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U.S. Participation in IFOR: A Marathon, not a Sprint

Authored by Dr. William T. Johnsen. | June 1996

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Even before the main body of U.S. forces began moving into Bosnia-Hercegovina on December 20, 1995, as part of the Implementation Force (IFOR) for the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina (familiarly known as the Dayton Accords),1 U.S. policymakers had fixed a one-year time limit for U.S. participation in Operation JOINT ENDEAVOUR.2 For a number of important reasons, setting such a constraint initially was a good idea. Foremost, the firm deadline avoided the impression of an openended NATO and IFOR commitment, and it quickly set a benchmark, forcing the factions to resolve issues rather than allowing IFOR and international organizations to carry the burden of implementing the peace. This approach also compelled the entities to collaborate quickly, establishing precedents for future cooperation. It additionally pressured the parties to establish government institutions and processes that will contribute to a sense of normalcy that, hopefully, will accelerate the healing process. Finally, a strict time limit required the international community to act rapidly to assist in restoring Bosnian society.
These cogent reasons notwithstanding, the original December 1996 deadline for withdrawing U.S. ground forces from Bosnia must be reexamined in light of existing and emerging strategic conditions.3 Granted, implementing the military provisions of the accords is proceeding more smoothly than anticipated. But, short-term compliance with the military aspects of the agreement--while essential for overall success--does not ensure achievement by year's end of the overarching U.S. national objectives outlined in the President's National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement:
·         Sustaining a political settlement in Bosnia that preserves the country's territorial integrity and provides a viable future for all its peoples;
·         Preventing the spread of the conflict into a broader Balkan war that could threaten both allies and the stability of new democratic states in Central and Eastern Europe;
·         Stemming the destabilizing flow of refugees from the conflict;
·         Halting the slaughter of innocents;
·         Helping to support NATO's central role in Europe while maintaining our role in shaping Europe's security architecture.4
Attaining these objectives hinges, to a large degree, on successfully implementing the civil elements of the peace agreement. But, as will be discussed below, fulfilling the civil provisions of the accords is not going as smoothly as the military effort. Whether the varied and difficult tasks of the civil portions of the agreement can be achieved before the existing deadline is an open question. But, even at this date, the general consensus is that one year is inadequate.5 Furthermore, current and anticipated trends indicate that an outside military presence capable of ensuring compliance with the military elements of the accords likely will be required if civil implementation efforts are to succeed. Thus, while only roughly halfway through IFOR's mandate, it is time to reassess the current deadline.
This conclusion does not imply that an immediate decision on extending U.S. participation in IFOR, or joining a successor organization, is required.6 Indeed, it may be counter-productive to make public such discussions, or even their consideration, at this time.7 But, because the requisite analysis and assessment of the implications of such a determination must occur prior to the decision, now is the time to examine the issues surrounding U.S. participation in military efforts to oversee the Dayton Accords beyond December 1996.
The purpose of this study, therefore, is to identify and analyze the salient issues inherent in the current U.S. intention to withdraw from Operation JOINT ENDEAVOUR and assess potential consequences for the United States. To this end, the study first identifies key provisions of the accords that must be accomplished if a durable political agreement is to emerge and briefly assesses if they can be accomplished before December 1996. It then identifies potential outcomes resulting from a scheduled U.S. departure and assesses their consequences for U.S. Bosnian policy. Repercussions beyond the immediate scope of Bosnia-Hercegovina are then assessed. The report then examines possible successors to IFOR, followed by an analysis of the potential military role in promoting an enduring political settlement in Bosnia should the United States continue its military effort to oversee the peace accords. The report closes with conclusions and recommendations.
NATO military forces and their partners in IFOR have played a critical and successful role in halting conflict in Bosnia and bringing stability to the region. But, short-term military success does not lead necessarily to a long-term political arrangement. That having been said, the basis of a lasting settlement will depend to a significant degree on the ability of an outside military presence to sustain a secure environment that supports the other elements of the peace process.
While IFOR has established such conditions, that foundation is fragile. If prevailing circumstances are not sustained, the current hiatus in Bosnia-Hercegovina may represent little more than an operational pause before the factions return to using force to achieve their goals. Such an outcome obviously would stymie U.S. national objectives in Bosnia.
But more than U.S. objectives in Bosnia are at stake. A failed U.S.-brokered and led agreement in Bosnia will have considerable repercussions for U.S. policy and national interests well beyond the Balkans. NATO's credibility could be irrevocably damaged. Certainly, U.S. leadership in the Alliance would be called into question. And, surrendering leadership in the Bosnian crisis may be construed as another example of U.S. disengagement from European, as well as global, security issues. Worse yet, a perceived foreign policy failure is likely to reduce U.S. public support for substantial engagement in international affairs, leading to an inward-looking and unilateralist U.S. attitude that further constrains U.S. foreign policy. The cumulative effect of these phenomena could contribute to a downward spiral of U.S. influence abroad.
The United States, therefore, cannot simply engage 12 months and then withdraw from Bosnia, leaving no adequate residual force to oversee the military provisions of the Dayton Accords. Instead, the United States must begin now to review its position on participating in IFOR or a successor beyond the scheduled December 1996 deadline. During this reexamination, policymakers should focus less on the narrow application of military power within a constrained time limit and more broadly on achieving U.S. policy objectives in Bosnia, the Balkans, Europe, and globally.
In their deliberations, policymakers should take into account a number of factors. If current trends hold, a smaller residual force may be adequate. While the exact size and composition of a such a force will be dictated by future events, the force must possess sufficient military capability to ensure continued adherence to the provisions of the various agreements. This would include the ability to inhibit violations of the agreement, to deter factions from violence, to provide rapid and violent response to any breaches of the ceasefire, to ensure force protection, and to provide sufficient reconnaissance and information acquisition capabilities to support operations.97
These requirements argue for a coalition force that contains roughly 5-7 maneuver brigades (or, approximately one-half of the current IFOR commitment) attack helicopters, transport helicopters, intelligence collection, communications, and logistical support. At the same time, a need for Civil Affairs units, Psychological Operations personnel, Military Police, and Engineers that can perform dual tasks for military and civil operations may alter the proportion of combat versus combat support and combat service support units required for a residual force.98
U.S. national interests, the course of events in the Balkans, and the absence of a viable alternative force, argue for continued NATO and, especially, U.S. leadership in further efforts to resolve the Bosnian crisis. The ability to lead subsequent efforts will, to a degree, be determined by the level of forces the United States is willing to provide. Given the size of an overall residual force, the U.S. ground contribution could consist of one maneuver brigade, an aviation brigade, and appropriate combat support and combat service support units.99 Additionally, the United States should provide unique capabilities essential for conduct of the mission (e.g., attack helicopters, intelligence, theater communications, civil affairs and psychological operations). The United States may also wish to offer the core of a division headquarters.
How long U.S. military forces should continue to assist in implementing the peace agreement cannot be forecast with confidence at this point. But it is apparent at the moment that one year will not be sufficient to establish conditions conducive to a long-range political solution in Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the same time, factions must be made aware that an extension of U.S. participation is not an openended commitment. In sum, U.S. forces should be prepared to remain in IFOR or its successor until such time that U.S. national objectives are achieved or have been adapted to changed strategic conditions.
Decisions surrounding continued U.S. participation in overseeing the peace agreement in Bosnia will be neither easy nor insignificant. Nonetheless, they will have to be made, and in the not too distant future. Now, therefore, is the time to examine the issues that will determine whether the United States will continue to lead efforts to ensure a long-term political settlement in Bosnia that will further contribute to U.S. national objectives and interests in Europe and globally. In these deliberations participants must keep in mind that achieving U.S. objectives in Bosnia is more akin to running a marathon than a sprint. And, like a successful marathon runner, the United States must demonstrate determination, endurance, and the ability to withstand temporary pain.
1. Versions of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina [hereafter GFAP] may be found at a number of INTERNET sites. See, for example, Department of State-- http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/www/current/bosnia/bosagre e.html; NATO Gopher--gopher://coa.shape.nato.int:70/11/bosniapage--http://www.nato.int/ifor/gfa/gfa-home.html. or IFOR home


2.   See, for example, statements from President Clinton (Ann Devroy and Helen Dewar, "U.S. Troops Vital to Bosnia Peace, Clinton Says," The Washington Post, November 28, 1995, p. 1.); Secretary of State Christopher (Michael Dobbs, "Congress Raising Questions About Bosnia Exit Strategy," The Washington Post, November 30, 1995, p. 1, 32); and Secretary of Defense Perry (Rowan Scarborough, "If Bosnian Serbs Renege, Mission is Off, Says Perry," The Washington Times, November 27, 1995, p. 1) setting roughly a 1-year duration of U.S. participation. For official U.N. and NATO mandates, see U.N. Security Council Resolution 1031, December 15, 1995; and "Statement by Acting Secretary General at the Press Briefing following North Atlantic Council Final Approval of OPLAN 10405 and of SACEUR's ACTORD Request," December 16, 1995, respectively, which are archived at NATO Gopher--gopher://coa. shape.nato.int: 70/11/bosnia.
3.   How the deadline is interpreted may be open to question. For example, one might conclude that the deadline meant that all forces would have to leave Bosnia before December 20, 1996. On the other hand, Secretary of Defense Perry recently indicated that redeployment might commence about that time. See Thomas L. Friedman, "Exit Strategy," The New York Times, April 24, 1996, p. 21. Impediments to such a reassessment are considerable. The potential political risks of extending the deployment of U.S. forces are high. Key members of the Executive Branch have repeatedly reaffirmed a December withdrawal date, and a retreat from the current policy could have considerable domestic backlash. (See, for example, Jack Kelley, "Defense Chief Stands By Bosnia Plan," USA Today, April 1, 1996, pp. 1, 11; Bradley Graham, "Shalikashvili Again Endorses Bosnia Withdrawal Schedule," The Washington Post, April 3, 1996, p. 16; and Friedman, "Exit Strategy," p. 21.) Moreover, congressional support for an extension is questionable and increases political risks. Congressional support for the original deployment was tepid, at best, and often couched in terms of supporting the troops but not the decision to send them. (See, for example, Katharine Q. Seelye, "Some G.O.P. Senators Refusing to Back Dole on Bosnia Mission," The New York Times, December 7, 1995, p. 5; Ray Gugliotta, "House Freshmen Remain Skeptical of Bosnia Plan," The Washington Post, December 13, 1995, p. 35; and "Senate Proposal on Bosnia," The Washington Post, December 14, 1995, p. 39.) Nor is current support overwhelming. See, for instance, "Reports of Delay in Return of Troops Upset Rep. Gilman" [Chairman, House International Relations Committee], Baltimore Sun, April 27, 1996, p. 10; and Senator Arlen Spector's comment: "The American people and Congress are not going to be disposed to leaving our forces there beyond a year," in The Washington Times, March 28, 1996, p. 4.) That having been said, the strategic risks of a premature withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Bosnia outweigh the potential domestic consequences.

4. A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [ GPO], February 1996, p. 35. Nor have these goals changed appreciably over the course of the Clinton administration. Cf., A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, Washington, DC: GPO, February 1995, p. 35; and A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, Washington, DC: GPO, July 1994, p. 21. Moreover, as Edward Mortimer points out, military success alone can lead to partition, which runs counter to U.S. objectives and interests. Edward Mortimer, "Bosnia's Fault Lines," Financial Times (London), May 22, 1996, p. 12.

5.   See, for example, Martin Sieff, "NATO Sees U.S. Staying in Bosnia," The Washington Times, May 8, 1996, p. 1; Carl Bildt, "Keeping Bosnia in One Peace," The Washington Post, March 31, 1996, p. C2; "The Long Haul in Bosnia," Economist (London), March 28, 1996, p. 20; "Bosnian Economy Called Peace Threat," The Washington Times, March 28, 1996, p. 4; and Craig R. Whitney, "NATO Urged to Keep Force in Bosnia After Pullout Date," The New York Times, March 21, 1996, p. 1. Carl Bildt, the High Representative for Bosnia, has remarked that the civil side of implementation is on a 2-year schedule. Bradley Graham, "Shalikashvili Again Endorses Bosnia Withdrawal Schedule," The Washington Post, April 3, 1996, p. A16. Early in the IFOR deployment, Lieutenant General (UK) Michael Walker, Commander of the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), acknowledged that, "I quite clearly see there is going to be a requirement for a follow-on organization." Rick Atkinson, "?The Big Question Mark' in Bosnia," The Washington Post, January 8, 1996, p. 11.
6.   While it may seem early for such a discussion, the decision point is fast approaching. Leaders from the Executive Branch, Congress, and DOD adamantly reaffirm a U.S. departure will start in mid-December 1996. (See Friedman, "Exit Strategy," p. 21.) It took 65 days to complete deployment of U.S. forces into Bosnia-Hercegovina. Removing the personnel and materiel of a year-long build up will likely be more difficult and time consuming. (See Rick Atkinson, "Next Topic: Getting Out of Bosnia," The Washington Post, March 22, 1996, pp. 1, 27.) Considerable planning for a withdrawal would have to precede actual movement of forces and will have to commence in the not too distant future. Policy decisions necessary to guide those deliberations will have to be taken in advance of the actual military planning. Indeed, Carl Bildt, the High Representative, has indicated that such a decision must be made by June (Laura Silber and Bruce Clarke, "West Fearful For Post-IFOR Bosnia," The Financial Times, London, April 1, 1996, p. 3).
7.   A public decision to remain may result in factions dragging their feet, and diminishing the impetus to work toward a lasting political solution before IFOR departs. Conversely, a public announcement might provide more incentive to turn to the long-term demands of a settlement and a disincentive to prepare for resumed conflict if IFOR departs before the basis for a lasting settlement can be established.
94.   GFAP, Annex 1-A, Agreement on the Military Aspects of the Peace Settlement, Article VI, paragraph 3.
95.   See, for example, comments contained in Harry Summers, "Mission Creeps," The Washington Times, April 11, 1996, p. 15; Graham, "Shalikashvili Again Endorses Bosnia Withdrawal Schedule," p. A16; Rick Atkinson, "NATO, U.S. Army at Odds Over War Crimes Mission in Bosnia," The Washington Post, March 11, 1996, p. A15; Philip Shenon, "G.I.s in Bosnia Shun Hunt for War-Crime Suspects," The New York Times, March 2, 1996, p. A3; Moreover, discussion of IFOR not becoming involved in hunting war crimes suspects, crowd control, or police activities has been an issue at nearly every IFOR press conference in recent weeks. See various conferences archived at gopher://
marvin.stc.nato.int: 70/11/yugo.
96.   NATO and IFOR have indicated that such shifts will commence shortly. See, for example, Karen Blakeman, "IFOR Now Turns to Helping Rebuild," Stars and Stripes (Europe), April 23, 1996, p. 4; Edith M. Lederer, "Rebuilding Bosnia Is Now a Mission for NATO Troops," The Washington Times, March 26, 1996, p. 11; IFOR AFSOUTH Transcript March 25, 1996, p. 2; and NATO Press Release (96) 60, April 29, 1996.
97.   Specific tasks might include:
@ENDNOTESPACING = a. Continue to enforce the military elements of the GFAP (ZOS, IEBL, etc.).
@ENDNOTESPACING = b. Provide general secure environment.
@ENDNOTESPACING = c. Promote freedom of movement.
@ENDNOTESPACING = d. Provide reaction forces, "sticks" if necessary to ensure compliance.
@ENDNOTESPACING = e. Provide support (not take the lead) to civil agencies in implementing the civil portions of the GFAP. Civil and military efforts must proceed in tandem if the basis for a lasting political settlement is to be achieved, and U.S. national objectives are to be attained.
@ENDNOTESPACING = f. Assist in confidence building measures, overseeing the implementation of the arms control provisions as they are worked out.
@ENDNOTESPACING = g. Perhaps most importantly continue to
act as the (most) honest broker in arbitrating military, and, if necessary, civil issues concerning the implementation of the agreement.
@ENDNOTESPACING = h. Continue to serve as a deterrent force that prevents the factions from resuming the war.
98.   General John Shalikashvili, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff has indicated the United States may reapportion its force mix. Karen Blakeman, "NATO Won't Cut Bosnia Troops, but May Alter Mix, General Says," Stars and Stripes (Europe), April 24, 1996, p. 1.
99.   In the post-Cold War era, a maneuver brigade has become the "coin of the realm" for participation and leadership in multinational formations.