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U.S. Must Escalate Bombing In Bosnia to Boost Credibility

By Daniel Williams and Ann Devroy
The Washington Post

The United States must escalate bombing in Bosnia partly to boost its own credibility, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Thursday, as President Clinton's support for broader use of NATO military power produced signs of anxiety and deep division in Congress.

Outlining U.S. interests in Bosnia before a skeptical Senate panel, Christopher went beyond the administration's previous rationale of preventing a broader European conflict, stemming the flow of Bosnian refugees and maintaining NATO's credibility. Stronger military action is needed, he asserted, to "vindicate United States leadership" and maintain U.S. military credibility.

Christopher's comments raised the stakes of the new military initiative beyond the aim of settling the Bosnian conflict to a test of American will. Credibility as a rationale for escalation has been a matter of controversy since the Vietnam War, when deeper involvement was justified in part to show that U.S. commitments could be trusted.

NATO representatives are due to take up the proposal, first put forward by United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, at a meeting Friday of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels.

Administration officials Thursday suggested that the council will authorize broader NATO airstrikes to protect the six "safe areas" set up last year for Bosnian Muslims by the U.N. Security Council. But the council is likely first to consider immediate ways to stop the continuing Serb offensive against Gorazde, the officials said.

Support for increased NATO military action came Thursday from Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said the United States and its allies must be willing to escalate airstrikes against the Serbs "all the way to Serbia if need be." He also urged a selective lifting of an international arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia to equip the safe areas with anti-tank weapons.

But other senators expressed misgivings about the move toward greater U.S. military involvement. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee before which Christopher testified Thursday, said the airstrikes initiative lacked clear goals, an exit strategy, political support and a strong likelihood of success - all of which, he reminded Christopher, once had been the administration's preconditions for a greater commitment in Bosnia. He observed that Christopher's caution of a year ago had given way to a new "urgency of involvement."

In response, Christopher said the United States "just can't turn our back" on Bosnia, adding: "I feel very strongly that this is a time when even a cautious secretary of state, which perhaps I'll always be, feels the need to vindicate United States leadership and to take a strong robust position to ensure that this conflict does not spread and to ensure that we maintain the crediblity of NATO as well as our own forces."

Hollings, unpersuaded, urged Christopher to consider "the mother test" before committing U.S. planes to a broader campaign, meaning the administration must be able to explain to the mother of a U.S. soldier why her son or daughter might die in Bosnia. "We're making a civil war an international war," Hollings said, "and I don't know how it's going to stand the mother test."

But Christopher said the conflict had become "more than a civil war," saying Serb aggression had become "quite transparent" and was aimed at creating a "greater Serbia" at the expense of neighboring republics.

The sense of congressional unease generated by the new initiative appeared to cross party lines Thursday. Few members seemed totally satisfied with the president's approach. Opinion seemed divided between those who want no U.S. involvement in the Balkans and those who want to do more to stop the Serbs.

Some Democrats and Republicans suggested that congressional restlessness has produced what one Democrat said were "ripe conditions for Congress to try to write the policy, which is almost always a disaster."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Sen. Joseph Liberman, D-Conn., offered an amendment to a bankruptcy bill that would require the president unilaterally to disregard the embargo on weapons to Bosnia's combatants and help arm the Muslims. The amendment is opposed by the administration because the allies do not support it. Clinton said Wednesday that breaking a U.N. embargo would open the way for others to do so unilaterally elsewhere.

The Senate debated the amendment late into the day. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., said Clinton's policy in Bosnia was a "half-hearted effort and a prescription for failure." He said the only clear answer is to allow the Muslims to defend themselves. But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., opposed the measure, saying it would cause a break with the allies.