Clinton's First Foreign Crisis

November 19, 1992

Although Yugoslavia was not a priority issue on Bill Clinton's agenda, it will be soon. A Balkan war -- an international war of Muslim against Christian countries -- is rushing forward, possibly before Inauguration Day. Only Western action and warnings to Serbian aggressors can prevent it.

The United Nations Security Council's call for a blockade in the Adriatic Sea and on the Danube River against Yugoslavia is a moderate step. NATO and Western European Union ships can seal the Adriatic. Romania is refreshingly positive about policing Danube traffic. Other smuggling routes are not covered, notably the Greek port of Salonika and its railroad to Belgrade. Serbia is an economic disaster, but more because of its war policy than sanctions. Goods are getting through which jobless Serbs cannot buy. What the blockade will do is send a message to the aggressor Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, to his opponents and to the moderate figureheads of Yugoslavia.

The agony of Bosnian Muslims grips the conscience of Europe. Yet short of fighting in Bosnia, which no Western nation is willing to do, there is no clear way of saving them. Islamic nations want the embargo lifted to permit arms for the Bosnians. Western nations that will not send troops should at least redouble humanitarian efforts to feed, shelter and provide asylum for displaced Bosnian Muslims.

Much worse will happen if Serbia turns to cleansing the Albanian Muslim majority from Kosovo. That is the supposedly autonomous province of Serbia inhabited 90 percent by Albanians but territorially sacred to Serbian nationalism. Mr. Milosevic's regime has already overthrown Kosovo's leadership. But Albanians have kin in Albania, a backward little country still struggling with its own communist past, and in Macedonia, which is about 30 percent Albanian. Cleansing Kosovo will not be as easy as cleansing Bosnia.

Bosnian refugees are streaming to Macedonia, which declared independence but is poor, landlocked and unrecognized. Countries recognizing Croatia balked at Macedonia because Greece objects. Catholic Relief Services has begun food distribution there. Experts think Serbian atrocities against Albanians will put Macedonia in crisis. Greece and Bulgaria might be tempted to join in its dismemberment. Muslim nations led by Turkey might intervene to defend Albanians.

Many experts advocate a Western military trip wire in Macedonia, such as was not placed in Bosnia, to deter Serbia aggression. A start should be taken in diplomatic recognition of Macedonia. Germany is the country best suited to lead, and to reconcile Greece to that. All action is risky, but no action would pose the gravest risk.

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