The U.N.'s Bosnia farce

June 29, 1995|By Robert J. Donia

THE CLINTON administration's refusal to lift the Bosnian arms embargo, ostensibly invoked to minimize further bloodshed in the Balkans, is now proving to have exactly the opposite effect. But even as the killing intensifies, the administration appears intent on compounding failure by bankrolling a rapid reaction force that has no purpose other than to bail out the U.N. forces already there.

The United Nations' military mission in Bosnia is known as the U.N. Protection Force (UNProFor), but the United Nations has abandoned any pretense of protecting anyone except its own soldiers. On June 18, U.N. leaders capitulated completely to Bosnian Serb demands, agreeing to remove all obstacles to the resumed shelling of Sarajevo in exchange for the release of U.N. troops held hostage. The United Nations has thus abandoned all efforts to protect the half-million Bosnians held hostage by Serbian separatists in U.N.-proclaimed "safe havens."

The clear presumption is that the only lives worth saving in Bosnia are those of U.N. troops -- more specifically, those of our British and French "allies." In this strange, narcissistic policy calculus, the deaths of thousands more Bosnian civilians simply don't count.

It did not begin that way.

The U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning Bosnia never foresaw that UNProFor troops would become passive, indifferent peacekeepers." Those resolutions unambiguously affirm the "sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina" and forthrightly

denounce atrocities and human-rights violations, particularly by the Bosnian Serbs.

A succession of British and French commanders, under the overall approval of U.N. civilian head Asushi Akashi, have subverted the robust mandate of the Security Council. They have turned UNProFor into a toothless tiger. Under French and British leadership, UNProFor became an impotent, neutral force, and its officers struck shameless deals with the same Bosnian Serb leaders who have consistently planned and perpetrated widespread ethnic cleansing and carnage.

Genocide? Atrocities? Slaughter of civilians? U.N. soldiers were told to count the detonations, note the casualties and report back to headquarters -- being careful, of course, to assign blame equally so as not to offend one side or the other.

The Clinton administration has made much of our commitment to "our allies," meaning the British and French, as though they were somehow doing a job that we would otherwise have to undertake. But they have failed, and they stand in the way of a longer-term solution to the problem that is readily at hand.

In undertaking to break the siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian government is fulfilling the mission that was assigned to UNProFor but never undertaken. Its actions are wholly in accord with relevant Security Council resolutions.

Furthermore, the first responsibility of any sovereign government to assure the physical security of its citizens. The Bosnian government is obligated to end the reign of terror against Sarajevo just as the U.S. government must find and prosecute the terrorists of the Oklahoma City bombing.

The Bosnian government has never requested U.S. ground troops, even in the darkest days of siege and suffering for its people. Its leaders neither want nor need the hundreds of thousands of ground troops that are regularly conjured up by American fear-mongers.

But neither should American taxpayers continue to feed the insatiable appetites of British and French egos in their misguided mission in Bosnia. Western leaders, eager to get Bosnia off the front pages of the world press, have responded by calling on both sides to cease hostilities. A more suitable response would be to demand an end to Bosnian Serb blockades of Bosnia's cities. That would eliminate the imperative for the Bosnian government's military actions. It would be a credible first step toward a meaningful cease-fire.

If there is to be a further U.N. role in Bosnia, let it be to implement UNProFor's original mandate: to end the Bosnian Serb slaughter of civilians and to break the inhumane strangulation of Bosnia's cities. UNProFor and the Bosnian army should be allies in achieving those objectives.

If the British and French don't want be a part of that effort, let them withdraw. There are plenty of other nations, including the Bosnians themselves, who will be happy to do it in their stead.

Robert J. Donia is a historian and co-author of "Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed."

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