All Sides Starve the Bosnians

February 20, 1993

The Clinton administration should urgently explore the possibility of air-dropping emergency food supplies to Muslim communities isolated in Bosnia, now that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has shut down her operation.

The decision by the High Commissioner, Sadako Ogata of Japan, deserves some sympathy. She was protecting the hundreds of international civil servants on her staff who are getting shot at in food convoys and shelled in Sarajevo. She is protesting the blocking of food convoys by Serbs and the grandstanding hold-up of food shipments by the Muslim-led Bosnian government, both in violation of their word.

But Ms. Ogata was also acting unilaterally as head of her own agency, without coordination or even informing Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who overruled her, or the U.N. military commanders in former Yugoslavia or the two peace mediators, Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance.

Meanwhile, Serbian and Muslim participation in the peace talks appears unlikely. Serbian gunners are destroying Sarajevo and will not quit until they have conquered half the city and partitioned it, in the way that both Jerusalem and Berlin were once partitioned. No one in the United Nations or out seems ready to prevent that outcome, which every nation would deplore.

While various Europeans are mumbling about war crimes trials for mass rape -- first they would have to catch the defendants -- nothing gets done. The U.S. is clearly unwilling to act unilaterally or intervene militarily to stop the destruction of Sarajevo, and with it the Muslim population. The U.S., provided risks to its airmen are minimal, should at least get food to those the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees now refuses to supply by truck. One of the main reasons that no Western nation will intervene to stop the Serbs is the clear sympathy for the Serbs in Russia, where the government is moderately pro-Serb and harangued by Russian nationalist opposition that would go much further.

The main responsibility of Reginald Bartholomew, the U.S. envoy to the Bosnian peace talks, is going to be to neutralize Russia, to make sure it appreciates the level of atrocity being committed, to ensure it understands the West's objections to Serbian behavior. Any U.N. action is going to have to survive the threat of Russian veto in the Security Council. If Western powers intervened militarily against Serbia and Russia went to defend Serbia, it would recall the origins of World War I. That won't happen, but the price for its not happening is the mass murder of the Muslim people of Bosnia -- and that will be on the conscience of the West for a very long time to come.

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