The Case of Intervention

The Background

The Balkans situation threatens to spin out of control. Ethnic cleansing by Serb forces has resumed at a ferocious pace after the withdrawal of NATO forces and the breakdown of the "troika" government. Other than Sarajevo, only three major Muslin enclaves still exist, to which much of the surviving Muslim population has fled. Major Serb assaults are about to be launched against all three, each of whom contain more than half a million civilian refugees in addition to the outmanned Muslim forces. The Serbs claim that they have are now the legitimate governmental authority for all of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Muslims have been receiving arms, however, and in large quantities from Arab states that have decided they can no longer stand by while Islam is under attack. In addition, a Turkish relief column carrying food was ambushed and destroyed by Serb forces a week ago. In response, the Turkish Air Force has begun border flights with periodic strikes against Serb targets across the border deemed to be "threats" to Turkish activities.

President Yeltsin, pressed to the wall by conservative elements, has recognized the "new" Serb government and announced that persecution of Russia's Serb brothers will not be tolerated. Russian forces have been alerted for action if the arms flow from the Arab states is not cut off. The Islamic states not only refuse to terminate arms shipments, they declare that if the Serb offensive is launched against the enclaves, they will declare a jihad and provide combat elements to defend against further infidel atrocities.

The Problem

If some deflection of ongoing events does not occur, war of uncertain proportions appears likely to spread well beyond the Balkans. The only apparent move that might forestall such developments would be direct and immediate American military involvement. Because of terrain and logistical difficulties, the only American unit that could respond immediately to the crisis is the airborne battalion in Vicenza, Italy. Serb assault elements must move through a rugged series of passes to reach the Muslim enclaves. European governments have asked the United States to send forces to block the passes. They maintain that the Serbs will not go so far as to overrun American forces.

The Meeting

Assembled is the "council of deputies," the informal planning group that advises the "principals." Present are representatives of State, DOD, CIA, Justice, and the NSC. The group must recommend a course of action to the principals this afternoon, who will in turn give the President a recommendation tomorrow morning. The State Department representative insists that we must prevent the spread of the war, hinting darkly of Russia's decimated combat forces and its inevitable reliance on its remaining nuclear capability if events get out of hand. The CIA representative advises that the Serbs are unlikely to provoke a full military response from the US--she says send the battalion to the passes. The NSC representative declares that the President will want to avoid the kind of entanglement that will derail his developing domestic program--any sizable military involvement would certainly do that. Justice opposes involvement because of the threat of domestic terrorist activity if the US becomes directly involved. A number of Serb activists have established cells in North America that are quite capable of widespread terrorist action. The DOD representative argues that intervention will sacrifice American soldiers solely for murky political purposes. He declares that both the SecDef and the JCS Chairman oppose using the airborne battalion as a tripwire, arguing that if intervention is to take place, it should be on a massive scale that ensures success. He further points out the time to do that has passed--we cannot get adequate forces to the area in time to save the Muslim enclaves. State retorts that if the battalion is overrun, we can justify introducing massive air power that will save the Muslims. If the Serbs back off, we will save the Muslims and prevent the spread of the war. He argues forcefully that intervention makes sense whatever the outcome. No one has raised the issue of legality.


1. This is the council of deputies. We have no specific roles.

2. We must make a recommendation concerning intervention to the principals.