TOPICS > Nation

Statement of Secretary of State Warren Christopher

November 30, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT

WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. On Monday night, President Clinton addressed the nation to explain why American troops should join our NATO Allies to help peace take hold in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Secretary Perry, General Shalikashvili, and I are here to further explain our purpose and our plans, to answer your questions, and to seek your support.

We have a fundamental choice. As the President made clear, if the United States does not participate, there will be no NATO force. If there is no NATO force, there will be no peace in Bosnia, and the war will reignite.

We do not have to imagine the consequences. We know what would happen. There would be more massacres, more concentration camps, more hunger, a real threat of a wider war, and immense damage to our leadership in NATO, in Europe, and the world. That is the alternative we can and must avoid. We must continue to secure the peace.

The war in the former Yugoslavia has been a threat to our nation’s interests and an affront to our nation’s values. We have been witness to horrors and cruelties that my generation — the generation that fought World War II — once thought were consigned to a dark and distant past. We have faced the constant threat of a wider, even more terrible war in an unstable part of Europe. We have had to contemplate the possibility that our troops would be called upon to rescue our allies from Bosnia under fire.

This summer, the conflict in Bosnia reached a crisis point. The President launched a carefully conceived initiative that took us step by step from the most horrifying events of the war — the fall of Srebrencia and Zepa — to this hopeful point.

At the July London Conference, we persuaded our Allies to take decisive measures to protect Bosnia’s remaining safe areas. We led a NATO bombing campaign to convince the Bosnian Serbs that nothing more could be gained by continuing the war. Our diplomacy produced a cease-fire and a set of constitutional principles for a single Bosnian state. And last week, we led the parties to a comprehensive settlement in Dayton. That settlement will be formally signed in Paris on December 14.

As a result of the President’s initiative, the fighting has stopped. We now have an opportunity to secure an enduring peace because of American strength and American diplomacy. We will achieve our goal only if America continues to lead. The parties have taken risks for peace and we must continue to support them.

Our national interest in implementing the Dayton settlement is clear.

We have a strong interest in ending the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II — atrocities that are all the more pernicious because they have been directed at specific groups of people because of their faith. By helping peace take hold, we can make sure that the people of Bosnia see no more days of dodging bullets, no more winters of freshly dug graves, no more years of isolation from the outside world.

We have a strong interest in making sure that this conflict does not spread. Bosnia lies on a faultline in a volatile region of Europe. To the south are Kosovo, Albania, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the likeliest flashpoints of a wider war, as well as Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies. To the north and east lie Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, fragile new democracies deeply threatened by the prospect of ethnic conflict in the Balkans. To the north also lies the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, which could yet spark a regional war if the Dayton accords are not implemented.

Peace in this part of Europe matters to the United States because Europe matters to the United States. Twice this century, we have sent millions of American soldiers to war across the Atlantic. The first of this century’s great wars began with violence in Sarajevo. The second began with aggression in Central Europe and with horrors that the world ignored until it was too late. Ever since, our leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, have acted to protect our vital interest in European stability. If we do not take this opportunity for peace, we could be faced with the prospect of action far costlier and more dangerous than anything being contemplated now.

The United States also has a vital interest in maintaining our leadership in the world. Taking action in Bosnia now is an acid test of American leadership. After creating this opportunity for peace, we cannot afford to walk away. I can tell you from my personal experience as Secretary of State that if we are seen as a country that does not follow through on its initiatives, no nation will follow us — not in Europe, not in the Middle East, not in Asia, not anywhere.

Mr. Chairman, the agreement we initialed in Dayton advances our national interests and gives us every reason to believe that peace can take hold in Bosnia. The settlement was negotiated in 21 long days against the backdrop of four bloody years of war. It includes many hard-fought compromises. But on every important issue, it meets the principled and practical standards on which my negotiating team and I insisted. It is an agreement not just of goals, but of means.

It preserves Bosnia as a single state with federal institutions that represent its Croat, Muslim, and Serb communities alike.

It reunifies Sarajevo within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and connects Gorazde to the Federation by a secure land corridor.

It gives the people of Bosnia the right to move freely throughout the country. It gives refugees the right to return to their homes. And it creates a mechanism for settling claims to property.

It makes it possible for democratic, internationally-run elections to be held next year. I spent hours in Dayton convincing the parties that refugees should have a choice between voting where they currently live or in their original homes.

The agreement excludes war criminals from office. And it explicitly obligates all the parties to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of war crimes.

It protects human rights and creates new institutions to investigate and punish violations.

Most fundamentally, it ends the war, and requires the parties to move their armed forces behind agreed lines.

Sometimes in a negotiation like this, there is a temptation to take short cuts, to deal with the hardest issues in an ambiguous way. But in Dayton, we insisted on concrete and detailed commitments on the most critical issues that divided the parties. Because the agreement is comprehensive, it is far more likely to endure.

In the long run, restoring the fabric of Bosnia’s society will still require an immense effort. But at least that effort can now begin. After all, only with peace does Bosnia have a chance to exist as a single state. Only with peace does it have a chance to build a multi-ethnic democracy. Only with peace will we have a chance to bring war criminals to justice, and to ensure that no more war crimes are committed.

The Dayton accord does require the parties to take extremely difficult steps on the road to peace. I believe that each is prepared to carry out its commitments, but only if each is confident that the other parties will carry out theirs. Each party made it clear that they would reach settlement only if NATO agreed to lead a peace implementation force.

Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili will speak in greater detail about our participation in IFOR. But let me address some of the questions I know are on your mind.

I know many Americans have wondered why Europe cannot provide all of the ground troops in this NATO force. NATO is built on the sharing of effort and risk. We are NATO’s largest member, the core of its strength and resolve. The Alliance cannot undertake what will be the largest mission in its history if we decline to do our share. At the same time, we should remember that other nations, including nearly all our NATO allies, Russia, and many of our new partners in Central Europe, will contribute 2/3 of the troops in IFOR.

Others have asked whether, after four years of bloodshed, the parties are willing to carry through with this agreement. We must remember that we secured the agreement because peace is the key to what all the parties want: from reconstruction, to justice, to rejoining the international community. We constructed the agreement to ensure that it will be carried out. We have made certain that sanctions against Serbia, our main source of leverage with that country, will be reimposed if the agreement is not implemented. Sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs will remain in place until their forces withdraw behind the agreed boundary of the Serb Republic. Moreover, our troops will have the strength and authority to enforce key military provisions of the agreement.

In addition, let me emphasize that it was not enough for me that President Milosevic was specifically authorized to negotiate the accord on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs. I insisted that the Bosnian Serbs initial it as well. In Dayton, President Milosevic promised to obtain their agreement within 10 days; as it turned out, he did so in just two days. This kind of response increases my confidence that this accord will be carried out.

Mr. Chairman, as we negotiated in Dayton, we constantly insisted on an agreement that our military could implement and enforce. Each part of the agreement was carefully constructed to take into account the needs of our armed forces and the advice of the military members of our team. As a result, the military annex to the agreement contains the kind of detailed provisions our military considered essential to their task.

Let me assure you that IFOR’s mission is well-defined and limited. Our troops will enforce the military aspects of the agreement — enforcing the cease-fire, supervising the withdrawal of forces, and establishing a zone of separation between them. But it will not be asked to guarantee the success of democracy or reconstruction, or to act as a police force. One of the lessons we have learned in the last few years is that our military should not be a permanent guarantor of peace. It should create opportunities that others must then seize.

Because IFOR’s mission is well defined, we have a clear end point, which Secretary Perry will describe in detail. In this respect, I want to stress that we are committed to achieve a stable military balance within Bosnia and among the states of the former Yugoslavia, so that peace will endure. This should be achieved, to the extent possible, through arms limitations and reductions.

It is not likely, however, that arms control measures alone will be sufficient to achieve military stabilization. The armed forces of the Federation, which have been most severely constrained by the arms embargo, will likely need to obtain some equipment and training in order to establish an effective self-defense capability. For our part, the United States will ensure that Federation armed forces receive the necessary assistance. Neither IFOR nor the U.S. military will directly participate in this effort. The best approach — and the one we will pursue — is for the United States to coordinate an international effort to provide the necessary assistance.

Civilian agencies from around the world will carry out a separate program to help the people of Bosnia rebuild. Our European allies will pay for most of this vital civilian effort. International organizations will also play an important role. The OSCE will supervise elections. The UNHCR will coordinate the return of refugees. The World Bank and IMF will help Bosnia’s economy recover, with the EU also playing a leading role. The UN will help monitor and train local police.

But none of these important tasks will be carried out unless the peace agreement endures. There is no middle ground between peace and war in Bosnia. And in the choice between peace and war, as the President so plainly put it Monday night, “America must choose peace.”

Many years from now, I have no doubt that people will look back on this month in history as a critical turning point for the United States and Europe. Let it be remembered as the moment when our country grasped the chance we created for peace, not as the moment when we hesitated to act.

The President has made his choice. The United States must act as the great nation that we are. We must protect our interests. We must uphold our ideals. We must keep our commitments. And we must lead.

In the coming days, Mr. Chairman, the Administration will continue to consult fully with you and with the Congress. We will continue to work hard to gain the bipartisan support of the Congress, just as we work to gain the support and understanding of the American people. We are confident that the case for moving forward is clear and strong. We are prepared to answer your questions and to hear your concerns today. Thank you.