The Hypocrisy of Bosnia's Comforters

November 21, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris. -- The troubling aspect of American and U.N. policies in the former Yugoslavia is the hypocrisy in both. The United States and those West European countries who are the main contributors to the U.N. Protection Force in Yugoslavia have all acted with the intention of helping the former Yugoslavia.

Whether they have actually done so -- in comparison to what alternative? -- cannot be known.

Their policies by now have become hardened by commitments already made. There is a problem in distinguishing good intentions from motives of national or political self-interest. The West Europeans today accuse the U.S. government of irresponsible political exploitation of the Bosnian situation. President Clinton's order last week that U.S. forces no longer enforce the U.N. arms embargo on Bosnia is described by some European U.N. officers as ''a stab in the back.''

Perhaps less passionately put, this is also the opinion of officials in London, Paris and Madrid, the NATO allies making the largest contributions to the protection force. In Moscow, the unilateral American decision is seen as a challenge to Russia's legitimate concerns in an area where Russia also has troops and commitments.

All see the American government's decision, mandated by the U.S. Senate, as pandering to an ill-informed American public that wants to feel good about the war in Bosnia without taking any real responsibility for ending it. So long as the United States refuses to contribute to the U.N. forces on the ground, or in any other way to accept risks in dealing with the Yugoslav problem, this opinion will continue to be held.

They are justified in saying that if a country claims to lead it must assume the responsibilities and dangers of leadership. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the Europeans are wrong about Yugoslavia and the United States right. The reason they are wrong lies in the hypocrisy of the position in which they themselves -- and, through them, the United States -- now find themselves.

The U.N. Protection Force was sent to the former Yugoslavia with what proved to be unfulfillable missions. It was supposed to ''keep'' a nonexistent peace. In the absence of peace it has reinterpreted its obligation as to protect civilians, discourage escalations in the fighting and promote truces.

Its humanitarian mission has in practice, in many places, facilitated the work of the belligerents by feeding their victims, or their civilians. Again in practice, certainly not in principle, it has also facilitated ''ethnic cleansing'' by helping its victims flee their homes.

U.N. instructions say peacekeeping requires strict neutrality. This, as the Bosnian government justifiably complains, means that victims and aggressors have been dealt with as moral equivalents.

A certain practical complicity has also developed between the U.N. command and the Bosnian Serbs because the latter have the most power to threaten U.N. forces, and for a long time were also the better disciplined force, meaning they were easier to deal with.

Since April 1993, the U.N. force has had the mission of enforcing U.N.-named ''safe areas'' and heavy-weapons exclusion zones, but has been given neither forces and weaponry nor the authority to do so. NATO has offered its air support but this usually has been turned down because the U.N. troops on the ground are vulnerable to reprisals.

These contradictions are well understood by the officers, soldiers and civilians of the protection force and the humanitarian agencies. They plausibly ask what alternatives there have been to accepting these contradictions. Nonetheless they and their governments, France and Britain in particular, have by now arrived at a point where their policy toward the war is largely dictated by the interests of the U.N. force itself.

They have also constructed a theory about the war to justify this policy. They have argued that peace can be found in an internationally supervised partition of the country.

Thus the Vance-Owen, Owen-Stoltenberg and ''Contact Group'' plans, all of them failures. Now they argue that Serbia's isolation of the Bosnian Serbs will force the latter to accept the Contact Group plan -- or still another revision of it.

However, there is little reason to think that nominal acceptance of this or any other partition program will produce lasting peace. The Bosnian government has accepted the Contact Group plan simply to put the Bosnian Serbs at a disadvantage. They claim that their recent offensives are meant to impose the plan's frontiers. Yet their real ambition surely is still to reclaim their country's internationally recognized borders. Nor does Croatia accept its permanent partition, nor any union of Serbian-populated Krajina with Serbia.

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