Bosnia: an election without violence Limited achievement: Can the U.S.-crafted new government can hold Bosnia together?

September 16, 1996

IN BOSNIA, success has to be measured in negatives. No war was the supreme achievement of 60,000 NATO forces deployed to the ethnically torn Balkan nation last December. No violence was the highlight of the flawed elections held Saturday. No breakup and no breakdown of the national and regional governments established through U.S.-sponsored diplomacy must now be the goal of the international community.

President Clinton, by insisting that the elections go ahead despite an appeal for delay by his Republican opponent, Bob Dole, took a calculated risk and apparently emerged unscathed. Critics will have much to complain about as election irregularities come to light. American liberals can continue to lament the hardening of the de facto partitioning of Bosnia among its Muslim, Serb and Croat populations.

But such misgivings ignore the tough, hard-nosed realism that now drives U.S. policy in Bosnia. After trying unsuccessfully to stay out of this latest of Balkan civil wars, a stance that led to serious weakening of the Atlantic Alliance, the Clinton administration last year seized both diplomatic and military leadership of the situation. Accords hammered out in Dayton, Ohio, led to the dispatch of 20,000 U.S. troops that helped separate Serb, Croat and Muslim armies.

Although a troop withdrawal deadline looms in December, the need for a continuing foreign military presence is likely to prove irresistible. Any final decision, however, is likely to come after the American election Nov. 5.

In the meantime, American officials are going to use all the sticks and carrots at their command to goad a three-member Bosnian presidency and an ethnically divided national legislature into operation. Nothing much of substance is anticipated. The aim is stability though maintenance of the pretence that Bosnia is a multi-ethnic unified state within internationally recognized borders.

If such a goal appears minimalist, it is. Just like it was enough to hold elections in which 40,000 Muslims did not dare to return to their native voting places and accused war criminals were allowed to vote, so it will be enough if the new government structure does not crumble and Bosnia does not fall apart. Negatives are the order of the day.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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