Nato chief favours action on Bosnia: Manfred Worner tells Andrew Marshall in Brussels the UN should consider air strikes against Serbian forces

THE United Nations should consider air strikes in Bosnia, according to Manfred Worner, Nato's secretary general. In an interview with the Independent, Mr Worner said that 'more decisive measures' are needed than the no-fly zone over Bosnia which Nato is policing. 'We have gone as far as the United Nations authorised us to go,' he said.

Mr Worner did not specify what action should be taken, saying that was a matter for the UN Security Council, but noted that 'Lord Owen proposes even air strikes. If a man like him requests that it deserves serious consideration by the United Nations.'

Today Mr Worner meets Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, in Brussels. Nato sources said the former Yugoslavia was top of the agenda. So far Nato has enforced the naval embargo on Serbia and Montenegro and the no-fly zone over Bosnia. On Tuesday it reported the first breach of the no-fly zone, a helicopter spotted south of Banja Luka, the main Serbian air base.

Nato is preparing plans to police the Vance-Owen plan for Bosnia, but this has been hampered by disagreements over its command structure and a lack of forces. Mr Worner feels that Western Europe is in danger of making excessively deep cuts in its forces, and should not ignore the residual threat from the former Soviet Union.

'We are very close to the threshold below which our main defence forces will not be able to do the job, to leave Nato as the main factor of stability in the European-Atlantic community,' he said.

The end of the Cold War has spurred a bout of defence cuts in pursuit of an elusive 'peace dividend'. Nato sources said that the overall cut in forces was likely to be 25 per cent between 1990 and 1997. But in the central region, which embraces Germany, both ground combat units and air forces were to be cut by 45 per cent. The biggest cuts, proportionately, have been made by Belgium and the Netherlands, according to Philip Mitchell of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Both are working to cut their budget deficits to enable them to hit the convergence criteria specified by the European Community in its Maastricht treaty.

Instead, more countries are now offering mobile units, which Mr Worner regarded as a worrying trend. 'Some of our member states seem to neglect main defence forces and concentrate just on rapid reaction forces,' he said. Although such forces had a key role to play in the future, in Nato and elsewhere, 'once you have lost the possibility of reconstitution of forces, you can't reconstruct such a capacity very quickly'.

The renewed emphasis on the possibility of a threat from the former Soviet Union reflects both Western Europe's rush to disarm and fears over stability to the east of Nato. There are still more than 100,000 troops from the former Soviet Union in Germany, and troop withdrawals from the Baltics have stalled. Russia and Ukraine remain important military powers.

Mr Worner said he had been reassured personally by President Bill Clinton that United States troop numbers in Europe would not fall below 100,000. He emphasised that 'the classical role of Nato' - to provide security in Europe - remained of prime importance. Beyond this, Nato now also had a responsibility 'to project stability to the countries of central and eastern Europe'.

The third role of Nato, he said was 'to participate in crisis management, peace-keeping and even peace-making'. This will be done under the auspices of both the UN and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Relations with the UN are now 'quite good', Mr Worner said, though a lot remained to be done at a more senior level. 'There may be certain misperceptions as to the character of this new alliance,' he said.

Relations with the Western European Union, the embryonic defence arm of the EC, were also good, he said, though he emphasised that it is 'part of our European pillar'. Despite the proximity of the two organisations, there is 'practically no co-operation' with the EC, and none was needed since the Community did not yet deal with defence or security questions, he said.

He added: 'There is neither the intention nor the means to establish a second independent or autonomous military structure in Europe by the Western European Union. I do not see where the cash would come from.'

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