After Somalia, Bosnia?

December 10, 1992

With U.S. troops ashore in Somalia on a humanitarian missio that tugs at the world's heart, the unfolding tragedy in Bosnia becomes ever more poignant, more insistent, more urgent. For eight months -- mostly warm-weather months -- Bosnian Serbs with encouragement from Belgrade have unleashed a campaign "ethnic cleansing" against their Muslim neighbors that a series of United Nations resolutions has been powerless to stop. Now winter is setting in, and all too soon scenes of snow-bound suffering will provide vivid contrast to the searing deprivations of Somalia.

Yet what is to be done? Former Secretary of State George Shultz advocates the bombing of Serbian artillery emplacements around Sarajevo and other besieged Muslim-held centers. Adm. Jacques Lanade, head of the French general staff, urges shoot-down enforcement of the U.N. ban against Serbian flights over Bosnia. Turkey, Pakistan and other Muslim countries want a partial lifting of the arms embargo to funnel weapons to their fellow-religionists in Bosnia. Gen. Aly Abdul Razek, chief U.N. peacekeeper in Sarajevo, calls for a one-month deadline after which there would be massive military intervention.

Yet which governments are to provide the men and the muscle for a crack-down on the Serbs? Not the Bush administration. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney suggested last week that he does not consider Bosnia do-able -- politically, militarily and economically. And without this country taking the lead, according to the current international mantra, the post-Cold War world is paralyzed.

This has been the case with our NATO partners. Haunted by the Holocaust, by memories of how World War I began, Europe is nevertheless failing the test because of domestic and regional hurdles.

Today defense chiefs of NATO, worried about a widening Balkan war, will get together for another look-see at distasteful options. They will find, we believe, that the humanitarian precedents unfolding in Somalia are making minimalist policies in Bosnia less acceptable to a global TV audience.

Perhaps Serbia will vote in a more peaceful government December 20. The odds are against it and the election, ironically, provides the excuse for another 10-day delay. Meanwhile, Bosnian Serbs play cruel games, cutting off the road to Sarajevo airport one day and opening it the next, or offering the 300,000 inhabitants of Sarajevo safe exit so the Olympian city can fall into their hands.

Such tactics mock the United Nations and affront human sensibilities. The world tried to avert its eyes from Somalia but could not. Bosnia presents more dangers, more complications, more difficulties. But can it be denied much longer?

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