Those Who Hunt with the Wolves

January 13, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris. -- After Britain and France tried to appease Hitler by signing the Munich Pact in 1938, ceding the Sudeten regions of Czechoslovakia to Germany, Gen. Jan Syrovy succeeded Eduard Benes as Czechoslovakia's chief of state. A few days later, a Franco-British delegation called on Syrovy, seeking help in rescuing some anti-Nazi German refugees the German government was demanding be handed over.

The general refused. He said the refugees would go to Germany. Then, alluding to Czechoslovakia's betrayal by the British and French, he added: ''In this affair, messieurs, we have been willing to fight on the side of the angels; now we shall hunt with the wolves.''

We are today living through months like those that produced that statement. Once again people in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans discover only incomprehension and irresolute good intentions among those in the West whose values they share, and whose support they need.

Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier meant well in 1938, as do the leaders of the Western governments today. They believed Germany had a case for its claims on Czechoslovakia. They believed that if Hitler were given what he wanted, moderation in Germany would be strengthened.

They wanted to believe the best of Hitler and knew that British and French voters were hostile to any involvement in the quarrel between Germans and Czechs. Hitler understood them very well. After the pact was signed, he said of Chamberlain and Daladier: ''It is terrible. I always have to deal with nonentities.''

Bill Clinton, John Major, Francois Mitterrand and the other NATO leaders are making the same mistakes Chamberlain and Daladier made. They equivocate and compromise, and refuse to assume risks. They now have allowed Russia to block Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and other countries formerly under Soviet domination from entering into a formal security relationship with the Western countries. The ex-communist countries again find themselves assigned a place between East and West.

After painful debate the NATO summit once again threatened air intervention in Bosnia -- if U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asks for it. He will not do so unless the Security Council so instructs him. The Security Council is dominated by the NATO powers. Once again the threat is not a threat.

This has been the pattern since the beginning and has allowed the Yugoslav war to slip entirely beyond any real influence of the major powers. The Security Council has proclaimed protected zones, authorized the use of force, sent additional troops to this end, authorized NATO air strikes and demanded an end to the siege of Sarajevo, free passage for humanitarian convoys, a halt to ethnic cleansing, etc. Nothing has been done. The result has been subversion of the norms of international conduct built up and defended by the Western countries since the Second World War.

There is only one possible course now that could break the stalemate in Bosnia and re- establish some measure of international order and law. It is for the international community -- meaning NATO -- actually to enforce the Security Council's resolutions on Yugoslavia. This requires no peace plan, no vision of the future, no new decisions: only the decision to do what already was decided.

If the resolutions were enforced, the situation would immediately and dramatically change. The war might well get worse: There certainly would be resistance -- chiefly, but probably not only, from the Serbs -- and reprisals directed against U.N. forces. But, for the first time a settlement might become possible, since external intervention would have set new limits, with new possibilities of loss as well as gain. Peace would have been unblocked -- whether it prevailed or not.

One thing would certainly be established, of immense importance. The Western powers would demonstrate that they must be taken seriously. They would prove that the will of the international community, as it finds expression at the U.N., can be enforced. The opposite has been demonstrated until now.

These are just the points on which Britain and France defaulted in the 1930s. They acquiesced in aggressive national expansion by Italy as well as by Germany, and they displayed weakness. Their failures invited Hitler's miscalculation of what would follow, and brought on the war.

It is essential today and for the future that the Western powers be taken seriously. In Brussels, NATO's leaders were dangerously equivocal on the issue of East European security. They must make it clear in Moscow, to all of the political forces at work in that country during this time of turbulence, that the NATO governments are committed to the integrity of frontiers in all the countries of the former Communist bloc. Only freely negotiated political or territorial change is acceptable.

If that followed a NATO demonstration of seriousness and competence, however belated, in Bosnia, it would become possible to reverse some of the damage done in the last two years to the prospects for future order in Europe. Those forces who want to fight with the angels, rather than run with the wolves, might then have been decisively strengthened.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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