Bosnia War Crimes: Nato urges force in Balkans

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THE Secretary-General of Nato, Manfred Worner, argued yesterday in favour of possible military intervention in former Yugoslavia. He suggested that one reason for the failure of diplomatic efforts was the unwillingness to back them up with the threat of military force.

Speaking in Munich, Mr Worner asked, 'Am I wrong to think that one reason that political solutions failed until now was because of the obvious reluctance to enforce?' He added: 'We must not shrink from the use of force if we are to have credibility.' Humanitarian assistance, he argued, 'must not become a substitute for curbing the aggression itself'.

But Mr Worner's argument was far from winning the day. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, was as dismissive as ever. He described as 'quite unrealistic' the argument that force could be an 'efficient arbiter of that kind of conflict'.

Mr Hurd said diplomatic efforts were still the key. He argued: 'International diplomacy has to be prompter, it has to move earlier, it has to be better organised.' It was unclear if this was meant to be self-criticism; Britain was slow, in the past two years, to acknowledge the need to put pressure on the Serbian leadership in order to prevent the spread of the war.

Les Aspin, the new US Defense Secretary, was also far from bullish, talking only of the need to 'bring the full force of our influence to bear in contributing to a restoration of the peace'.

During the US election campaign, Bill Clinton criticised the Bush administration for appearing passive in the face of Serbian aggression, and hinted at the need for military action in former Yugoslavia. Since taking office, however, the US President has been careful not to commit himself to intervention. Mr Hurd said that he had 'a very good talk' with Mr Aspin and 'a lot of common ground is emerging'.

Mr Aspin, one of eight Western defence ministers at the Munich meeting, avoided giving a clear statement of the new US policy on Bosnia. Instead, he talked of efforts 'to put together a package' by the middle of this week. On Friday night Mr Aspin attended a White House policy meeting on Bosnia, which delayed his departure for Munich by several hours. He said that his presence in Munich 'despite the press of business in Washington' was intended to 'demonstrate the depth of the new administration's commitment to Europe'.

He seemed keen to bring the Russians - who have sought to remain on friendly terms with Serbia - on board. He emphasised that the West needed the Russians' 'big time' on Yugoslavia. 'Whatever we work out has to be worked out with the allies. And in this case, the allies include the Russians.'

The German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who described the annual defence seminar as 'the most significant transatlantic forum for the discussion of security questions', praised the UN-EC plan put forward by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, which would divide Bosnia into 10 ethnic provinces, as a 'realistic attempt' to end the war. Critics of the plan say that it would merely store up worse problems.

Germany, which has been among Serbia's harshest critics, has in previous weeks hinted at support for military intervention in Bosnia. But, like the US, Germany has become more wary.

Mr Kohl also announced a further series of planned cuts in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, which would reduce the numbers to 370,000 by 1995. Volker Ruhe, the German Defence Minister, last week announced a freeze on purchases of new defence equipment.

Speakers at the meeting repeatedly emphasised the twin themes of continuity and change for the future of Nato. The Atlantic alliance, it was argued, must adapt to the changed circumstances but would also be more important than ever. Wim van Eekelen, Secretary-General of the Western European Union, partly acknowledged that the WEU and Nato are in competition to exert authority. Apologetically, Mr van Eekelen told Mr Worner: 'I hope you don't regard me as a gamekeeper turned poacher.';

Meanwhile, Pierre Joxe, the French Defence Minister, added his voice to those demanding that Germany should change its constitution to allow it to take part in international military operations. He complained: 'The assurance of a truly European dimension as regards defence cannot be credible without the full participation of Germany.' He talked of the 'self-limitation' which Germany had imposed upon itself.