AS the vicious war in Bosnia continues, several US leaders - including Sens. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana and Carl Levin (D) of Michigan - are rightly urging that the US join Europe in developing a coalition to intervene.
Since Secretary of State James Baker three weeks ago announced diplomatic sanctions against Serbia, the White House has said little. But the momentum must be maintained. Here are four reasons why serious, though not full military, intervention may be needed by a coalition weighted toward European participation.
* The humanitarian crisis. A medieval-style siege with high-tech weapons is under way in Sarajevo. Some 30 persons a day - Serb, Croat, and Muslim - are being killed. Food and medical supplies will soon run out.
* International credibility. Nonintervention sends a clear message about what is acceptable in the postcommunist world. It says the civilized world will not intervene even in cases of extraordinary exploitation, misery, violence, and killing.
* Yugoslavia is a test case. A line to stop Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's aggression must be drawn here and now. Bosnia exists on the historic border between West and East. It is Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim. Rule of law and respect for minority rights is critical in this border state. Moreover, the Yugoslav crisis has been from the start addressed by European Community talks and delegations, as well as the UN. For the West to give up would be an admission of failure, with possible long-term e ffects.
* The possibility of a wider Balkan war. A clear Serb victory in Bosnia could open the way for the Serbian province of Kosovo, 90 percent Muslim, to explode and possibly bring Albania into the conflict. US Ambassador Warren Zimmerman says that if Macedonia is not recognized soon, it may fall apart during the summer. If so, Greece and Bulgaria could be drawn into the war.
Help must be given to Bosnia. But no coalition will work politically unless the US pursues its diplomacy quietly and then allows Europe to take the lead. Neither Brussels nor Washington desires a major incursion into Sarajevo with troops and tanks. But a number of intermediate steps can be taken to resist aggression:
First, go back to the UN and get approval to ground the Serbian-Yugoslav Air Force using mainly US-NATO air power. This, sadly, would be language that Milosevic understands.
Second, it should be made clear that, if necessary, air strikes will be considered to take out artillery in the hills above Sarajevo that can shell the airport.
Third, airlift humanitarian aid with some coalition troops, preferably under a European commander. The troops would use force, if needed, to deliver the aid.
Fourth, despite opposition from Greece, the EC and US should recognize Macedonia, possibly under the name "New Macedonia," and send UN peacekeeping troops to the border.
Fifth, stiffen current sanctions against Serbia so that little oil gets through.
Sixth, begin broadcasting news to Serbia that counteracts the brainwashing going on via Belgrade's official media. Such broadcasting, possibly through Radio Free Europe, should offer facts told in a dispassionate and intelligent manner. Serbs must be informed that the West doesn't hold them entirely to blame, but that their government's policies are isolating the nation.
The West may not be able to intervene in Bosnia in a way that decisively resolves Sarajevo's problems. But it can and should lend a hand. It is, finally, in everyone's interest to do so.