Belgrade -- THE chorus of American voices calling for $H...

Misha Glenny

April 30, 1993|By Misha Glenny

Belgrade -- THE chorus of American voices calling for $H intervention against Serbia continues to swell, with influential Democrats such as Sen. Joseph Biden echoing Republican criticism of President Clinton's cautious approach.

Even Boris Yeltsin chimed in on Tuesday, warning the Serbs, "The time has come for decisive measures to quell the conflict."

But those who seek quick retribution for atrocities should appreciate that military action directed solely at Serbs in Bosnia will unleash a wider war across the Balkans. What might America gain from military strikes or lifting the arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims?

First, a cathartic sense of righteousness would spread among those who would believe that a policy of appeasement had been overturned and that the U.S. had grasped the world's moral leadership.

Second . . . well, there is no second. The administration has no policy to enforce other than a grudging commitment to the Vance-Owen plan for 10 more or less ethnically defined provinces.

L Would intervention get the Serbs to sign on the dotted line?

Not according to the senior NATO commander in Europe, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who has said: "Bombing limited targets -- artillery posi tions, for instance is more difficult than people think. There is also no guarantee that such an act would bring a party to the negotiating table."

More important, nobody hopes more fervently that American bombs will fall than the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic. Contrary to the simplistic argument that America's caution has aided his campaign to expand Serbia, American intervention would strengthen him by fulfilling his prophecy that the whole American intervention would probably ignite a war in Kosovo.

world is ranged against Serbia.

It would also give free reign to the grisly fantasies of his ultra-nationalist ally, Vojislav Seselj, a member of the Serbian Parliament who is also a commander of Serbian irregular troops responsible for atrocities in Bosnia and whom the United States has listed as a possible war criminal.

American intervention would probably ignite a war in Kosovo. It would give Mr. Seselj, who controls a third of the seats in the Serbian parliament, license to fulfill his dreams of "cleansing" Kosovo of Albanians.

3# Western military action against the Serbs would embolden radical Albanians to take up arms. Under the admirable leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, most Albanians in Kosovo have advocated peaceful resolution of their disputes with the Serbs. But U.S. intervention would imperil his position and strengthen ethnic Albanians who countenance war. war began in Kosovo, most observers agree, it would spread to neighboring Macedonia, signaling the start of the next Balkan war.

I am as revolted by the beastial behavior of Bosnian Serbian forces as anyone. But the Balkan warfare is a complex and protracted struggle over two key issues: minority rights and territorial control.

So far, only the Vance-Owen plan has recognized the complexity of the situation. Any solution will require many years of patient diplomacy. If the United States wants to intervene now, it should attempt only to create safe havens for civilians. But it must protect the civilians of all three communities.

It may be satisfying from inside the Beltway to demand a quick fix by bombers. For those of us who live and work in the Balkans, things look a little different.

We know that a bombing of the Serbs will let loose a sea of

blood in which southeastern Europe will drown.

Misha Glenny is author of "The Fall of Yugoslavia," which received the Overseas Press Club award for foreign affairs writing on Tuesday.

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