U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Lopez will take over one of the toughest military jobs in Europe this week when he assumes command of 60,000 NATO-led peacekeeping troops in Bosnia.
Lopez, 56, will walk a frayed tightrope between military force and peaceful intimidation while nursing the country through September elections.
He must also help NATO decide whether to withdraw all troops at year's end as planned or to extend some form of the mission into next year.
Lopez, who joined the Navy as an enlisted man and has risen through the ranks over 36 years, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He will replace retiring U.S. Navy Adm. Leighton Smith as head of NATO's peace implementation force, which includes 18,000 U.S. soldiers around Tuzla.
Although shaky peace has held for seven months in Bosnia, experts say the most difficult task for Lopez is ahead, including international pressure to arrest accused war criminals _ a job NATO commanders insist is not theirs.
Smith and U.S. Army Gen. George Joulwan, Supreme Allied Commander of all NATO forces in Europe, have come under fire along with Western leaders for not arresting alleged war criminals.
Defense Secretary William Perry told reporters recently that Smith had not been pressured to retire.