Heading from the Bosnian crisis to all-out war

George Kenney

June 22, 1993|By George Kenney

THE HORROR in Bosnia will not reach a natural equilibrium a which the fighting will stop.

Nor will other areas of the former Yugoslavia remain quiet for long.

It is likely that at least as many innocent people will die as have already died -- more than 200,000 -- and that the conflict will inexorably spread outside the former Yugoslavia.

Western leaders cannot pretend their policy failure is a success. Nobody, especially President Clinton, should think that because the West has abandoned Bosnia to partition, the war will go away. The repercussions of inaction remain sobering.

Here is a tour d'horizon and its likely development:

In Bosnia, no party has any incentive to stop fighting. The Muslims will never lay down their weapons in unconditional surrender: Serbs and Croats would only kill them more quickly.

Serbian forces have not yet met all their territorial objectives: In eastern Bosnia, they want Srebrenica, an important road junction; in western Bosnia, they want Bihac, another junction; across central Bosnia, they want a new corridor linking Serb occupied territories; finally, they intend to raze Sarajevo, because as long as it stands it is a vital symbol of Bosnia's existence.

The Serbs will be able to destroy Sarajevo if they make only a few more advances. Shelling is a serious problem, but it doesn't level the city.

Up to now, the city has been spared the worst because Serbian tanks and artillery fire into it from hilltop positions that require a high trajectory for shells. Gravity deprives the shells of a terminal velocity sufficient to penetrate deeply into buildings. People who live below the top floors in high-rises are safe.

If Serbian forces capture a key bridge on the western outskirts of town, they could fire high-velocity shells horizontally into almost all buildings, bringing them down in rubble.

With control of that position, Serbian forces could sweep the broad east-west avenues with gunfire, turning them into killing fields.

Where can the Muslims go? Not Croatia. The United Nations worries that it may have to resettle Muslim refugees already in Croatia to somewhere else in Europe, because the Croatian government is showing signs of wanting to throw the Muslims out.

Not Croatian areas of Bosnia. Croatian forces do not allow Muslim resettlement, for fear of eventual Muslim demographic and political domination. Elsewhere in Europe? The United States? But the Muslims could not get out of Bosnia unless the international community evacuates all million-plus of them.

Over the summer, the Serbs and the Croats will pack the Muslims into a few ever-smaller areas, the main one being around and to the south of Tuzla. Those areas are not self-sufficient, but neither Serbs nor Croats will allow supplies through; only the international community's pathetically inadequate aid may get in, via Sarajevo or Tuzla airport. The Muslims will continue to fight. The better armed Serbs and Croats will continue the slaughter. By the middle of winter, the Muslims' cumulative death toll may reach over half a million.

United Nations "negotiations" over Bosnia are so utterly obscene they do not warrant serious comment. Only force on the ground counts.

Lord Owen, abandoning the peace plan he co-authored with Cyrus Vance, admitted as much, despite his naive plea for negotiations to continue. Both diplomats bear a heavy responsibility for collaborating with Serbian aggression.

In Croatia, it is highly likely the Croatians and Serbs will renew full-scale war over Serb-occupied Croatia this summer. For weeks, both sides have been mobilizing.

Some observers say Serbia has even brought heavy artillery within striking distance of Zagreb. Immense Serbian military convoys move regularly toward Croatia.

Each side demands the other's submission. Serbia will not allow Croatia peace on the Dalmatian coast because with normality comes billions of tourist dollars, which the Croatian government would use to build its military into a threat to Serbian occupied areas.

But for political and economic reasons, the Croatian government absolutely cannot cede control of the coast to Serbia.

There is still breathing room because Croatia has not quite built up sufficient strength to go on the offensive, and the U.N. still provides something of a buffer.

The U.N. mandate, however, expires June 30, and Croatia may not renew it. The Croatian government is already beating the war drums for its domestic and expatriate constituencies.

What that government seems not to realize is that given its complicity in the dismemberment of Bosnia, its poor record on human and civil rights for minorities -- mainly Serb -- and its lack of freedom of the press, it is unlikely to get much sympathy from the international community for a new offensive.

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