No peace plan, no more troops: Strategies are laid, but Nato intervention in Bosnia is still far off, says Christopher Bellamy

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The Independent Online
CALLS for military intervention in Bosnia are with us again. But the West's failure to act so far has nothing to do with any lack of planning. It reflects entirely the lack of political will.

At the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe (Shape), at Mons in Belgium there are several plans for further intervention in Bosnia ready and waiting. But all assume a peace settlement that is agreed by the three warring sides and has some chance of remaining in force. There is no plan for intervention on behalf of one side against another, no plan labelled 'Baroness Thatcher'. On present plans, if there is no agreed peace, there will be no further Nato involvement, beyond enforcing the no-fly zone.

Yesterday, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, re-emphasised the British government's reluctance to get involved in peace-making, a reluctance shared by the Americans and other Nato allies. Even getting the Serbs to agree to the peace plan is considered optimistic, and therefore the UN troops in Bosnia remain limited to escorting humanitarian aid, 'thankless and frustrating though it is'.

Nato planners still do not envisage driving the Serbs from the areas they have occupied even if those areas are not allocated to them under the Vance-Owen peace plan. They would not, for example, be expelled from Srebrenica, which is allocated to the Muslims.

This is not to say the UN forces already in Bosnia are not well equipped and could not push back the Serbs if ordered to. Vicious though some of the fighting in Bosnia is, it is fairly old-fashioned stuff, and the numbers involved are small. The appearance of just a few tanks makes a great difference. Well trained troops of a Western army in armoured vehicles with air cover would probably have a colossal impact. But there would be some casualties and politicians still feel, probably rightly, that they could not justify losses for the sake of a 'far-off country of which we know little'.

This caution permeates all national and Nato planning. Even if the peace plan was signed, but the peace then broke down and became unenforceable, the favoured scenario would still be - in the words of a top British defence source - 'honourable withdrawal'. Would that really be an option, washing one's hands of the whole Bosnian affair? Military planners insist that it would - after all, they withdrew quickly enough from Kurdistan.

The command arrangements for Nato moving into Bosnia are clear enough, and have been well advertised. Up to six divisions, perhaps 150,000 troops, could form a larger Balkan command, headed by Nato's commander of Allied Forces South, US Admiral Jeremy Boorda, based in Naples. His 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, based at Vicenza, is already patrolling the no-fly zone over Bosnia.

Within Bosnia, a subordinate headquarters would control an estimated 60,000-70,000 troops, maybe more. This would be the newly formed headquarters of Nato's Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), under Lieutenant-General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie. General Morillon's present HQ at Kiseljak, north-west of Sarajevo, is based on a Nato division HQ: the larger, corps HQ would simply represent an extension of the present arrangement. But, with a fragile peace as a pre-requisite for the corps' deployment, Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital and the only province under multi-ethnic control, would probably be chosen, for political and symbolic reasons.

The scenarios envisaged differ in the degree of opposition expected - the different degrees of low-level lawlessness to be encountered, even after a tripartite agreement. They are not strikingly different, not options you can show on a map, merely variants on a slow, deliberate build-up of troops, mostly mechanised infantry: 60,000, 70,000 . . .

The most optimistic plan envisages about 60,000 troops for Bosnia. About 30 per cent of the ARRC headquarters is British. Its current strength is about 9,000: 1,500 in Sarajevo and 7,600 in the rest of the Bosnia-Herzegovina command. A workable peace plan would assume no further need to escort humanitarian aid, and the 9,500 troops currently in Bosnia could therefore be diverted to form part of the new total.

Privately, senior Nato commanders doubt whether the Vance-Owen peace plan will be agreed, and without it they are adamant there can be no increase in UN activity or substantial reinforcement of the forces already in Bosnia. If a peace plan is agreed, Nato will act as the UN's agent, as it is already doing to enforce the no-fly zone over the whole of Bosnian territory.

It must be reiterated at every point that the scenarios developed by the Shape planners assume a signed agreement. They then assume differing degrees of opposition, political and physical. 'Is the environment friendly?' is a question to be answered in each area. The answer will determine the forces that are deployed in each area.

One of the main tasks is to keep major roads open and protected, permitting the population to flow back to areas from which they have fled. A second concern is to collect and guard weapons, and a third is to patrol major urban areas, a job very similar to Northern Ireland.

The Bosnian terrain will focus Nato forces' attention on key road and rail routes, towns and power stations. Stretches of countryside are unlikely to be regarded as important in themselves. Much of the fighting in the year-old civil war has concentrated on objectives such as dams and power stations, because without power, a town or factory is useless. Arms factories inherited from the former Yugoslav state have also been key objectives, for obvious reasons. To secure a factory or power station requires at least a company of troops (100 men): Nato plans envisage that many will require full battalions (600 men).

Finding a minimum of 60,000 troops will be a problem. The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, is understood to want a whole British division - 20,000 troops, but Britain will not be able to provide this. Increasing the current force from 2,600 to a full brigade of 5,000, plus about 2,000 troops associated with the ARRC headquarters, and a carrier in the Adriatic would mean that Britain could claim to be providing the equivalent of a division.

The rest of the troops would have to come from the US, Russia and France, plus smaller contingents, some of whom are already in Bosnia. Surprisingly, no great difficulties are foreseen with Nato exercising command over French or Russian troops.

The French do not want the operation subordinated to Nato's Supreme Commander in Europe, General John Shalikashvili, for political reasons, but they seem happy to work with Nato at lower levels. The commander of the Balkan theatre, Admiral Boorda, might report directly to the UN.

The Russians had reservations about working under Nato but overcame them. However, the present situation in Russia is uncertain and the Russians remain something of an unknown quantity, although the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, has already earmarked the 27th Motor- Rifle Division for peace-keeping duties.

The Russians - 13,500 of them - would be important to make up numbers. But Nato's main concern is that the Russians should be asked. Then honour is satisfied. At present, though, all Nato's plans remain academic. Without agreement to the peace plan, they will remain scenarios on a shelf in Belgium.

(Photograph and Graphic omitted)