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Fact Sheet: NATO Involvement in the Balkan Crisis

Prepared by the Department of State, Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs, May 9, 1997.

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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 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.

In July 1995, after the Bosnian Serbs overran the UN safe area of Srebrenica and surrounded 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 1995, after 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 and artillery campaign to date, using the new authority and improved procedures agreed to in London. The 15-day 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 1995, 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. A comprehensive cease-fire agreement was signed on October 5, 1995. NATO then 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.

A General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, brokered by the United States and its Contact Group partners, was initialed by the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on November 21.

The agreement, which provided for NATO to establish IFOR to ensure compliance with the military aspects of the agreement, was signed in Paris on December 14, 1995.

On December 5, NATO's Foreign and Defense Ministers jointly endorsed OPLAN 10405 ("Joint Endeavor"), the military plan for IFOR, setting the stage for the largest military operation in NATO's history. NATO commanders moved quickly and forcefully to establish a military presence in Bosnia, and IFOR was declared operational with its headquarters in Sarajevo on December 20. All remaining UNPROFOR forces were transferred to IFOR or withdrawn. IFOR's main body of almost 60,000 troops, from all 16 NATO allies and 16 other non-NATO countries including Russia, was fully deployed by mid-February, an unprecedented accomplishment in the middle of a harsh Balkan winter.

Even as the deployment continued, IFOR moved rapidly to accomplish its primary missions including enforcement of the cease-fire, the separation of forces from the former warring parties, and the withdrawal of forces and heavy weapons to designated areas. By mid-April, these key missions had been accomplished, and all parties were either in compliance with the military aspects of the agreement or were moving toward compliance with the assistance of IFOR. NATO commanders established Joint Military Commissions which held regular meetings with military commanders from the former warring parties to discuss ground rules, work through problems, and build confidence among the parties.

By May 1996, while continuing to monitor and enforce compliance on key mission areas, IFOR was able to shift resources and emphasis to establishing a secure environment throughout Bosnia to facilitate implementation of the civilian aspects of the peace agreement. A key part of this effort was to establish freedom of movement by removing roadblocks and checkpoints and assisting in rebuilding the transportation infrastructure including bridges, rail lines, and roads. The parties continue to cooperate with IFOR on compliance; the greatest threat to IFOR troops remains that posed by land mines laid during the war.

From now until IFOR's mandate expires at the end of 1996, NATO will be working with those agencies responsible for civilian implementation to establish a track record of accomplishments that will outlast IFOR's departure, including free and fair elections, return of refugees, arms control and regional stabilization, and economic reconstruction.

[end of document]

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