State Dept. resignations reflect dissent on Bosnia U.S. policy called weak, 'dangerous'

August 24, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Highlighting a level of internal foreign-policy dissent rarely seen since the Vietnam era, a fourth State Department official resigned yesterday to protest the lack of U.S. action to protect Bosnia.

Stephen W. Walker, 30, Croatian desk officer in the department's Balkan Conflict Group, said in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher that U.S. policies are "misguided, vacillating and dangerous," threatening not only the Balkan region and its thousands of victims but also "vital U.S. interests."

"A dangerous precedent is being set," the mid-level official wrote. "Genocide is taking place again in Europe, yet we, the European Community and the rest of the international community stand by and watch."

Mr. Walker is the third of a group of State Department officials who worked on the former Yugoslavia to quit in the last month. A year ago, desk officer George Kenney became the first to resign over the issue.

In early August, Marshall Freeman Harris, the desk officer responsible for monitoring the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, quit.

Two weeks ago, Jon Western, an official investigating war crimes accusations against Serbs, resigned, saying U.S. policy was not tough enough.

The group of young, mid-level officers were united in decrying the absence of decisive U.S. action to halt Serbian aggression, mainly against Muslims, and to preserve Bosnia as a multi-ethnic, sovereign state.

Michael McCurry, the State Department spokesman acknowledged the internal dissent, saying: "This is a frustrating, terrible problem in which answers are not easy to come by."

'Honorable' protest

"It is just as frustrating for the secretary as it is for people at the desk-officer level who work on the problem," Mr. McCurry said. He said Mr. Walker's resignation was an "honorable form of protest."

Mr. Walker's departure came three days after mediators for the United Nations and European Community gave the Bosnian government 10 days to approve an agreement dividing the country into Serbian, Croatian and Muslim mini-states.

The deal -- being pushed by Croats and Serbs -- would be a bitter pill to swallow for the Bosnian government which is dominated by Bosnia's defeated Muslim majority.

The pact puts U.S. policy-makers in a tough spot, since they don't want to appear to be pressuring the Bosnian government to accept it.

Disaster this winter

At the same time, however, they face the prospect of large-scale humanitarian disaster if fighting continues into the winter months.

"I think that it's really the coming of winter that imposes, in some sense, a deadline because there are going to be many, many people losing lives in Bosnia unless steps begin immediately to address the humanitarian situation," said Mr. McCurry, the State Department spokesman.

In his letter, Mr. Walker said that while the United States has been publicly committed to Bosnia's territorial integrity and sovereignty:

"We now tacitly approve of its forcible dismemberment and division along ethnic lines and encourage a negotiating process that effectively puts a gun to the collective head of the Bosnian government and tells it, 'Sign -- or else.' "

Worse, he said, was that as a result of the American commitment to help implement a peace accord reached in good faith, "We may be forced to risk American lives and the credibility of the United States and the international community to implement an agreement that violates our basic principles, that will prove unenforceable, that will not end the suffering of the Bosnian people, and may actually increase the likelihood of a prolonged Balkan conflict . . ."

A senior State Department official said Mr. Christopher met recently with about two dozen State Department dissidents on Bosnia policy.

He urged them to think through the logical consequences of some of their proposals. For instance, he urged them to recognize that a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo to help the Bosnian Muslims would pit the United States against the U.N. Security Council.

Favors arming Muslims

Mr. Walker, in his letter, said the United States should "publicly and forcefully commit ourselves" to arming the Muslim government. He also called for "the punishment of all war criminals and of states that violate international law and principles, including the U.N. Charter."

Mr. Western said in a telephone interview yesterday that there was evidence of a "fairly systematic effort by Serbs to eradicate the Muslim population" from territory the Serbs were seeking, evidence that he said "meets the terms and conditions of genocide."

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