US Begins Limited Sanctions Against Serbia

Critics say Bush needs to rally global support for tougher measures

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AS the Bush administration turns up the pressure on Serbia, it is confronted more starkly than ever by its limited ability to halt former Yugoslavia's civil war.

The United States has flatly ruled out military action, opting instead to ratchet upward economic and diplomatic sanctions against Serbia, which has laid siege to another former Yugoslav republic, Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Europeans aid refugees, Page 7.)

On Wednesday, the State Department announced suspension of landing rights for the Yugoslav state airline's three weekly flights to the US. Further measures are being discussed this week with European officials, says State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler. Last week, the US and European nations recalled their ambassadors from Belgrade.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

But administration officials, speaking on background, acknowledge that such sanctions may have little more than symbolic effect. Another measure under consideration is to freeze Serbia's assets in the US, but, one official points out, there are not a lot of assets left. "Short of intervening, there are no good solutions," says the official.

At the same time, a chorus of critics is charging that the administration's response could have been tougher and quicker in galvanizing world leaders to impose a tough trade embargo against Serbia, in particular denying it oil.

That would require getting the third world on board, a difficult proposition given its affinity to Yugoslavia as a leader of the nonaligned movement.

"But Bush hasn't even tried," says Prof. Robert Lieber, chairman of the Government Department at Georgetown University. "Denying JAT [the Yugoslav airline] landing rights is pathetic.... Thousands of civilians are being slaughtered. If Bush is serious, he'll lead the Europeans and the third world in serious economic sanctions, including petroleum products."

Jenonne Walker, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, worries that the US and Europe's slow response to the turmoil sends the wrong signal to potential aggressors both in the Balkans and in other parts of the world. The European Community will begin discussing economic sanctions only on June 15, she notes. Unbudging leader

But US officials and other observers stress the seeming imperviousness of Serbian strong man Slobodan Milosevic to outside pressure. With the exception of one compromise, when he pressured a Serbian leader in Croatia to allow UN forces there, President Milosevic is the kind of leader who "simply doesn't budge," a State Department official told reporters Tuesday.

"This leads me to conclude that the only thing the man understands is power. And unless you can array against him an equivalent or a similar degree of power - and I'm not talking about military power so much here as I am talking about political and economic power - he is not going to give in," says the State Department official.

In making a case for a stiff economic embargo, President Bush could justifiably paint Milosevic as a ruthless dictator like Libya's Muammar Qaddafi or Iraq's Saddam Hussein, says an administration official. But that also means Milosevic may well be as intransigent in the face of serious sanctions, he adds.

Unlike the cases of Libya and Iraq, however, direct US military intervention is out of the question, US officials say. They cite a number of reasons, not the least of which is a lack of support for it in Europe and among the American public.

Administration officials have stated publicly that the US has no security interests in former Yugoslavia and that the US is not "the world's policeman," assertions that invite pointed questions about Yugoslavia's lack of oil, nuclear weapons, and drug lords.

In private, officials say that the US does, of course, have an in interest in stopping the fighting in former Yugoslavia, then point to peace negotiation efforts by both the United Nations and the European Community. "The problem with US policy is the way it's stated - which is not to offend friends in Europe," says Kenneth Jensen, director of research and studies at the United States Institute of Peace. Critics question delay

Critics of US policy have questioned why the US would continue to maintain a military presence in Europe if it will not even use it in the face of the worst fighting in Europe since World War II. Some have questioned why the US did not take control of Yugoslav airspace at the beginning of the fighting, which would not have been difficult to accomplish.

"Any such military involvement would have to be part of a well-organized international undertaking and it would have to be led by Europe," says Mr. Jensen.

The next question, then, is why Europe, which has such a well-worked-out security apparatus, NATO, now appears to have none? "The nice answer," says Jensen, "is that all the structures of Europe in place are for dealing with diplomatic crises. There was a lot of talk in CSCE [the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] about preparing for the eventuality of troubles in Eastern Europe, but CSCE is not a security arrangement." NATO influence

A possible NATO role, says Jensen, would beg the question of NATO's future and "no one wants to risk pushing toward that particular answer now." But, he agrees, the current situation does not do much to promote NATO's cause. Dealing with former Yugoslavia from the EC framework has its own problems: Yugoslavia was not a member of the EC. The EC is not designed to address defense issues.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...