Arming the Muslims

November 15, 1994|By ROBERT M. HAYDEN

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh.--The end of American participation in the arms blockade on the Bosnian Muslims will likely widen the war. Indeed, that seems to be its goal. The State Department has expressed great ''understanding'' of Muslim attacks on Serbs. Arming the Muslims is clearly meant to produce more such understandable attacks.

The American reasons for taking this course are supposedly moral, reponding to ''Serbian aggression'' against Bosnia, a member of the United Nations. Yet the Bosnian ''state'' that in 1992 was so quickly and carelessly recognized and installed in the U.N., on American demand and to American orchestration, was rejected by a huge propor- tion of its supposed citizens, Serbs and Croats, who did not want to be included in it. Since then, the Serbs and Croats have shared a goal, of ensuring that the ''state'' of Bosnia that was meant to be imposed upon them has no power over them.

The Croat-Muslim ''Federation'' created by the U.S. in March of this year exists primarily in the minds of the State Department officials who planned it. The process of ''population exchanges'' (the polite form of ''ethnic cleansing'') between the Croat-controlled and Muslim-controlled areas of Bosnia continues. Even the recent joint Muslim-Croat military operation around Kupres may have been more apparent than real. There is evidence that the Serbs handed Kupres over to the Croats so that the Muslims would not get it

In fact, the Croats have been against lifting the arms embargo on the Muslims, because they fear that the arms will be used against them. The dividing line between the Croat and Muslim regions of central Bosnia has not been drawn, and the Muslims claim areas that the Croats have no wish to give up.

The State Department claims to envision a scenario in which the Muslims and Croats attack the Serbs, thus forcing the Serbs to agree to peace. But the State Department's wishful thinking on Bosnia has been consistently wrong since 1992. Recognition was supposed to prevent war: It didn't. The sanctions on Serbia were supposed to end the war: They didn't. The ''federation'' of Croats and Muslims was supposed to unite them: It didn't. Can we really believe that arming the Muslims will cause the war to end?

A more likely scenario is far bloodier: The U.S. arms the Muslims, who attack the Serbs. But the Serbs can only fight harder, since they will be subjugated or expelled from any territories gained by the Muslims. Further, the Serbs and Croats have every reason to continue their covert alliance, since both fear the imposition on them of a Muslim state. Thus the war intensifies. As winter comes on, casualties rise. The U.N. humanitarian forces will probably be forced to leave, and as winter sets in, civilians will freeze and starve.

This is not a policy of morality, but of irresponsibility. It is striking that the U.S. has used its diplomatic and economic muscle to bring about a disaster in an area of the world where the U.S. will not suffer the consequences.

In fact, the solution for Bosnia remains what it has been since Yugoslavia collapsed: partition. The European powers know this. Yet the U.S. has blocked all partition plans that were put forth by other powers. The current Contact Group plan, drawn up by the U.S., is clearly not going to be accepted by the Serbs. Their acceptance would give the Serbs territories that are untenable economically and indefensible militarily, and thus mean subjugation or expulsion.

In 1992, two scenarios were possible for Bosnia: partition, as in India and Pakistan in 1947, or civil war, as in Lebanon in 1976. The U.S. rejected the former, thus bringing about the latter. But now even the second option seems sadly distant. Lebanon, after all, has been largely pacified because of its covert partition by its neighbors: Syria runs most of it, Israel the rest. Such a course would still be possible in Bosnia, if the U.S. were to accept the ''confederation'' of Serb territories with Serbia that it has encouraged of Croat and Muslim territories with Croatia; but the U.S. rejects this plan.

Instead of Lebanon, the American model for Bosnia now seems to be Afghanistan: a civil war fought with outside weapons and outside money. Only the blood is local. This was the worst-case scenario that the Europeans feared when Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991. American policy is now set on bringing it about.

It is certainly easy to be ''moral'' about a situation in which we bear no consequences for our actions, and to decry as immoral the objections of those closer at hand. But what kind of ''morality'' is that? In fact, the British, French and Russians, who have tried to end the war diplomatically, have had peace-keeping troops on the ground in Bosnia, trying to save lives. The U.S., with no troops on the ground, has followed a diplomatic course aimed at widening the war. A strange moral compass, indeed.

Robert M. Hayden, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, is a specialist on the former Yugoslavia and its successor states.

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