Aid for Bosnia

August 13, 1992

The threat to use armed force to deliver food and medicine to victims of the Bosnian war is doing some good. One sign was the agreement to allow mothers and children to leave Sarajevo unmolested. The defensiveness of Serbian authorities about reports of starvation, torture and murder in their detention camps appears to be ameliorating conditions in camps. All this is accomplished before the U.N. Security Council votes today on a U.S.-sponsored resolution authorizing "all measures necessary" for humanitarian aid.

These small gains do not mean the atrocities of "ethnic cleansing" are ended. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees can spotlight the Serbian local authorities' planned forcible eviction of 28,000 Muslims from northwest Bosnia -- but cannot prevent it. The doctrine of ethnic cleansing, which includes the detention and starvation of military-aged men, is reminiscent of Nazi-era atrocities. It has no place in a civilized world.

Lest Americans think to prevent aggression by rushing in to stop it, a general dispatched from the Pentagon told Congress the humanitarian mission would take 60,000 to 120,000 ground troops, and that imposing a cease-fire would require 400,000. That is more than this or any other nation is willing to send, or to fund.

The prohibitive cost does not cancel the harm of doing nothing. If the Serbian state can seize land it covets, evict and murder non-Serbs who stand in the way -- just because it possesses most of the old Yugoslav war machine -- then any hungry regime is tempted to do the same.

This aggression has much in common with Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. The moral argument for rolling back one applies as much to the other. There are two key differences, neither of them moral: (1) It would be harder to do in Bosnia, and (2) U.S. interests, such as world oil supply, are not directly threatened.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic should be left in no doubt that his nation will be ostracized in every way while this aggression lasts. There can be no hiding this from the Serbian people. It must be impressed upon those apologists who pretend that the removal of Mr. Milosevic would dissipate objections to his policies.

Just because Americans won't throw the national treasure into a Balkan mountain war that cannot be won does not mean the Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia (with the Albanians of Kosovo next) is acceptable. There are other kinds of force and suasion, and they should be used to the fullest, even if it takes longer.

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