As Serbian forces close in on embattled Sarajevo, ethnic partitioning of Bosnia-Herzegovina appears more and more to be the only practical way to end the civil war. The partitioning may come under the political cover of a very weak confederal government structure -- this to satisfy the rhetorical pretensions of outside powers that dared not intervene -- but it will be partitioning nonetheless.
The idea of Serbs, Croats and Muslins once again living in comparative harmony is sheer fantasy. The more realistic goal, elusive as it may be, is to end the bloodshed somehow, let the three warring tribes regroup in three ethnically cleansed enclaves, prevent another Serbian-Croatian war and take international action to prevent the spread of conflict elsewhere in the Balkans.
Partition, now backed by United Nations negotiators, may not work. But neither do any alternatives offered during the past years. With murder, rape and torture commonplace, Muslims could become a people hounded into exile or under the heel of dominant enemies. Yet hope must not be abandoned. The major Western powers, having refused military assistance to the Muslins, have a moral obligation and a security interest in trying to help and protect them under a partition plan.
Provided there can be a lessening of hostilities, leaders of all three factions may at last be brought to a Geneva negotiating table this weekend to talk until they get an agreement. Certainly the pressure is on. Serbia's devastated economy is saddled with a worthless currency. Croatia is threatened with U.N. sanctions. Bosnian Muslims have shown enough muscle to retake an important town captured by Bosnian Croats. American, British, French and Dutch military aircraft are poised in Italy to defend the 15,500 U.N. peacekeepers in former Yugoslavia should they come under attack. Macedonia is defended by a hair-trigger contingent of 300 G.I.s wearing blue berets.
Against this must be set the failure of quarreling West Europeans to come up with a policy that could stabilize their contingent. Or the refusal -- the justified refusal -- of the Clinton administration to commit American ground forces to a struggle that has literally gone on for centuries.
Correspondent Dusko Doder, who has contributed many articles The Sun, writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy quarterly: "Without a clear political blueprint, the deployment of American soldiers would be simply foolish, a prelude to U.S. involvement, justification for which would have to be manufactured later. . . [It] could easily make the administration hostage to an intractable problem and even undermine the Clinton presidency."
Secretary of State Warren Christopher is right to refuse the military rescue of Sarajevo, saying "The United States is doing all that it can consistent with our national interest." This may represent another retreat from Clinton campaign bluster, but the president has higher obligations than adherence to electioneering hyperbole.