As Bosnia heads into its third winter of war, prospects for peace remain remote as the many parties to the conflict -- some on the ground, some far distant -- maneuver for advantage. The scene repeatedly changes, overtaking stated policy and making shambles of supposed alliances and accords. All that remains constant is the suffering of civilians, tens of thousands of whom have been uprooted and subjected to the horrors of war.
At this juncture, consider the disarray:
* United Nations peacekeeping forces, primarily European, find themselves on any given day fighting alternatively with Muslim and Serb forces, both of which are becoming increasingly hostile to the whole U.N. operation.
* The United States, which favors the Muslims, remains at odds with Britain, France and Russia, the chief contributors to the U.N. peace-keeping force. Washington favors faster, more intense air strikes against Serb aggression. Britain and France resist, lest their troops be put at peril. The Russians preen themselves as defenders of the Serbs. Although U.S. planes have already carried out limited attacks, American influence is undercut by the prudent U.S. refusal to furnish ground forces.
* NATO and the United Nations do not agree on tactics or missions in an operation where the secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and his aides are in charge of peace-keeping forces while NATO provides air strength that is constantly throttled.
* President Clinton and Congress remain at odds over taking unilateral action to arm the Muslims. Mr. Clinton has warned if Congress insists on this move, now on the shelf for six months, "it will cause the collapse of the United Nations mission." Why so? Because Britain and France would pull out their troops, Russians could stay to protect the Serbs and Mr. Boutros Ghali has threatened to bring in forces from Muslim nations as replacements. All this could internationalize the conflict.
* The military balance is in flux. Serbs remain dominant, but weapons are being smuggled to the Muslims via Croatian ports. Muslim forces are on the offensive in some parts of the country while the Serbs tighten their stranglehold on Sarajevo.
In such a welter of contradictions and shattered assumptions, it is no surprise that neither the ethnic groups in conflict nor the international community have been able to stop the bloodletting. The United States, in our view, should continue to keep at arms length from a struggle that sucks in its interlopers. As the sole superpower, however, it needs to get in sync with its NATO allies and halt the rivalry between the U.N. and NATO.