Peace Probes in Bosnia

March 10, 1994

Before Americans raise their hopes about the Clinton administration's peace offensive in Bosnia, they should remember the pitfalls that have tripped up other peacemakers in this brutal two-year conflict of the Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

There is reason for satisfaction over the lifting of the Serbian siege of Sarajevo and the cease-fire between Muslim and Croat forces under an agreement to form a federation linked to the Republic of Croatia. But the hard issues remain, and will not disappear easily even if the Russians act in good faith in putting pressure on the Serbs.

fTC Just yesterday, subsequent events clouded claims by U.S. diplomats that "amazing" progress had been made in negotiations that could "offer the people of this area a future linked with a prosperous, peaceful and democratic West." The speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament labeled U.S. ideas for drawing the Bosnian Serbs into the agreement "an unrealistic perception of the situation in the field." And in Moscow, after talks between the Bosnian Muslims and the Russians, the latter withheld endorsement of the American plan.

Perhaps one reason for Russia's reticence is concern that the Balkans on their doorstep may in time actually be "linked" with the West. It was the threat of Western military action against Serb forces besieging Sarajevo that spurred Moscow to intervene to head off a showdown. The thought of NATO forces in combat east of the old Iron Curtain must have been intolerable to the Kremlin.

It was not very palatable to the White House either, which has reason to fear that public support for military intervention in Bosnia would disappear with the first body bags. For this reason, the administration has discarded its hands-off attitude and is pushing hard to build up a peace momentum while its allies -- especially the French and the British -- supply troops on the ground.

Western pressure is having its effect on the Muslims and the Croats, although the seething hatreds engendered by a year of ethnic conflict remain as strong as ever. But as everyone knows, and as U.S. diplomats have conceded, there can be no real peace in the former Yugoslavia unless the Serbs can be made to go along.

Given these circumstances, only concerted and harmonious action by the United States and Russia provides a real chance of restoring peace. And so far, these two big powers have operated independently and without consultation in making their moves in the Balkans. That their actions have roughly coincided so far is no guarantee that this will continue to be the case.

Perhaps it is enough, for now, just to reduce the intensity of battle. But if peace is to come for the Muslims and if a renewed war between Serbia and Croatia is to be avoided, the U.S. and Russia will have to coordinate their efforts with a lot more trust than they have displayed so far.

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