The Madness of War

April 19, 1994

From both a Russian diplomat and a British general comes a devastating indictment of international efforts to stop rampaging Bosnian Serb troops from settling their war with Muslims on the battlefield rather than at the negotiating table. Neither the threats of Gen. Sir Michael Rose, commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia, nor the blandishments of Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin have restrained the Serb offensive against Gorazde or plans for new assaults on other "safe havens."

As a result, it is now the Bosnian Serbs against the world -- with no assurance as to which side will prevail. For now there are only victims -- the Muslims facing still another human catastrophe; the Serbs whose obsession with "the madness of war" (Mr. Churkin's phrase) has left them isolated, and the American, European and Russian interveners who have succeeded only in undermining their own credibility.

Coincidentally, General Rose and Mr. Churkin have revealed how much they have been deceived by accusing the Serbs of using peace feelers as "cover" for their onslaught against Gorazde. But neither of these dramatic figures in the Bosnian tragedy determines policy. Nor can they erect the common front that has been so woefully lacking during two years of brutal war. That depends on the Clinton administration, which seems to miscalculate on a daily basis; our European partners in NATO, who have dithered helplessly throughout, and the Russians, who thought their historic ties with the Serbs would bring peace and reestablish their influence beyond their borders.

As Gorazde crumbles, we are hearing predictable cries for tough responses: Intensified bombing of Serb troops, beefing up of the U.N. force on the ground, arms shipments to the Bosnian Muslims. These siren calls should be resisted by those in ultimate authority, most especially by President Clinton. Such steps would only widen the war and deepen outside involvement in a Balkan quagmire. Instead, the United States should seek a top-level meeting of all the big players, most especially Russia, aimed at imposing a total economic and financial blockade on the Bosnian Serbs and their chief sponsors, the Belgrade regime.

Only if the Russians make it clear to the Serbs that they will tolerate no further aggression; only if the NATO powers make it clear to the Muslims that they will have to accept ethnic partition; only if the U.N. makes it clear to all sides that it is ready to withdraw from an impossible and humiliating situation -- only if these initiatives take effect in concert can there be hope for a settlement.

If a train departs in a wrong direction, all its station stops will be wrong. And the fact is that an independent, multi-ethnic Bosnian state has been a futile conceit since the beginning. The world is now left to pursue the least worst diplomatic arrangement, which still would be preferable to the horrors unfolding at Gorazde.

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