Needed: A goal in Bosnia

A.M. Rosenthal

February 03, 1993|By A.M. Rosenthal

THE United Nations Security Council will be meeting in New York to talk about Bosnia. It should be meeting in Sarajevo.

For its entire existence, almost a half-century, the council that is charged with dealing with peace-or-war crises has not picked itself up to see one. The delegates have stayed rooted to their chairs and chamber, never seeing one drop of blood, never hearing one scream.

No decent human who has seen or heard a people in agony can be the same afterward.

The change in the delegates would seep through the dispatches of the delegates to the foreign offices that instruct them. At least they would have tried.

Possible site: Somewhere near the plaza I saw in December and where the other day men and women lay dead, various body parts scattered by Serbian shell fire.

Yes, I know it is unlikely that delegates so long anchored on the East River will order up U.N. planes and hold meetings on Bosnia in Bosnia.

I bring it up because the proposals for a settlement put forward by Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen add up to the best deal the battered Muslims of Bosnia are likely to get. But the plan would make continuous on-the-spot attention by outsiders more important than ever -- military, political and personal.

The first barrier to a better settlement for Bosnian Muslims is that it would mean full Western military involvement in the Balkan war -- and on the ground, not just up in the air.

That means America. Without U.S. forces, Europe will not fight what it should have made its own battle.

If President Clinton wants to go to war in the Balkans, he will have to tell Americans his goals and solutions.

That is the second barrier. Even a military victory would not provide a political solution.

If the goal is to establish boundaries or regimes that would end the root cause of war in Yugoslavia -- homicidal hatred among Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Macedonians, Slovenes -- dream on.

That has not been achieved by centuries of foreign or domestic )) rulers in rich variety.

To try to impose that goal now would involve the U.S. in a hard war and years of occupation.

Bosnia has not been sovereign since the Turkish conquest in the mid-15th century. The Turks made converts of some Serbs and Croats living there -- forefathers of the people now killing each other.

But in 1992 Bosnian Muslims, then something less than half the population, saw independence as the only way to escape brutalization within a union with Serbs.

Their fears were not fantasies. And after Bosnian secession, the Serbian "ex"-communist leaders who had become born-again nationalists slaughtered, raped and expelled Muslims.

For cruelty its like has not been seen even in Europe -- except maybe once every couple of decades.

Western rhetoric hinting more than it could deliver adds to the cruelty.

The Vance-Owen plan is cumbersome -- a Bosnia separated administratively into Muslim, Croat and Serbian areas, and a jointly run Sarajevo. It may not work. And it does not strip the Serbs of all gains.

But: It conceivably could save Muslim society in Bosnia before it is destroyed, therefore hold out some hope of rebuilding it, and avoid hugely expanding the war for the goal of Balkan ethnic and religious harmony that is unobtainable now.

If the Western goal is what it should be -- to save and protect Muslims so that they can live honorably in Bosnia and not just die there -- a strong U.N. military presence will be needed, indefinitely.

The Vance-Owen plan would permit that force, which should be strong enough to relieve and protect Muslim population centers. That would still carry the risk of more war, but at least the political goal is reasonably attainable. Almost as important as military presence would be a constant flow of Western civilian witnesses -- politicians, clergymen, intellectuals, everybody who cares whether people are murdered in their own plazas.

In the end, I suppose, the peoples of what was Yugoslavia have to hold themselves and their leaders responsible for not surrendering their hatreds, and so being unable to live in peace with their own cousins, together or separately.

For all nations with more than one history, face or religion, that is the result of demanding the satisfactions of diversity without paying the price -- the restraints of unity.

A. M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.