A recipe for ending the Bosnian war

May 21, 1993

The author of this article is a U.S. official who requested anonymity. AN extraordinary combination of circumstances makes this a propitious moment for a new effort to end the cruel war in Bosnia. It is not a time to step back, although the temptation to do so is strong.

After the defiant vote of Bosnian Serb leaders to reject the Vance-Owen peace plan, and under intense pressure from economic sanctions and President Clinton's credible threat of force, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia has suddenly stopped encouraging his allies in Bosnia.

Boris Yeltsin has made it clear that he supports international peace efforts, and will not throw a life preserver to Serbs in either Bosnia or Serbia.

Finally, recent fighting around Mostar has reminded the world that Croatia as well as Serbia must be brought to heel if there is to be progress toward peace.

If the United States and its allies can agree on a strategy to take advantage of these circumstances, they can fashion a new approach that could break Bosnia's spiral of death, prevent a spill-over of the conflict to neighboring lands and discourage nationalist extremists who hope to provoke similar conflicts elsewhere.

This would have to be a comprehensive strategy, not a piecemeal approach like those attempted so far, and it would have to be given time to work.

In order to be successful, any framework for peace in the Balkans must meet several tests: It must guarantee respect for internationally recognized borders, though it could hold out the possibility of future adjustments through mutual agreement.

It must not reward those who have engaged in odious "ethnic cleansing" in pursuit of racially pure nation-states.

And it must strengthen rather than weaken NATO by attracting support from both the United States and its European allies, as well as from Moscow.

Unless such a solution can be found, the carnage in Bosnia will worsen, and the message of international impotence will encourage similar conflicts in other parts of Europe and in the former Soviet republics.

Whatever the merits of aerial bombardment against Serb supply lines and artillery positions, it is now clear that European governments will not support it. Nor will they accept a lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia's Muslim-led government.

The challenge in Bosnia is not to introduce new weaponry, but to find ways of reducing the vast arsenals already there.

One promising approach is the idea of "safe havens," which has been raised by the Security Council and finds especially strong support in France.

Simply declaring certain besieged cities to be havens and demanding that fighting there cease, however, is not enough.

A multilateral ground force is needed to enforce peace in these havens and to show warring factions that it is to their advantage to silence their guns.

This ground force could not succeed unless it included troops from the United States. President Clinton has, until now, opposed the commitment of American troops in the absence of a peace settlement, but if they were used to help protect safe havens, their role would be essentially defensive, rather than offensive.

They would, of course, be in harm's way, as were the 40 United Nations soldiers from other lands who have already lost their lives in the former Yugoslavia.

European leaders, however, are right when they say that American concern over the killing in Bosnia cannot be taken fully seriously as long as the United States is unwilling to share all the risks.

To be credible, such a military force, of 25,000 to 50,000, would have to cooperate with NATO, and include Russian troops. It would need a U.N. mandate stronger than the one under which the forces in Bosnia are now operating.

The mandate should allow blue-helmeted soldiers to operate under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes troops to enforce their will rather than serving simply as observers, mediators and protectors of aid convoys. This force would first establish a presence in the designated havens, which would include Sarajevo.

It would then pursue the urgent goal of silencing the artillery that is pounding these unfortunate communities.

To achieve this, the West should introduce a carrot-and-stick policy that, unlike past policies, would seek to increase both the costs of continued defiance and the attractiveness of cooperation.

Within the safe havens, civilian and military authorities would be pressed to comply with the Vance-Owen plan, including disarmament. As soon as they do so, their communities would qualify for protection against further aggression, protection that could include air strikes against artillery positions.

In addition, these communities would be offered generous aid for reconstruction. Water and electric supplies would be restored, destroyed homes and public buildings rebuilt and a semblance of normal life restored. Refugees would be invited back.

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