EDITOR'S NOTE: ( During the two years Fred Cuny worked  in Bosnia, he
produced several plans designed to halt the fighting.  Here is the last such
plan he authored  in May 1994.  He proposed  it to the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace for discussion. Though it was discussed in Washington and
Sarajevo,  the plan was never implemented or, for that matter, seriously
considered by any of the principals involved.

Following this  is a response to Cuny's plan from Samantha Power, a journalist
and, at the time, assistant to the president of the Carnegie Endowment, Mort
Abramowitz. )


From the outset of the war in Bosnia, the Serbs have had both a qualitative and quantitative advantage over the Bosnians in heavy weapons -- tanks, artillery, rockets, and large mortars. The current ratio of tanks is estimated to be 400 Serb tanks versus 20 Bosnian tanks; 800 Serb artillery pieces 75mm or larger versus 50 for the Bosnians. Not only have the Bosnians been at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, they lack effective countermeasures for defense. They have no anti-tank weapons other than rocket propelled grenades and no counter-battery capabilities to neutralize heavy artillery. If the Bosnian Serbs loose a tank, it is quickly replaced by the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) from stocks in neighboring Serbia.

The disproportion of equipment has produced inevitable results: the Serb forces have had negligible casualties while inflicting very high losses on the Bosnians. The Serbs have also used their heavy weapons on civilian populations and routinely use artillery and rockets for terror attacks on besieged cities.

In successive attempts to limit the Serbs' ability to inflict civilian casualties, the Western allies, acting through the United Nations, have successively:

imposed an arms embargo;

established a "No-fly Zone" over Bosnia; and

established "Safe Areas" and, more recently, heavy weapon exclusion zones around them enforced by air power.

Unfortunately, none of these measures have been entirely effective. The embargo, which was placed on all the warring factions, inherently favors the Bosnian Serbs since they can be supplied by Serbia which has large stocks of arms and ammunition and an active war industry. The Bosnians have not been able to import significant amounts of weapons, no large or sophisticated equipment nor can their small arms manufacturers match the production of Serbia. The No-fly Zone has not made a significant difference: enforcement came late, Serb fighters were not a significant factor in the ground war, and helicopters are routinely permitted to fly without being shot down.

The Safe Area concept as it was implemented is seriously flawed for it permits the Serbs to keep any weapons they can remove from the exclusion zones while forcing the Bosnians to place their few guns under the control of the UN. Thus, the BSA can leave the UN to guard the Bosnians while they move their weapons on to the next target. As more areas come under UN "protection," the Serbs can mass ever larger concentrations of weapons around their objectives. For the Bosnians, it is a zero sum game.

This situation has led to a call for a selective lifting of the arms embargo on the Bosnians. Proponents argue that the Bosnians should be allowed to defend themselves (as they are permitted to do under the UN Charter). They point out that they have many potential patrons who could provide the money or arms. It is also pointed out that qualitative weapons, such as precision- guided anti-tank weapons, could help the Bosnians achieve equality on the battlefield.


There is much resistance to lifting the embargo. The UN peacekeeping commanders and humanitarian agencies are uniformly opposed. They have stated that such a move would endanger their forces and compel the contributing nations to withdraw them. They fear that even if the UN attempted to withdraw its forces before the arms embargo was lifted, it would signal the intent to the Serbs who could then hold UN personnel hostage.

Other opponents of lifting the embargo point out that it would lead to an escalation of the fighting -- and more civilian casualties no matter which side eventually prevailed. They argue forcibly that the level of violence needs to be lowered, not increased.

Many military observers are concerned that even with an infusion of weapons the outcome would not be certain. They point out that a massive infusion of weapons didn't win the war for the South Vietnamese. There has to be a fighting spirit and knowledge about how to deploy the equipment to its best advantage.

Others point out that it is difficult to control the use of the arms once they have been supplied. It would be difficult to determine the types and numbers of weapons that should be provided. Then there is the dilemma about what to do if the Bosnians misuse the weapons (for example on civilians) or in a worst case, go on the offensive and take the war to Serbia, notably in the Sandjak region.

From the U.S. administration's point of view, the biggest concern is the impact such a move would have on international cooperation in enforcing other arms embargoes, especially on Iraq. They also believe that if the West provides weapons to Bosnia, Russia and other nations will start supplying the Serbs (via Belgrade) with arms. This could touch off an arms race, not only among the warring factions, but also spreading to other parts of the Balkans. No one wants to see more weaponry introduced to this unstable region.

It has been hard to gain support for lifting the embargo. The UN and other humanitarian agencies are philosophically opposed to the move on ethical grounds and cannot be counted on to lobby for it. Some groups have proposed attacking the embargo on legal grounds. However, even if it was declared illegal in court, there is little will on the part of the administration to actually supply weapons in the face of allied opposition.

All of the above suggests that getting the requisite support and lifting the embargo will be a long process -- and time is running out for the Bosnians. An alternate approach is needed.


Rather than providing new weapons, a viable alternative would be to reduce the Serbs' qualitative advantage by prohibiting them from using certain heavy weapons, namely tanks and self-propelled guns. (At a later date, the ban could be extended to towed artillery above a certain calibre, if necessary.)

The BSA would simply be given a demarche to move all tracked weapons to designated parking areas and to leave them unattended except for small guard details. The sites would be on open, flat terrain easily observed from the air. No UN or international observers would be sent; all monitoring would be done from above using aircraft, remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) or satellites. After the deadline for parking the weapons expired, any gun found outside the parking areas would be subject to attack without warning.

Why tracked vehicles and not other types of heavy weapons? First, they are the heart of the Serbs' formations and the key to the BSA's mobility. Take them away and the Bosnians numerical advantage in infantry comes into play. The Serbs would still retain their advantage in artillery and large mortars, but it would be less important (and virtually unimportant in the existing exclusion zones).

Second, tracked vehicles are the easiest to monitor. They are large, hot, noisy machines. They leave tracks when they move and need fuel and a variety of attendant vehicles -- all of which help give away their position. They are harder to conceal than artillery and normally their engines must be running in order to shoot. They are easier to spot from the air than other types of heavy weapons and when they are moving, they often outrun their anti-aircraft protection.

For these reasons, prohibiting the use of tracked vehicles is a good place to start; if necessary, other types of weapons systems could be added once the monitoring system has been worked out


Many factors favor this approach. First, it's do-able. It is within the technological capabilities of NATO to enforce and is a powerful political-military statement. Furthermore, prohibiting such weapons in this conflict would be militarily significant and go a long way in meeting the objective of "leveling the playing field."

The results would be instantaneous. No time would be lost waiting for arms to arrive. There would be no delivery hassles such as arranging transit or landing rights, and no diversions to other parties (i.e., the Croats). Furthermore, the outcome would be apparent immediately. At the same time, there would be an overall reduction in the level of violence on the battlefield and in corresponding civilian casualties.

By decreasing the number and size of weapons it would be easier to attract support for the approach. Few would be willing to argue against arms reduction. UN, human rights organizations, and arms control groups are likely to give wide support and it should be favored by relief agencies. The UN would not feel compelled to withdraw their forces or humanitarian workers -- previously, they remained after the No-fly Zone was implemented.

If the weapons were initially frozen for a specific, limited but renewable time frame, e.g., for four months, it would put pressure on both sides to come to the conference table immediately and would send a subtle warning to the Bosnians not to try to take unlimited advantage of the change of circumstances.

The approach implicitly works against intervention by Serbia. Supplying more tanks would only increase the potential material losses and costs to Serbia. The JNA would probably not increase the delivery of other large weapons knowing that the allies could simply add them to the list of prohibited weapons.

From a long-term view, the approach offers some significant advantages. It limits arms and discourages an arms race in the region. It helps promote compliance with the existing arms embargo (and doesn't undercut embargo enforcement in other areas). Perhaps most importantly, it establishes a precedent for controlling conflicts in other post-Cold War conflicts -- it stresses control without confrontation among major powers.


All enforcement of the ban would be through air power. In the Safe Areas, the existing NATO and UN rules of engagement regarding protection of populations and UNPROFOR troops under threat would remain in force. Outside designated safe areas, pilots would be able to select and recommend targets of opportunity to a dedicated UN coordinator who would clear action with UNPROFOR's B-H Commander. Enforcement would not have to be direct -- equipment and supplies linked to tracked vehicles, such as fuel depots, could also be threatened. (Discretionary, not mandatory, attacks would be in accordance with existing UN policy but would still be a powerful threat.)


A complementary, or even alternative, means of encouraging Serb compliance with the demarche would be for the U.S. Congress to propose supplying the Bosnians with anti-tank weapons if the Serbs continued to use tanks. For the first time, a selective lifting of the embargo would be directly linked to their behavior. This is a message they would understand.


This approach is both cost-effective and low risk compared to other alternatives. Monitoring can be done by air. (UNPROFOR could be provided with earlier generation surveillance equipment such as small RPVs to handle a portion of the weapons site monitoring.) No ground troops are required and the "targets of opportunity" approach reduces the likelihood of Serb anti-aircraft ambushes such as the one in Gorazde. If attacks were necessary, the targets are ideal for precision-guided weapons that can be fired from relatively safe distances.

Limiting the use of arms in this way is compatible with existing UN resolutions ordering the Serbs to place their heavy weapons under UN control in the safe areas and agreements reached in 1992 whereby the Serbs agreed to place their artillery under UN control. (Those agreements were never honored nor enforced.) It's also in accordance with the UN Secretary General's June 26, 1992 instructions to the Serbs to place their heavy weapons under UN control.

But most important, limiting the use of these weapons could have a major, quick impact on balancing power among the opposing forces. If it doesn't bring the Serbs to the peace table, it could at least equalize the fight while reducing the levels of violence. And unlike supplying weapons, if the Bosnians pressed their attacks beyond a permissible point or refused to come to the peace table, it would be easy to put direct pressure on them.

For these reasons, this approach should receive the highest consideration.

F.C. Cuny

4 May 1994

home .  who killed fred cuny .  map of cuny's world .  from his laptop .  on the life .  his radio interviews .  special reports .  friends & colleagues .  links .  viewer discussion .  press reaction .  tapes & transcripts
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
PBS Online