When Cowardice Unites with Good Intentions

WILLIAM PFAFF

April 08, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- The shots first fired in Sarajevo, a year ago this week, were rifle-fire directed by Serbian militants against a mass demonstration by Serbs, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims demanding that their city not succumb to the madness of ethnic partition -- that the three communities go on living together, as until then they had successfully done.

A year later, hate is installed nearly everywhere. The United Nations, to save lives from what it judges an impending slaughter, is itself conducting the ethnic cleansing of Srebrenica, evacuating refugees of that Muslim town, against the objection of the Bosnian authorities, before it falls to Serbian forces. The Bosnian Serbs, their forces structured by the Serbian secret police, and enjoying Serbian army support, are on the brink of complete success in conquering the Greater Serbia demanded by Serbian nationalists since early in this century.

The international community -- meaning the European Community and the United Nations, together with the United States -- has imposed an arms embargo which, without seriously inconveniencing the Serbian side, has kept from the Bosnians the weapons and resources they needed to resist their enemies.

The Western powers now intend to impose on Bosnia a map of ethnic partition and, implicitly, of Serbian and Croatian na tional expansion, drafted by the EC's and United Nations' own special representatives. They are at this moment intensifying pressures on Serbia to force the Bosnian Serbs to accept the victory the Vance-Owen plan awards them.

Having refused to intervene to sanction the threat to minority rights in newly independent Croatia in June 1991, or to block or penalize the military aggression by Serbia that immediately followed, and the atrocious ''ethnic cleansing'' which followed that, the United Nations now contemplates deploying in Bosnia military force on a scale that two years ago could have deterred the horrors Yugoslavia has since experienced.

It does this despite the evident fact that a Bosnia partitioned according to the Vance-Owen plan will be much less stable than the Yugoslav federation whose ethnic explosion produced this war. The plan is an arbitrary and artificial segmentation of the country which none of the communities really accepts. The Bosnian Serbs still overtly oppose the plan; the Muslims covertly do so, but like the Croatians have formally accepted it for tactical reasons.

The U.N. protection force, which, reinforced, is supposed to enforce this partition of Bosnia, has already proved incapable of disarming the militias in the regions of Croatia it now occupies, or of establishing impartial civil authority or policing there. Its mission was to do both, and to resettle in these occupied Croatian territories the refugees driven from their homes in 1991. It has not done so, and no one imagines that it will ever do so in the future. However, the frustrated U.N. soldiers are now demanded to do even more in Bosnia.

It is fantasy to think that even an expanded peacekeeping force in partitioned Bosnia will be able to impose its authority upon Serbian militias who believe themselves cheated in the Vance-Owen settlement, and who remain determined to link up their parts of Bosnia with Serbia itself. It is equally unrealistic to think that U.N. (and U.S.) troops can prevent the usurped Bosnians from terrorist actions and a continuing guerrilla campaign against the Serbian cantons that are to be legally ratified under the Vance-Owen plan.

This is not a plan for peace but at best for an armistice, during which the conquests of the Serbian and Croatian aggressors will formally be recognized by the international community. The United Nations will then attempt to protect the Bosnian Serbs against the continuing effort of their victims to revenge themselves, and to block the Serbian conquerors from extending their holdings. This is a far more daunting and open-ended military assignment than a direct military intervention to halt the aggression would have been a year or two ago.

Then, air and naval retaliation for the Yugoslav National Army's invasion of Croatia, or later arming and supporting the Bosnians to defend themselves, or even active intervention in their support, would have been missions with clear political rationales, and military objectives and limits. A military intervention to impose the Vance-Owen settlement upon a population that is virtually unanimous in rejecting it, is a task without limits or a clear definition of success.

An attempt by an international force to contain military and guerrilla resistance to the Vance-Owen plan is likely to go on much longer, and to involve more casualties, than the Western publics will be willing to tolerate.

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.