Inferior UN or Superior Coalition Force?
by Albert Wohlstetter
European, UN and US officials have negotiated with Milosevic to stop his genocidal war against Croatia and Bosnia for nearly four years without facing him with the only alternative he understands - superior force. Even for slow learners, experience should long ago have demolished the belief that the only option is negotiations. When Croatia or Bosnia use force to take back land that Milosevic has seized because it is critical for his continuing reinforcement or resupplky of his proxies, they are merely fulfilling the explicit demands of the UN Security Council resolutions tht all countries stop sending men and the tools of war across Serbian borders. If the UN and Western leaders persuade Croatia and Bosnia not to stop Milosevic's continuing invasion, they will in effect be joining Milosevic in defying these resolutions and the Convention on Genocide.
Official US analyses of military force in the Balkans start and end by repeating 'there is no alternative to negotiations' - implying unending concessions to Serbia and its proxies and a commitment to policing successively weakened agreements rhrough the use of 'peacekeeping' soliders. These 'peacekeepers' are weaker than the Serbian force that imperils them, severely onstrained by the United Nations in their aims, and subject to veto by backers of Serbia such as Russia. Extracting the current 'peacekeeper', as we may soon have to, would be even more perilous under such constraints.
These 'military analyses' seem mainly apologetics for doing nothing to stop the genocide encouraged when we banned arms to Bosnia, inviolation of the UN-acknowledged right of self-defence, while we let Serbia continue to reinforce and resupply its proxies in violation of a valid UN ban.
Defense Secretary William Perry, for example, repeats the obvious truth that air power cannot completely replace ground forces, but forgets that Croatian and Bosnian ground orces now greatly outnumber Serbia's proxies, are more high motivated and disciplined, and are incresingly better armed. After initially seizing a third of Croatia and 70% of Bosnia, the Serbian forces have been unable for years to advance furthr even with the 'peaekeepers' help. A Russian UN commaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
nder, only two weeks ago, stopped Belgian 'peacekeepers' from emforcing the valid ban on Serbia's continuing invasion. What air power can add to joint action by the defending ground forces is to enforce that ban.
Secretary Perry focuses, however, on air power used solely in Bosnia and in immediate reaction, tit-for-tat, against individual attacks on UN forces. Sympolic responses against one or a few self-propelled guns or tanks or a movable command tent may find them moved to cover in terrain that is, as the Secretary says, 'wooded, mountainous and often blanketed y clouds', espsecially if we depend on data from a few larger satellites 400 miles up that glimpse the area only twice daily.
But air power using information from intensive reconnaissance during several years of the current war and data from small unmanned air vehicles equipped with sensors such as synthetic aperature radars (available at last) can find combat jets parked on the few large airfields that jets can use in Serbia and Serbian-occupied Croatia and Bosnia.
They can also find depots for maintaining heavy armoured vehicles, oil refineries, depots and pumping stations needed to fuel the vehicles; places to block on mountain roads channelling armour, and fixed sensors and communication towers needed to command the Serbian forces.
The 1970s long-range R&D studies proceeded on the premise that the canonical Soviet attacked through NATO's thickest defences in Europe's centre was far-fetched, whereas plausible contingencies of critical interet for Europe and America would occur on NATO's periphery. Many of these involved mountainous terrain with fjords, straits, narrow passes and corridors, or switchback roads. And the studies tested strategies and non-nuclear weapons designed to make even more unfriendly the terrains tht are naturally unfriendsly to a heavy armour invasion. In the Balkans, for example, a supposed Soviet secret invasion plan - 'Polarka', which surfaced shortly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia - was used. It bagan with an invasion of Slovenia and Croatia from Austria and a simultaneous invasion of Croatian Slavonia from Hungary - rather like the route followed by Serbia at the start of the current Balkan wars.
Many official analyses appear to recall vaguely from 'Polarka' only that Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnians, Serbians and other Yugoslavs could do quite well in blocking a heavy armoured invasion. But they forget that it is Milosevic who has invaded Croatia and Bosnia, and his armoured force needs continued reinforcements and resupply from Serbia. The Bosnians and the Croatians are the defenders. Taking advantage of the terrain to end the invasion, Bosnian and Croatian ground orces could use a little help from US air power.
The US is likely to be asked to help in the complex and dangerous task of extracting a UN force distributed in small groups all over Bosnia and Croatia. Congress should, and likely will, insist that the UN should start by enforcing the ban on Serbia's continuing resupply and reinforcement of its proxies. That would, as a by product, allow better-armed Bosnian and Croatian ground forces jointly to end the war quickly.
Albert Wohlstetter is a member of the Steering Committee of the Washington-based Action Council for Peace in the Balkans. He guided the 1970s long-range R&D studies of precise and discriminate non-nuclear weaponry for contingencies outside Europe that affect US and allied interests. This article first appeared in Wall Street Journal, 3.5.1995.