Europe's Crisis

August 15, 1991

The collective European effort to clamp a peaceful framework on the Yugoslav dilemma has conspicuously failed, so far, to solve the crisis. It is a success in preventing unilateral interventions at cross purposes that would make matters worse.

Yugoslavia's trauma is Europe's anguish. Europeans dread Yugoslavia's inability to wall in its internal problems. So a bewildering array of European agencies is being put to the test, some in roles for which they were not designed, others in matters of import for which they have never been trusted. The 35-member Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) could never have a single approach. But it is being driven by the Western European powers as the right vehicle for agreements and arrangements. At a CSCE committee meeting, the warring republics of Yugoslavia agreed to a cease-fire process, which they have so far failed to implement.

The European Community (EC) of 12 Western countries is the real power bloc in an economic sense, but has never before mounted a real foreign policy. The EC tried to mediate an intra-Yugoslav agreement, failed and blamed Serbia. Now it will try again. Hans van den Broek, Dutch foreign minister and current EC president, warned that Serbia would be treated as an outlaw state if it alters Yugoslavia's internal borders by force. That is a precedent at which some members must cringe.

The nine-member Western European Union (WEU), a defense organization of no real function, has considered measures and failed to adopt any. Meanwhile, the EC's package of economic sanctions -- offering aid to Yugoslavia, withholding it and re-offering it to republics that behave -- probably has some impact. But Serbs are passionate nationalists unswayed by mere money.

Europe's paralysis is easily explained. Austria feels common cause with Slovenia and Croatia. Germany agrees sentimentally, but sees the need for European unity. (Serbs are quick to point to Austria's former hegemony and Nazi Germany's absorption of Slovenia and creation of a puppet Croatia in the 1940s.) France, beset by nationalisms in Brittany, Corsica and the Basque country, supports the federal principle for Yugoslavia. So do Britain (Scots, Welsh and Ulster Protestant nationalisms), Spain (Catalan and Basque) and the Soviet Union (Yugoslavia writ huge).

Small wonder the Europeans find joint action difficult. They at least refrain from having Germany and Austria intervene in Slovenia's and Croatia's behalf against France and the Soviet Union on the federal side. Now the EC -- and it really is the EC big four, whatever the vehicle used -- must try harder. A mixture of economic carrot and diplomatic stick can make Serbia abandon the military option. Or Europe will have failed.

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