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Statement on Vetoing Legislation To Lift the Arms Embargo Against Bosnia

August 11, 1995

I am announcing today my decision to veto legislation that would unilaterally lift the arms embargo against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I know that Members of Congress share my goals of reducing the violence in Bosnia and working to end the war. But their vote to unilaterally lift the arms embargo is the wrong step at the wrong time. The American people should understand the consequences of such action for our Nation and for the people of Bosnia.

• First, our allies have made clear that they will withdraw their troops from Bosnia if the United States unilaterally lifts the arms embargo. The United States, as the leader of the NATO Alliance, would be obliged to send thousands of American ground troops to assist in that difficult operation.

• Second, lifting the embargo now could cause the fighting in Bosnia to escalate. The Serbs will not delay their assaults while the Bosnian Government receives new arms and training. Getting humanitarian aid to civilians will only get harder.

• Third, unilaterally lifting the embargo will lead to unilateral American responsibility. If the Bosnian Government suffered reverses on the battlefield, we, and not the Europeans, would be expected to fill the void with military and humanitarian aid.

• Fourth, intensified fighting in Bosnia would risk provoking a wider war in the heart of Europe.

• Fifth, for this bill to become law now would undercut the new diplomatic effort we are currently engaged in, and withdrawal of the United Nations mission would virtually eliminate chances for a peaceful, negotiated settlement in the foreseeable future.

• Finally, unilateral lift would create serious divisions between the United States and its key allies, with potential long-lasting damage to the NATO Alliance.

This is an important moment in Bosnia. Events in the past few weeks have opened new possibilities for negotiations. We will test these new realities, and we are now engaged with our allies and others in using these opportunities to settle this terrible war by agreement. This is not the time for the United States to pull the plug on the U.N. mission.

There is no question that we must take strong action in Bosnia. In recent weeks, the war has intensified. The Serbs have brutally assaulted three of the United Nations safe areas. Witnesses report widespread atrocities: summary executions, systematic rape, and renewed ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Tens of thousands of innocent women and children have fled their homes. And now the Croatian army offensive has created new dangers and dramatically increased the need for humanitarian aid to deal with displaced citizens in the region. But these events also create opportunities.

Along with our allies we have taken a series of strong steps to strengthen the United Nations mission, to prevent further attacks on safe areas, and to protect innocent civilians:

• NATO has decided it will counter an assault on the remaining safe areas with sustained and decisive use of air power. Our response will be broad, swift, and severe, going far beyond the narrow attacks of the past.

• For the first time, military commanders on the ground in Bosnia have been given operational control over such actions, paving the way for fast and effective NATO response.

• And well-armed British and French troops are working to ensure access to Sarajevo for convoys carrying food, medicine, and other vital supplies.

Despite these actions, many in Congress are ready to close the books on the U.N. mission. But I am not—not as long as that mission is willing and able to be a force for peace once again.

I recognize that there is no risk-free way ahead in Bosnia. But unilaterally lifting the arms embargo will have the opposite effects of what its supporters intend. It would intensify the fighting, jeopardize diplomacy, and make the outcome of the war in Bosnia an American responsibility.

Instead, we must work with our allies to protect innocent civilians, to strengthen the United Nations mission, to bring NATO's military power to bear if our warnings are defied, and to aggressively pursue the only path that will end the conflict, one that leads to a negotiated peace.

William J. Clinton, Statement on Vetoing Legislation To Lift the Arms Embargo Against Bosnia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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