Yugoslav conflict 'may spread': Experts fear the war may spill into neighbouring countries, writes Christopher Bellamy

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THERE is a 50 per cent risk of the conflict in former Yugoslavia spreading to other parts of Eastern Europe, according to leading strategic experts.

They say the international community faces the choice of full- scale intervention or 'interposition' in Eastern Europe, involving huge human and financial resources, or peripheral action to contain and mitigate the problems. The Serbian conquest of northern Bosnia may not be permanent, with the Serbs having the superior equipment to seize ground but lacking the manpower to hold it.

Dr Bo Huldt, the new director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and his colleagues Colonel Andrew Duncan and Colonel Mike Dewar were speaking at the launch of The Military Balance for 1992-93, published yesterday. The new volume contains more detail than ever on the increasingly complex strategic environment, and extra detail on the rising number of UN peace-keeping forces. Since it was compiled, a new peace-keeping force has been sent to Somalia and another will go to Mozambique soon.

The report reflects increased openness, with precise amounts of equipment made available under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. But this openness has brought its own problems. In previous years, information on some countries was difficult to obtain. Now, said Col Duncan, 'we have difficulty making sense of the large amount of data available'.

He said that there was no way of judging the accuracy of various reports on the proliferation of nuclear weapons and knowledge from the former Soviet Union. 'I've been told that Iran has two nuclear 152mm shells, two nuclear bombs for Su-24 aircraft,' he said. 'That sort of information isn't available to anybody, not even the most professional intelligence community.'

Col Dewar added: 'The manner in which the Soviet Union trained its nuclear experts resulted in their knowledge being divided so that you needed perhaps 20 experts . . . so that people catching planes to Tehran is not necessarily dangerous.'

Dr Huldt, a Swede, has replaced Francois Heisbourg, a Frenchman, as director. He is the first national of a 'non-aligned' country to hold the post, reflecting the new European order which is apparent from the 1992- 93 Balance. He worked previously in the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. He still holds the rank of captain in the Swedish reserve forces. Mr Heisbourg has gone to head the international relations think-tank at Matra, the French missile manufacturers.

The Balance once concentrated on the East-West confrontation, which was in rough equilibrium. 'Now, more people will be creating their own 'balances',' said Col Duncan. 'East-east, south-south . . .'

The organisation of the book has changed radically since last year. Europe is divided into just two sections, Nato and non-Nato.

The Military Balance 1992-93, published by Brassey's for the IISS, pounds 35.

(Photograph omitted)