Things Fall Apart

February 02, 1993

All attempts to restrain the conflict in Yugoslavia have been mocked by the participants. The position of the United Nations is becoming untenable. Those who are protected by peace-keeping and food-convoying troops are unlikely to be protected much longer. The cost of intervention, which prohibited European countries from going to the rescue before, has just gone up.

A year's truce in Croatia was destroyed when President Franjo Tudjman threw his forces against the secessionist Serb militia under U.N. protection in Krajina. Croatian Serbs, in turn, raided arms from U.N. safekeeping and blew holes in the Peruca dam. The 1991 Serbian-Croatian war is on again, even without participation of the federal Yugoslav army, and the U.N. troop commander on the spot wonders about pulling out.

In Bosnia, Serbian assaults on Sarajevo and Muslim counter-attacks brought renewed pressure for U.S. enforcement of the no-fly zone against Serbian aircraft. But this is not as clear-cut an option as it seemed to candidate Bill Clinton. The air is not essential to Serbian prospects for crushing the Muslims. Attacks on Serbian aircraft might bring reprisals against U.N. troops who are mostly British and French. They might quit escorting food convoys to beleaguered Muslim towns. The net result of a U.S. gesture to protect the Muslims could be worse suffering for them.

On the Danube, barges bring oil to Serbia through U.N. sanctions. Enforcement by Romania and Bulgaria and Ukraine runs from lax to non-existent. Serbian barge captains threaten to unload oil cargoes in the river if stopped, practicing eco-terrorism against host countries. In New York, the U.N. Security Council worries about its authority.

In Serbia, the December election victory by Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and its allies has been followed by a purge of moderates and intellectuals from the media and cultural institutions. The voice of independent thought in Serbia is stilled. (In Croatia, it does not exist.) That ends the last hope for Serbian protests to end Serbian atrocities.

In Kosovo, ethnic Albanians have been driven from all positions of authority, but not as yet from their homes. That is probably awaiting stable cease-fires in Bosnia and Croatia to free Serbian troops. When it does occur -- as it must under the nationalist ideology driving Serbia -- the Islamic world will be on fire.

Only a unified European intervention can halt the madness in Yugoslavia. No American policy is going to have positive effect in the absence of European unity. The European Community endorses the division of Bosnia into ten provinces, while the warring Bosnians don't. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who asked Americans "to lower your expectations in terms of timing," has to work on the European governments before he can even think of influencing the various Yugoslavs.

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