Wrong Goals Lead to Wrong Results in Bosnia

May 02, 1993|By ROBERT M. HAYDEN

Aleading member of the Democratic opposition in Serbia more troubled than any Western leader could be by the lack of good options for ending the war in Bosnia, recently remarked sadly that "the West doesn't realize that when you take the wrong train, every station you reach is the wrong one."

the United Nations tightens sanctions on Serbia and as the calls increase for "limited" air strikes against the Serbs in Bosnia, the time has come to rethink the basic errors of American policy toward this part of the former Yugoslavia.

Military intervention without a real- istic policy goal can serve the short-term need to do something, anything, yet the risks of increasing the savagery in Bosnia and of spreading the war further are very high.

Serbs are likely to respond to air strikes by increasing their attacks on Muslim enclaves and on Sarajevo. Muslims may be encouraged to attack Serbian positions, and the Serbs will hit back. The Croats, adept at using the world's focus on the Serbs' far greater crimes to engage in building Greater Croatia outside the spotlight, may increase their attacks on Muslims in central Bosnia.

In any of these scenarios, the fighting increases, humanitarian aid stops, and the U.N. forces that have been trying to calm the Croat-Muslim fighting of the last two weeks are withdrawn. The result would be that the civilian population, meant to be protected by air strikes, would be placed at even greater risk. At what point do we find ourselves saying it was necessary to

Robert Hayden, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and a lawyer, is a specialist on Yugoslav affairs.destroy the Bosnians to save them?

The morality of "inflicting pain" on "the Serbs" seems indisputable. The moral problem is that the Serbs who are suffering are not the leaders who brought on the war, but the usual innocents: the elderly, the young, the sick. Politically, the losers are the democratic opposition forces in Serbia, accused by the ruling nationalist-socialist coalition of treason for wanting peace. Further, if air strikes cause the war to spread, the morality of the intervention decreases as the civilian casualties mount.

In this situation, diplomacy remains the approach most likely to succeed and least likely to spread the war. But the goals of diplomacy need to be rethought.

The original Western strategy was to preserve Bosnia and Herzegovina as a multiethnic polity by recognizing it as a sovereign state, even through many of its Serbs and Croats wanted to annex large parts of it to their respective "mother republics." Rather than stopping the disintegration of Bosnia, however, diplomatic recognition accelerated it.

The Serbs had promised to resort to arms rather than accept an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina in which they could be dominated by a Croat-Muslim coalition. The Croats, who also wanted to partition Bosnia and, in fact, agreed with the Serbs to do so, have consolidated their territories and made it clear that they will not accept the authority of any central Bosnian government.

Bosnia has been partitioned, the more brutally since the Serbs and Croats were forestalled form implementing the plan of division they had agreed upon, instead resorting to achieving their goals militarily.

The approach to the problem by the mediators, Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen, has been to proclaim this house divided to be a condominium. Each province would be independent in internal affairs from the supposed Bosnian central government, which would have responsibility only for foreign trade and foreign relations.

This has been accepted by the Croats, whose provinces would be adjacent to each other and to Croatia and can thus be incorporated de facto into the "mother republic." It has been accepted by the Muslims, who have little left to lose. It has not be accepted by the Serbs, however, because the Serbian provinces, by design, would be isolated from each other and from Serbia.

Yet the Serbs have not rejected all parts of the Vance-Owen plan, either. To the contrary, they have been willing to accept about 80 percent of the Vance-Owen partition map, along with the constitutional framework and plans for military disengagement.

The main problem is that the Serb territories in Eastern Bosnia are not viable and are unconnected with Serbia or with the territory assigned to the Serbs in Western Bosnia. This was the point of the Vance-Owen map: to prevent the creation of Greater Serbia. But the Vance-Owen strategy -- to punish the Serbs by offering them a bad deal and making the offer worse when the Serbs balked -- has backfired.

At this stage, diplomacy could reach a settlement by granting the Serbs territories that would connect their provinces. Something close to this was almost achieved last weekend, but the "corridor" offered by Lord Owen would have been too vulnerable, since it was all through land to be controlled by the Croats.

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