The Chief Casualties of Sarajevo Are 'Europe' and World Order

WILLIAM PFAFF

August 16, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- A year and a half ago it was possible to argue that the siege of Sarajevo was not ''a new Sarajevo.'' Unlike in 1914, the great powers were not interested parties. It was a domestic tragedy, of interest to a larger world because of the Serbs' ominous defiance of the principles of postwar European order, but only for that reason.

It no longer is possible to defend this position.

The events symbolized by the siege of Sarajevo have now become of a scale that may in the end bear comparison with those of Sarajevo 1914. Then, the Serbian-inspired assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand resulted in the destruction of the Hapsburg, Ottoman, Hohenzollern and Czarist empires and the replacement of the bourgeois civilization and order of Europe as it had been by a new order of apocalyptic political movements, racism, class warfare, economic crisis and genocide.

What Sarajevo 1993 is accomplishing is the destruction of another order, that of Western Europe between 1945 and 1993. It is producing an end to the trans-Atlantic alliance -- the moral as well as politico-military accord that has for four decades guaranteed the international order.

It already is recognized in Europe that ''Europe'' is dying at Sarajevo -- not murdered, but its own victim, dying because of the paralysis of will of its members. What is not appreciated is that the Atlantic Alliance is also dying at Sarajevo.

The Yugoslav crisis has set France against Germany, Britain against both and the United States against all. The smaller powers that had committed themselves to European union and Atlantic security are as a consequence becoming demoralized. The game of blame has been launched, the imputation to allied governments of disreputable and self-seeking motives.

The project of a common foreign and security policy for Europe has been revealed a sinister charade. Sinister, because the idea that there should be a single policy has rationalized the failure of the European governments to assume individual responsibility for dealing with Yugoslavia.

France's constant demand for a sovereign Europe has been made to seem grotesque by the incompetence of Europe to deal with internal European aggression. France's own claim to policy autonomy, promulgated by President Charles de Gaulle and defended by every major political figure in France for the past 45 years, is shown to be empty.

France today could reasonably be argued the second most powerful nation in the world. It is the major industrial state that next to the United States possesses important military forces that it is politically capable of employing in foreign operations.

In the Yugoslav crisis, Paris first subordinated itself to the divided will of the European Twelve, then to the inherent obfuscations of the United Nations Security Council and the operational incompetence of the U.N. system, and finally to Bill Clinton. What is the point of its proud regiments, its Foreign Legion, its nuclear aircraft carriers, its glorious military displays each 14th of July?

Europe has earned the contempt of Americans by its behavior regarding Bosnia, producing an alienation of the United States from Western Europe that will last and be damaging to both.

The conduct of the United States has been inglorious as well, ignoring until too late the implications of aggression and ethnic purge in Yugoslavia, afraid of commitment. However, Washington has correctly insisted that the crisis directly threatens Europe, not the United States, and is primarily Europe's responsibility.

When the Clinton administration finally attempted to intervene in the crisis, it was blocked from doing so, principally by the French and the British. The two have a plausible reason for objecting to a military intervention that would have made their peace-keeping and humanitarian forces in Yugoslavia the object of Serbian reprisals. They had a right to criticize the American insistence that others take all the risks of ground operations.

Nonetheless, they are responsible for the fact that Europe has now moved from a position that said nothing could be done in Yugoslavia without American leadership to a position that rejects American leadership while Europe does nothing.

Western Europe already presented to Americans a spectacle of economic difficulty, confusion and protectionism, a monetary union in crisis, a Maastricht fiasco, a German failure to integrate East Germany, while the Community practices a self-interested policy with respect to the struggling East European economies.

Now, appeasement of aggression in Yugoslavia and ratification of the results of ethnic cleansing are added to that picture.

The Clinton administration came to office with a Pacific bias. The Clinton generation's experience is not of world war and Atlantic construction but of the Vietnam war, the dynamic development of Japan and other East Asian economies, and the U.S. demographic shift in which its Asian population has soared.

This administration intends to reduce American military and political engagement abroad. This was to have meant a gradual and limited disengagement from Europe, in which the responsibility for pan-European order would have been assumed by the developing institutions of a united Europe.

As a consequence of what now has happened, one must assume that there will be a rapid disengagement, which is unlikely to prove limited. Europe has made itself again, in American eyes, what it was to Woodrow Wilson in 1916, a place of ''power politics'' and ''jealousies and rivalries'' from which a prudent America guards its distance.

That it ended as it actually did for Wilson's America adds to the poignancy of the situation today.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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