Safe Havens in Bosnia?

May 25, 1993

"Safe havens," the latest buzz words for Bosnia, will probably work no less badly than the other concepts Western nations have futilely flung around in dealing with the former Yugoslavia. The formula leaves the United States and Europe (plus Russia) in ostensible agreement, but this is just a facade. President Clinton seems determined that U.S. ground troops will not be caught in a quagmire and his NATO allies seem equally firm in opposing U.S. aerial attacks on Serbian forces or the rearming of the Muslim population.

Out of this welter of negatives not much positive is to be seen. The "unanimity" communique issued by foreign ministers over the weekend contemplates the use of United Nations peacekeepers protected by U.S. air power to defend half a dozen Muslim towns, including Sarajevo. But there is no agreement how large the U.N. forces would be, where they would come from or what would be their rules of engagement.

All this is hardly the stuff of heroism. The "safe havens" idea has been eagerly accepted as "realistic" by the Bosnian Serbs and denounced by Bosnian Muslims as a betrayal. Both are right. The agreement, in effect, ratifies what has been happening on the ground: significant conquest of territory by the Serbs and tragic defeat for the Muslims.

Mr. Clinton, if he is to keep U.S. ground forces out of a "a war of all against all" in which U.S. interests are not directly at stake, is going to take some harsh, taunting criticism. But he must not allow himself to be bullied by allies, who themselves have a sorry record, or goaded by domestic critics who are all for getting involved yet lack responsibility for getting out.

Although the Security Council may approve a "safe havens" resolution this week, it will come at a time when member nations are tired of maintaining safe havens for Kurds in northern Iraq and when the flow of needed food supplies for Bosnia is slacking off. Even more, the resentment of the Muslim population toward what is widely regarded as a sell-out could make the initiative a non-starter from the word go.

Difficult as it is to accept harsh truth, the fact is that the Bosnian state recognized by the international community a year ago is a myth and the territory is effectively on the way to partition. All that remains is interminable bickering about where and how the lines on the map will be drawn. On the off-chance "safe havens" will reduce the killing, President Clinton is right to go along. For the moment, nothing else is working or seems capable of evoking trans-Atlantic agreement.

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