In Bosnia, the Clock Ticks

August 04, 1993

Stung by taunts it has been indecisive and timid in reacting to the Bosnian conflict, the Clinton administration has muscled its NATO allies into authorizing air strikes to end the "strangulation" of Sarajevo and to ensure the delivery of relief supplies to that stricken city. Important decisions still have to be made about where United Nations authority ends and NATO's begins if continued Serbian aggression requires actual use of air power.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has contended "it is his responsibility to initiate, in consultation with the Security Council, actions of this type." Secretary of State Warren Christopher has declared the NATO will be prepared "to use air power against Bosnian Serb targets at times and places of NATO's own choosing."

There is an obvious tension between those two statements, but they are not incompatible. The assertive Mr. Boutros-Ghali may "initiate" a peace-enforcement operation that NATO will implement according to its "own choosing."

This time, however, the U.N. will not be just the facade for U.S. power it was in Korea and the Gulf War, nor will it be in actual command and control, as is currently the case in Somalia. Look for something in between, something in which the misgivings of U.N. negotiators and of the British, French and Canadians with peacekeeping troops on the ground exert limitations on the U.S. military.

NATO involvement in Bosnia, if it comes to pass, will convert what has long been a defensive alliance against the old Soviet Union into an offensive arm of the United Nations. How NATO performs in this role is linked to the international community's efforts to create "a new world order."

The immediate question is whether the threat of NATO air strikes will encourage the peace process, as Washington hopes, or stymie it as U.N negotiator David Owen fears. The Serb offensive against Sarajevo continues and the Bosnian Muslims, hopeful for outside help at last, are reluctant to implement an ethnic partitioning plan they sorrowfully accepted last weekend.

The Clinton administration is restricting its goals in Bosnia to lifting the siege of Sarajevo, getting in humanitarian supplies and protecting U.N. forces from attack. It has not undertaken to roll back the Serbian and Croatian aggressors but, on the contrary, seems to have supported partition.

This arrangement is less than heroic, which is just as well, since the Pentagon is rightly wary about getting entangled on the ground in a Balkan rivalry going back centuries. Those who have to fight wars often try to restrain politicians and diplomats from embarking on military adventures that reach beyond legitimate national objectives.

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