Relief for Sarajevo

June 30, 1992

International resolve, symbolized by French President Francois Mitterrand's personal visit, appears to have opened Sarajevo Airport for relief missions bringing food and medicine to the beleaguered people of that Bosnian capital.

With United Nations blue helmets from Canada in action, there is a risk of conflict with regular Serbian forces. The likelihood, however, is that the tripwire show of force will intimidate the Yugoslavian army and Serbian irregulars from firing. If they do fire, the allies had better be prepared for contingencies involving air power to protect the airlift. They cannot have embarked on even this limited intervention without this realization.

Relief is urgently needed where the Serbian invasion of Bosnia-Herzegovina constitutes a major atrocity by Serbian Yugoslavia against the other peoples of what used to be the same country. But humanitarian success, even with the wording of the Security Council resolution calling for cease-fire compliance, would not end the Serbian invasion. The Europeans and North Americans have not committed themselves to throwing the Serbs out of Croatia and Bosnia. With the Persian Gulf war as precedent, however, they have edged closer.

This is primarily a European problem requiring European leadership. President Mitterrand's visit was key because France had initially opposed independence and favored federal Yugoslavia. He was now demonstrating French abhorrence of Serbian atrocities and sympathy for the Bosnian victims. He was also stealing a bit of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's thunder in a one-upmanship subtext to Franco-German solidarity. With that leadership, U.S. logistical power belongs there as well.

This should not lead to a quick assault on Serbian positions in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. The aim of protecting Yugoslavian lives would turn into shedding them. Any such endeavor would not be quick and easy. The terrain favors guerrillas. Signs are that the international embargo against truncated Yugoslavia is working. The massive demonstrations in Belgrade for the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic are one sign of it. This should be a war of nerves to back the Serbs out of their invasion, not some other kind of war to that end. And the sooner the humanitarian flights get into Sarajevo, the better.

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