U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Europe and Canada Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/11/01 Fact Sheet--Bosnia: NATO Involvement in the Balkan Crisis
Bureau of Public Affairs


NATO Involvement in the Balkan Crisis

Throughout the Balkan crisis, NATO has undertaken a variety of activities in support of UN peacekeeping operations.

In July 1992, NATO established a joint naval operation with the Western European Union to patrol the Adriatic to help enforce the UN's economic sanctions regime against Serbia.

In the fall of 1992, the UN established a "no-fly" zone over Bosnia; in early 1993, NATO agreed to enforce it.

In June 1993, NATO announced it would provide close air support to UN peacekeepers who came under attack. In August, NATO declared its readiness to respond with air strikes, in coordination with the UN, in the event that UN safe areas, including Sarajevo, came under siege. This decision temporarily ended the strangulation of Sarajevo.

In February and April 1994, in response to renewed Bosnian Serb attacks on safe areas, including a brutal attack on a Sarajevo market, NATO established heavy-weapons-free zones around Sarajevo and Gorazde. Shelling of the Bihac safe area at the end of the year prompted NATO to expand its range of targets to include locations within Serb-held areas of Croatia.

NATO fighters provided close air support and engaged in air strikes on several occasions in 1994 at the request of the UN. NATO and UN commanders both had to agree before air operations could be carried out. This arrangement, known as the "dual key," resulted in differences between the organizations over the threshold for military action and limited the effectiveness of air strikes.

In 1993, when it appeared that a settlement proposal offered by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen might be accepted by the sides, NATO undertook planning for troop deployments to implement peace. NATO's plan, known as OPLAN 40103, was never finalized, as Bosnian Serb rejection of the peace plan, coupled with renewed fighting, rendered the chances for settlement remote.

In mid-1994, in response to a request from the UN, NATO began contingency planning for withdrawal of UNPROFOR troops, should the situation on the ground prevent them from carrying out their mission. This plan was known as OPLAN 40104.

On many occasions, President Clinton and other senior officials have expressed U.S. commitment to participation as appropriate in OPLAN 40103 and 40104. Emphasizing they would welcome Congressional support, Administration officials have long made clear that failure to take part in major Alliance efforts would weaken NATO cohesion and strain transatlantic relations.

In July 1995, after the Bosnian Serbs overran the UN safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa, the United States, with some of our Allies, the Russians, and others, attended a Ministerial-level conference in London. The London Conference (together with subsequent NATO decisions) simplified the procedures for conducting air strikes, reduced the complications of the dual key mechanism, and greatly expanded the targets available for strikes.

In August, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked the Sarajevo safe area and rejected UN and NATO conditions for a heavy weapons withdrawal, NATO undertook its most intense air campaign to date, using the new authority and improved procedures agreed to in London. The month-long Allied campaign made clear to the Bosnian Serbs that the international community had no tolerance for violations of UN resolutions. Partly as a result of the strikes, Bosnian Serbs showed greater willingness to participate seriously in peace talks.

By September, as a result of the air strikes, changes on the ground regionally, and progress made by the President's negotiating team, it appeared once again that a settlement might be possible. NATO renewed its planning for peace implementation. In October, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved a concept of operations for deployment of an implementation force (IFOR) into Bosnia should a peace settlement be reached.

NATO military authorities are now refining concepts for the IFOR, including its tasks, size, and cost. A final plan will depend on the details of the peace agreement. When military planning is finished, national governments will make decisions on troop numbers and financial contributions, and the NAC will give its final approval to the IFOR.

November 1995 (###)

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