Yugoslavia Failure Shows EC Weaknesses

October 20, 1991|By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

Paris -- In their latest push for European political and military unity Wednesday, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had to blow their trumpets loudly. Otherwise, the crash of the European Community's last political debacle in Yugoslavia would have drowned out their music.

True, Serbian and Croatian leaders had reached a cease-fire agreement in Moscow, and the now defunct eight-man Yugoslav presidency sat down for talks in the Hague. But the Moscow ceasefire was the ninth since the fighting started, the Hague ceasefire a tenth -- grim indications that it may well take an eleventh or even twentieth before the parties will really be ready to lay down their guns.

Another troubling sign: the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which borders the warring sides, declared its independence the same day the Moscow accord was signed. This was largely seen as a move to prevent its being carved up between the Serbs and Croats should the two settle their differences.

One could easily argue that the problem of Yugoslavia's breakup is so intractable -- and inevitable -- that no matter how well-coordinated and united the EC's 12 members, they could have done little to keep the country from war.

In that case, they may have done better not to tackle the conflict prematurely. By proclaiming a role for itself in brokering a peace effort, and then standing by as observers while Serbian forces seized a third of Croatia's territory and more than 1,000 people died, the EC further damaged its credibility as an effective political force in Central Europe.

The failure in Yugoslavia is particularly troubling for the Community, since it comes after the EC's embarrassing breakdown of unity in the days before the Gulf War. The Yugoslav conflict, exploding in Western Europe's backyard and with minimal American involvement, was the EC's big chance to find a European solution to a European problem.

Instead, it floundered.

The Community appeared originally divided, as France insisted on keeping Yugoslavia intact while Germany flirted with recognizing the breakaway republics of Slovenia and Croatia. Division became paralysis when the EC-brokered peace initiatives proved little more than short-lived breaks before the next round of shooting. Finally, some wondered if the EC would have done better to sit this one out.

"We missed our first rendezvous with history," lamented Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations here. "The EC was not prepared, and did not have the means, to handle this kind of a conflict."

The fighting proved impossible to stop, firstly, because of the imbalance between rebel Croatia and the federal army it defied. Without relative parity, and with no sign that any outside country would intervene on Croatia's behalf, Belgrade had little incentive to cede Croatian or Slovenian independence.

Secondly, the 12 themselves were divided in both their diagnosis of the problem and solutions.

France, mindful of its Corsican and Basque separatist dilemma, maintained that Yugoslavian unity was essential. More importantly France feared that the breakup of Yugoslavia would lead to chaos in Central Europe.

"That chaos would lead to a new order and that would mean a German order," Mr. Moisi underscored.

The French shifted when any other course became foolish, conceding that Yugoslavia could no longer remain united. It was only last week that French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas finally admitted what had become obvious to even casual observers: "Yugoslavia no longer exists in its original form," he said in a speech before the National Assembly.

Germany, whose 700,000-strong Yugoslav community is 80 percent Croatian, lent strong moral support to Slovenia and Croatia. German newspapers reported last week that Bonn had still not ruled out a go-it-alone policy in recognizing the two northern republics.

But checked perhaps by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's readiness to bring up Nazi Germany's 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia, Bonn has stopped short of providing open financial and material support to Slovenia and Croatia.

London, ever wary of EC political union and fearful of getting mired in another Northern Ireland, has steadfastly blocked any European Community military mission to Yugoslavia, and will likely continue to do so.

"Each European country has pursued its own national policy in the name of settling the Yugoslav crisis," said Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based research group.

A group of experts on Yugoslavia, meeting here last week, agreed too much time had been lost. The conflicts between Yugoslavia's ethnic groups, they expected, would multiply into deeper and more frequent clashes.

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