication, Woerner was criticizing Britain, France and Canada for sending to Bosnia-Herzegovina peacekeeping and humanitarian forces that have become "hostages." The three NATO countries at first resisted American proposals for air strikes to relieve Sarajevo, the capital, fearing their troops might be endangered by Bosnian Serb reprisals.

Woerner also appeared to be faulting President Clinton for threatening American air strikes and then not following through.

Ordinarily, NATO's secretary general tends to be diplomatically discreet on the policies of the individual 16 members. But he has been rankled by some critics who blame NATO for what he called "the failure of the international community to solve the Bosnian conflict."

Early last month, Woerner supervised NATO planning to deploy its warplanes to relieve the siege of Sarajevo--but the final decision to strike was left in the hands of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. No action has been taken.

Woerner is worried that NATO will be perceived as irrelevant--even though he argued that "NATO has done everything the U.N. has asked."

And he is uncertain whether the member nations will agree to supply the necessary troops to protect new Bosnian borders in the event of a peace settlement.

"It is clear that diplomacy is doomed to fail if it is not backed by a powerful politico-military instrument," he told the gathering. "NATO needs the political will of its members to act."

In another clear reference to Bosnia, Woerner declared: "If there is one lesson from history, it is that the sooner one stands up to a bully, the less the force required and the fewer the risks encountered. To the extent that our democracies prove their resolve, they are less likely to be challenged."

Earlier, European Commission President Jacques Delors, addressing the institute's meeting, also referred to mistakes in the Bosnian crisis. He declared: "We should not have stated on the outbreak of hostilities that we would not use force. Even if military intervention was debatable, it made little sense to signal to the warring factions that they would not have to face the military might of the West.

"In other words, without a plausible threat to use force, we needlessly undermined the credibility of our warnings and ultimatums."

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