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

U.S. Department of State
95/11/01 Remarks: Strobe Talbott on Bosnia
Office of the Spokesman

Remarks by
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
State Department Town Meeting
November 1, 1995

"Strengthening American Security Through World Leadership
-- Bosnia and Beyond"

On behalf of Secretary Christopher, let me welcome all of you to the Dean Acheson Auditorium.

Let me also thank Chic Dambach and Harry Blaney of the Coalition for American Leadership Abroad for organizing this event. I like the name of that organization, for reasons that I'll come to in a moment.

Over the past nine months, I've attended a number of the Town Hall Meetings that Foreign Policy Associations and World Affairs Councils have sponsored or supported -- in Denver, Dayton, New York, Cleveland, Wilmington, Milwaukee and here in Washington.

I've been particularly impressed by ability of these events to bring together diverse constituencies: ethnic and religious groups, labor unions and business organizations, and civic action groups ranging from the Girl Scouts to the Grey Panthers, from the Sierra Club to the Salvation Army.

I urge all of you to expand these grass-roots efforts.

I can't think of a better way to increase the quantity, and the quality, of the American people's interest in international affairs.

And I can't think of a more important time for meetings like this one, all across America.

I say that because today, twenty blocks from here, up Constitution Avenue, there is an historic national debate under way on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Its outcome will effect the future of America's role in the world.

The Congress is considering legislation that would slash the foreign- affairs budget of our government by almost 20% from last year's levels; and that's on top of a more than 40% decline in real dollars for our foreign-affairs budget over the past decade.

The Senate has proposed cutting more than $600 million -- a whopping 45% -- from our country's annual contributions to international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Other proposed Senate cuts would slash the State Department's operating budget, forcing us to close dozens of embassies and consulates around the world.

Secretary Christopher has expressed his deep concern about the impact of such cuts on the ability of this department to serve you when you travel abroad, or to make it easier for American businesses to engage competitively and profitably in international trade and investment, or to protect our cities against international crime, drug-trafficking, and terrorism.

We are also facing the reluctance of some in Congress to ratify START II and a raft of other important treaties, as well as a refusal to act on a number of important ambassadorial nominations.

Why is all this happening?

The answer, I'm sorry to say, is that it is fashionable in some influential quarters to flirt with ideas that are isolationist in their potential consequence if not in their actual intent.

And why is that?

The reason, I believe, is that with the end of the Cold War, there's no longer a single, clearly identified, global villain, and therefore no longer a single, simple bumper-sticker slogan to explain America's role in the world. Instead, the world is more complex, and therefore so is the case for American engagement and leadership.

There's a resurgence of the view that we can no longer afford to bear the burden of world leadership -- or, to put it differently, that we can now afford to go it alone in this new, more complicated world of ours.

Some legislators have even suggested diverting the money that we now spend on foreign aid to the construction of a giant fence along our borders. Ponder the symbolism of that misguided sense of priorities: the instinct here is to wall us in -- and wall the world out; -- the instinct is to build barriers to ensure that what happens elsewhere, far away or right next door, does not affect us here in the United States.

This view is anathema to President Clinton and his Administration. We believe that if the United States leads, the world will be a safer place for Americans to live, work, travel and trade. We believe that we face historic opportunities -- not just to combat threats and enemies from abroad, but also to build a world that promotes our interests and reflects our ideals.

The flip side of that conviction is just as important: If we do not provide international leadership, then there is no other country on earth that can or will step in and lead in our place as a constructive, positive influence. America is not just another country; we are a global power with global interests; and if we do not lead the way in promoting freedom, peace and prosperity on a global scale, no one else will.

So the American Congress, and the American people, now face some fundamental choices.

At issue is whether we are prepared to do what it takes -- and that means spending what it takes -- to have a foreign policy worthy of our aspirations, our opportunities, and our interests as a world leader -- indeed, as the world leader.

Let me now zero in on a specific region where the choice between engagement and isolation, between leadership and retreat, is particularly stark -- and particularly urgent: that is in the former Yugoslavia.

I want to use the remainder of my remarks to address the question, much in debate, of why we must lead both in the negotiation of a Bosnian peace settlement and in the implementation of an agreement.

Bosnia matters to everyone here today -- and to everyone in this country; it matters because Europe matters to America.

This is not the first time that we've sent our soldiers and diplomats across the Atlantic in a time of crisis, and it probably will not be the last. Three times before in this century we Americans have joined our European Allies in pursuit of a common goal -- twice in hot wars, once in a cold one. Each time we did so for reasons that reflected not just our generosity and our sense of obligation to others, but that also reflected a hard-headed, forward-looking calculation of our own needs and safety.

That same combination of international responsibility and national self- interest underlies our involvement in Central Europe and the Balkans today.

We have made significant and promising strides in meeting several challenges there. To cite just one example: The interim accord reached on September 13 by the governments of Macedonia and Greece was an important step toward reducing suspicions and normalizing relations between those two countries.

But that encouraging development -- indeed, peace throughout the area -- is still threatened by the simmering conflict in the former Yugoslavia. If the fighting in Bosnia resumes, it could lead to an unraveling of all the progress we've seen, and helped bring about, elsewhere in the region. It could plunge the entire area into war.

That clear and present danger has about it an aspect of deja vu. The worst of the 20th century might be said to have begun with a series of bad-news stories datelined Sarajevo more than 80 years ago: the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, followed by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, and all that followed. Now there is a very real danger that we will inadvertently close out the century with gruesome symmetry, by permitting a Third Balkan War.

Such a conflagration could all too easily spread beyond the Balkans.

History and geography have conspired to make Bosnia the most explosive powder keg on the continent of Europe. The Drina River, which flows through the now-famous town of Gorazde and along the border between Bosnia and Serbia, traces one of the world's most treacherous fault lines. The three communities that live there -- Serbs, Croats and Muslims -- bear the legacies of two empires, three religions, and many cultures.

That means if the warfare among them breaks out anew and then continues unabated, it might extend to several points of the compass, drawing in other nations to the north, south and east. Albania could intervene to protect the ethnic Albanians who live in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

Warfare there could unleash a massive flow of refugees into Macedonia, destabilizing that fragile country, and potentially drawing in, on opposite sides, Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies that are also regional rivals.

A widening of the war might also see Hungary tempted to come to the rescue of ethnic Hungarians in the Vojvodina region of northern Serbia.

Bosnia matters outside of Europe as well.

The entire Islamic world, from Morocco to Indonesia, is watching to see how events unfold. Muslims everywhere are waiting to see whether their co-religionists in Bosnia will be accorded the same rights and protections as other Europeans. The answer to that question could have an impact on the future of moderate, pro-Western leaders such as Prime Minister Ciller of Turkey and Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan. Other less friendly forces in the Middle East and Persian Gulf see the Balkans as a target of opportunity. Iran's repeated offer to send "peacemakers" to Bosnia is hardly motivated by altruism.

An ongoing conflict in the Balkans would jeopardize our efforts to promote stability and security in Europe as a whole; it would undermine our ability to consolidate the gains made possible by the triumph of democracy and market economics at the end of the Cold War.

If the fighting in Yugoslavia resumes -- and if it escalates and spreads -- it will put increasing strain on relations between the United States and Russia. A Third Balkan War will undermine both of our overarching objectives in the region. Those two objectives are, first, to promote integration between East and West, and, simultaneously, to contain and deter the forces of disintegration that have been unleashed by the collapse of Communism in the East.

A continuation of the war would also threaten the viability, even the survival, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is the anchor of American engagement in Europe and the linchpin of transatlantic security. We and most of the people of Europe see NATO as the keystone of the architecture of European security. As such, NATO must be as successful in dealing with the new security challenges in Europe as it was in its nearly half-century-long mission of deterring Soviet aggression.

The Alliance can no more ignore the conflagration in the Balkans than an architect can ignore a fire raging in one wing of a building on which he is working.

The United States is the leader of the Alliance.

Therefore the United States must lead in Bosnia.

Merely hoping that the fire there will burn itself out, or that someone else will put it out, is not just wishful thinking -- it would be, if it were the basis of policy, extremely irresponsible and deeply harmful to our interests.

Such an attitude of standing aside and passing the buck would put us in triple jeopardy: it would poison our bilateral relations with Britain, France and other European states who have troops on the ground in Bosnia; it would discredit both the Alliance and our leadership of it; and it would undermine the foundation of a peaceful post-Cold War Europe in which we have much of our own security and prosperity invested.

Leadership cannot be a sometime thing, and it is not cost-free.

If we want to continue to derive the benefits of our unique position -- and they are legion -- we must share with those who follow our lead the costs and risks of engagement -- and sometimes that means of bold action.

And as we ponder those costs and risks, let us also consider those associated with inaction -- particularly inaction, or inadequate action, in the face of systematic atrocities: mass rape, concentration camps, massacres, forced deportations of entire villages.

How many of us, four years ago, had ever heard of Srebrenica? Today it is a household word, and it is not just a place name; it is a synonym for man's inhumanity to man. The Yugoslavs may not have invented the phrase "ethnic cleansing," but they have inscribed it into the glossary of this century -- right there next to "final solution" -- as an administrative euphemism for genocide.

One of the great strengths of our country's foreign policy is that, when it is at its best, it is rooted as solidly in American idealism as it is in American pragmatism. The world continues to look to us for leadership not just because of our economic and military might, but also because, despite our initial reluctance to undertake what George Washington described as "foreign entanglements," we as a people have, at crucial moments, been willing to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing in the Balkans has been especially difficult. There were, for a long time, severe limits on what we, the United States and the International Community, could do to make peace until the parties themselves were prepared to do so.

But there is no question what doing the right thing means today -- and today is surely a crucial moment.

It means using a combination of diplomatic skill and the credible threat of force to keep the parties at the negotiating table; it means deterring them from returning to the battlefield -- and to the killing fields. It means, in short, putting an end to genocide and, to the maximum extent possible, bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

By the way -- this, I believe, is a very important point -- the unacceptability of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, by that or any other name, is not just an issue of moralpolitik; it is also an issue of realpolitik.

The concept of ethnic cleansing captures the practical, concrete essence of the catastrophe that has befallen that troubled and troublesome neighborhood of the global village. Too many leaders of the former Yugoslav republics have tried to define statehood and citizenship and international boundaries in terms of ethnic homogeneity, ethnic purity -- and thus have sought to "purify" or "cleanse" the state of impure elements. Hence the dream of Greater Serbia, which is a nightmare for all non-Serbs, whether they live in Serbia proper or amidst ethnic Serbs in neighboring states. Equally noxious is the dream of an ethnically "pure" Croatia that would deny the legitimate rights of Muslims and ethnic Serbs.

I stress this point because there is more at stake here than just the Balkans.

If aggressive, exclusionary nationalism triumphs in the former Yugoslavia it would be a disaster not only in that region but ominous for the former Soviet empire, where similar dark forces of what might be called Balkanization are vying with those of freedom to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Communist totalitarianism.

If there is to be a post-Cold War peace in Europe -- and not a cold peace, but a real one -- it must be based on the principle of multiethnic, pluralistic democracy. Since the United States is one of the first and certainly one of the greatest examples of that principle, we have a stake in seeing that it ultimately prevails in Europe and elsewhere.

So, ladies and gentlemen, for all these reasons, ending the war in Bosnia is unquestionably in the national interest of the United States.

We have been working toward that objective since the beginning of the Administration, but only recently have our efforts shown real promise.

President Clinton has long pressed for the vigorous use of NATO airpower as a necessary component of peacemaking.

The fall of Srebrenica in early July was a turning point. It galvanized the willingness of the international community to do more to protect the United Nations-designated safe areas and punish continuing Serb aggression. The London Conference in late July streamlined the mechanism for backing diplomacy with real force: no more "dual key," no more pinprick airstrikes.

Seizing the moment, President Clinton undertook a new diplomatic initiative. First Tony Lake, then Dick Holbrooke worked the diplomatic front. Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO warplanes, no longer grounded by the dual key, reinforced more emphatically than before the message that the time had come to stop the killing and start talking about the terms for a lasting political settlement.

Since then, Dick Holbrooke and his team have made real progress. They have worked in close cooperation with the other members of the Contact Group: Britain, France, Germany and Russia, and with the support of other troop-contributing nations.

In early September, the Foreign Ministers of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia agreed on a set of basic principles for a political settlement. Most significantly, each of the parties has accepted the continuation of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single, multi-ethnic state within its current, internationally-recognized borders. Within that state, the parties have agreed that there will be two constituent entities. They have also agreed to work out mechanisms to ensure respect and equality for all of the citizens of Bosnia.

Today, the negotiations move up to the next level. Secretary Christopher, just return on Monday night from the Middle East -- another region that American leadership is helping to move from war to peace. Five hours from now he will welcome the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Representatives of the other Contact Group countries, along with the envoy of the European Union, will be there, too.

Secretary Christopher will present the parties with a draft peace agreement as well as with detailed constitutional and territorial proposals for a future Bosnian state. The package includes a separation-of-forces agreement; a proposal for national elections; and an agreement on the return of refugees.

Obviously, there is still a long way to go.

If -- and it's still a big "if" -- the Dayton talks are successful, and the three heads of state agree on a peace settlement, then the tough work of implementation will begin.

There, too, the United States must lead.

After four years of brutal war, there is, to put it mildly, little trust left among the Muslim, Croat and Serb communities in Bosnia. It will require an armed international presence to give the Parties the confidence that they need to carry out the settlement. The mission of the international force will include verifying, and if necessary enforcing, compliance with the commitments that the Parties will have undertaken in whatever agreement emerges from the Dayton talks.

There is only one organization that can give the Parties the necessary assurance to implement a peace, and it is NATO. That is why President Clinton, President Chirac, Prime Minister Major and other leaders have agreed that if the Parties choose the path of peace, then the United States, France, and the United Kingdom will participate with their Allies in a NATO-led Implementation Force -- "IFOR" for short.

Let me stress, as President Clinton has, that IFOR will be deployed only if the Parties agree to a real peace. Let me also note that although this will be a NATO-led operation, we are also seeking to find ways for other nations that are not members of the Alliance to participate as well. Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Ukraine, Pakistan and Bangladesh have expressed an interest in contributing.

And on Monday of last week, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin reached a landmark agreement: Russian and U.S. forces will participate together in the implementation of a Bosnian peace. Last Friday, Bill Perry and his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, hammered out many of the details. Russia and the United States will each contribute several thousand soldiers to a Special Operations Unit under the command of U.S. Army General George Joulwan. That unit will provide vital engineering, reconstruction, road-building, bridge-repair, mine-clearing and heavy lift services. It represents the most concrete example of U.S.-Russian military cooperation in the post-Cold War era. It is welcome in its own right and also as a precedent for the future.

In conclusion, I would like to return to the issue I put before you at the outset of these remarks: We are, as I said earlier, now in the midst of an historic debate about America's role in the world. Bosnia is one test of where we stand, but there will be many others in the months and years to come.

President Clinton is convinced that the United States has the heart, the brains and the muscle to exercise international leadership, -- and to do so on behalf of our interests and our values. But whether the President's views win out in the end against those who advocate retreat will depend in no small measure on how these questions are debated beyond the floor of the Congress and beyond the Washington beltway. It will depend on how they are addressed in Town Hall Meetings and gatherings such as this one across America.

Which is to say, my colleagues from whom you will be hearing today and I are all counting on you and the groups represented here to make sure that we, as a nation, ask the right questions -- and that we come up with the right answers.

In that spirit, let me now invite you to join me, for whatever time we have left, for a brief discussion of the subjects I've touched on here.

Thank you very much.

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