The Sarajevo Formula

February 22, 1994

Quite by happenstance, often improvising as they went along, the major powers have chanced upon a formula that may, at last, reduce the misery and mayhem in Bosnia. A combination of American power and Russian intervention -- both applied at crucial moments -- has lifted the siege of Sarajevo by Serb forces and could be equally effective in relieving Muslim enclaves elsewhere.

Today top officials of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States will meet in Bonn to decide what comes next. They should move quickly to exploit peace psychology.

First, extend the Sarajevo formula to battered Mostar, Bihac, Tuzla, Zapa and Srebrenica; the necessary U.N. mandate already exists to launch air strikes against any Serb contingents refusing to cease fire. Second, prod Serbian, Croatian and Muslim diplomats back to the negotiating table, this time to map out a partition plan all three parties will accept. Third, convene an international conference to deal with all Balkan issues.

In Washington and Moscow, there is much crowing about the happy outcome in Sarajevo, where NATO air strikes became unnecessary when the arrival of Russian peacekeepers gave Serbs a face-saving pretext to pull out their artillery. Secretary of State Warren Christopher spoke of "the enhanced credibility given to NATO and to the West by the events over the weekend." Vyacheslav Kostikov, a spokesman for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, exulted that "Russia has won an important battle for its world status."

But before these mighty powers get too puffed up, they will have to follow up on their belated entry in the Balkan scene. The United States, for example, did not really inject itself into intra-Bosnian peace negotiations until France agreed to U.S. demands for a NATO bombing ultimatum, despite the obvious risk to its peacekeeping forces. And Russia did not send its peacekeepers into Sarajevo until its Serbian allies faced imminent attack.

Now the U.S. and Russia have to demonstrate, as they did in a different context during the Cold War, that they can still impose peace on Europe. As French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe put it: "We have seen that when the Europeans tried to solve this problem all alone, they could not manage it."

Although the Muslims are relieved that NATO air power forced the retreat of their Serb tormentors, they are wary of the new Russian presence and unhappily aware that they might have to accept a partition. The difficulties in drawing a map acceptable to all three parties in the Bosnian mosaic will keep the U.S. engaged for a long time to come, perhaps with thousands of peacekeepers on the ground alongside Russian counterparts.

The problems and dangers are apparent. But the opportunities for American-Russian cooperation have worldwide implications, provided the Clinton and Yeltsin governments don't muff it.

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