A Peace Reached by War

May 05, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Profound disagreement continues among the Western powers about what to do in the former Yugoslavia. It was expressed again last week in the angry exchange between the U.N.'s principal official in the region, Yasushi Akashi, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright.

Mr. Akashi said, in effect, that if the United States wants to tell the United Nations how to run its affairs in Bosnia, it should put its own troops on the line and assume the same risks as the people now in the Protection Force and in U.N. and civilian refugee and medical organizations. He said that by refusing to do so, Americans reveal themselves to be ''timid'' and ''afraid.''

The U.S. ambassador replied, quite properly, that it is not the business of U.N. officials to criticize the policies of individual governments.

But Mr. Akashi not only spoke for the U.N. people on the ground in Bosnia, taking a steady trickle of casualties from (chiefly) Serb harassment, but articulated the absurd dilemma that the international community has created for itself in the former Yugoslavia.

It has refused to choose between the two courses of action open to it. The first is where it began: with a program to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the war while trying to bring the parties to an armistice and to peace negotiations.

The second is where it rapidly found itself: lending sympathy, and irresolute and inefficacious support, to the victims of aggression, promising to see that justice would be done -- war criminals punished, people returned to their homes, prewar frontiers restored, civilians protected, etc. Splendid words without serious content.

It is impossible to follow both courses at the same time, even when the second one lacks commitment. The international military force in Yugoslavia is deployed and configured for the humanitarian mission. Its members consequently are vulnerable when the U.N. and NATO make their intermittent stabs at doing justice. When NATO air forces struck Serb troops at Gorazade, the Serbs promptly arrested or sequestered United Nations soldiers and private relief workers, and some still are being held.

This contradiction is producing a breakdown in the U.N. military system in Bosnia, which is losing such tenuous influence as it ever had over the contending forces. It is a contradiction exploited by the Bosnian Serbs and also by the Bosnian government, which wants engagement by the United States and NATO on Bosnia's side.

There has to be a decision, first of all in Washington. There are two possibilities.

One is to say that justice must be done, and therefore that the Bosnian victims of aggression must be armed -- or at least allowed to arm themselves, which the U.N. embargo presently ** forbids -- and supported in their effort to eject Serbian forces from territories formerly occupied either by Muslim majorities or mixed populations.

In that case the humanitarian mission must end and its personnel pull out. The United Nations cannot support one side in this war and expect to be treated as a neutral by the other side. The United States cannot support the Bosnians against the Serbs and abandon U.N. troops and civilians to take the consequences.

Earlier this year both French and British governments were considering withdrawal of their forces. This not only is still an option but could become a necessity. Washington should understand this, and so should the Bosnian government authorities. It will probably happen if the United States supports the Bosnians.

The alternative course is the policy now followed by the European members of the U.N. Security Council.

It searches for settlement at the price of rewarding aggression and doing injustice to the Bosnians. The Bosnians are expected to settle for what they currently can get, which is a territorial division roughly on present lines, in exchange for an armistice, policed by international forces (the United States has agreed to take part in such a force).

The problem with this is that it is both unjust and implausible. Even if such an agreement were signed, neither side is likely to respect it. The Serbs, determined to consolidate a Greater Serbia, have already demonstrated their contempt for international agreements. The Bosnians, both officially and unofficially, say they will never give up the struggle to recover what they have lost.

In the end there may be no real choice. The only real settlement may be the one arrived at through war. The international community may simply have to get out of the way. The Western powers may have only the choice between backing the Bosnians or abandoning them -- and everyone else in the former Yugoslavia -- to whatever fate they make for themselves.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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