Nato shapes up for leading role in peace plan

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NATO now looks likely to control the enforcement of any peace plan for Bosnia- Herzegovina on behalf of the United Nations. A corps of 40,000 to 60,000 troops will be needed, and Nato planners expect it to be there for years.

Most of the major actors - including the Russians - are now coming round to the view that it is the sort of job only Nato or Nato in partnership with the Russians can do. It is understood that the Russians have been in discussion with Nato on the possibility of joint peace-keeping operations, and that the Russian Defence Minister, General Pavel Grachev, has earmarked a division (13,500 men) specially for the 'peace-keeping' role.

It would be politically difficult for Nato to deploy a large force in Bosnia, even under UN command, without Russian involvement. Russian commanders are understood to want equal status with Nato, rather than being subordinated to the Western alliance. The Russians, like the Hungarians and Ukrainians, want to join the alliance eventually and their participation in the allied command structure in a Bosnian operation could reinforce their case.

Although the commander of UN troops in Bosnia, Major-General Philippe Morillon, has estimated that a further 15,000 troops will be needed to enforce the Vance-Owen peace plan, his staff are working on a total force of between 40,000 and 60,000 troops.

The latter will probably include the troops already in Bosnia as, if a workable ceasefire is in place, there should be no further need to escort aid convoys. Also, having two separate command structures in parallel - the current force escorting aid and a new one to enforce a ceasefire - would not work well.

Although plans are at an early stage, Nato planners at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape), at Mons in Belgium, envisage a corps headquarters to control the 40,000 to 60,000-strong force - equivalent to three divisions, though not necessarily deployed as such. Britain may contribute a brigade of about 5,000 troops to this force.

Nato is looking to the US, France, Britain and Russia to provide most of the force. For historical reasons German and Italian ground troops are not ideal components of a peace-keeping force in the former Yugoslavia. However, the current plans to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia would devolve on Nato's 5th Allied Tactical Air Force - commanded by an Italian lieutenant-general.

The Nato corps in Bosnia could work to Shape and the Supreme Allied Commander, Gen John Shalikashvili, who was in London yesterday talking to the Ministry of Defence. In that case it would be 'in support of' the UN. Alternatively, the corps commander - a 'three star' lieutenant-general - could report directly to the UN Secretary-General, placing the corps under UN command.

There are strong arguments for the latter. Besides the sartorial question of blue helmets or blue berets there is the question of legitimacy and legality.