Action on Bosnia

February 11, 1993

At last, the United States has moved forcefully into the Bosnian question. The program announced yesterday by Secretary of State Warren Christopher changes the equation on the ground. It creates pressure on the Serbs and the Muslims to accept an amended Vance-Owens plan that would give more space to the Muslims.

In doing this, the Clinton administration has abandoned the assumption that Yugoslavia is a European problem for Europe to resolve. The very heritage and proximity that make it European have made European countries unable, individually or collectively, to handle it. European intervention, as in Germany's recognition of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, made the catastrophe inevitable. Each European country carries baggage from the past.

Germany is pro-Croatian from World War II, when Germany dismembered Yugoslavia and created a Croatian puppet state. This gives, in Serbian eyes, a Nazi taint to the link. Austria's nurturing of Slovenia is imperialist nostalgia. Italy's tilt toward Croatia conjures up Italian domination of the Dalmatian coast. France and Russia are old allies of Serbia. Greece has religious affinity with Serbia. Bulgaria is ethnically linked to Macedonia.

In that confusion of interests, Europe's great achievement in the Yugoslav caldron this time has been not to get sucked in. The United States does not carry such baggage. It brings a credibility to the mediating role that European countries lack.

In sending Reginald Bartholomew into the peace process, President Clinton recognizes the inadequacy of the joint mission of Lord Owen, representing the European Community, and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance for the United Nations. Those gentlemen should not disagree. The implication is that Mr. Bartholomew is to carve a viable future in Bosnia for its Muslims, who on the whole are more urban, educated and middle class than the Bosnian Serbs and Croats. But if the cities where the Muslims live are severed from the countryside, they would have no economic function.

In adding a NATO military commitment -- even one delayed till after a political agreement -- the administration is refusing to accept limitations on its ability to call upon the U.S. military establishment. The differences between President Clinton and the Pentagon are known in the Balkans.

In seeking an international war crimes tribunal to fix blame for atrocities, the Clinton administration takes a risk. It can hardly expect good faith negotiation from Serbian politicians who can see themselves as defendants in such a proceeding. In repudiating initial military intervention, the Clinton administration is trusting that economic sanctions can be made more effective than they have been so far.

The policy outlined by Mr. Christopher is not guaranteed success. But it is a good-faith effort and takes the moral high road, which until now had been lost in the mountain mists of Bosnia. Americans should wish it every success.

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