UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — THE United Nations Security Council sent a clear message to Belgrade June 29 and fighting forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina: When it comes to intervention on humanitarian grounds - even in the most fierce and relentless of conflicts - the world will not take "no" for an answer.
The 15 Council members voted unanimously to deploy a large battalion of UN peacekeepers (800-900 Canadians) to secure and reopen Sarajevo airport for humanitarian aid. Regular shipments of relief supplies for long-besieged civilian residents of Sarajevo and Dobrinja could begin as early as July 2.
Some critics argue that the UN took too long to act. Bosnian officials wanted the UN to move in militarily rather than confine itself to peacekeeping support for humanitarian aid.
"Our government feels that unless you stop the slaughter and the bombardment in Sarajevo, you really have not fulfilled the mandate of the UN mission," says Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN.
Yet Janusz Bugajski, an East European expert at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, says the UN took "the right course."
He says the Council's green light signals Belgrade and Serb forces in Bosnia that Bosnia's government and capital city are recognized as "legitimate" and that Europe and the UN will not continue to tolerate the murder of innocent civilians.
International institutions are eager to establish the concept of humanitarian intervention as a proper basis for collective action, notes John Ruggie, dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. He says the effort is particularly strong in complex internal situations where military intervention could lead to a "quagmire." The message, says Dean Ruggie, is: "We don't care who's right and who's wrong - all we want to do is make sure innocent people do not get ground into hambu rger meat in the process." Stepping the pace
The UN move this week is actually just one more step in a plan originally adopted by the Council June 8. Though Serb forces agreed June 5 to turn control of Sarajevo airport over to UN forces and had signed a cease-fire, progress until last weekend was slow. Talk in world capitals had begun to focus on possible forced military intervention.
Such saber-rattling, the dramatic and risky visit to Sarajevo last weekend by French President Francois Mitterrand, and the European Community's support of a UN decision to use force if necessary may all have played key roles in persuading those fighting in Bosnia to back off.
The Mitterrand visit showed that doing something was "feasible" and has had an important impact both politically and psychologically, says French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Bernard Merimee. "It has helped to start a momentum," he says.
UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali had warned both sides on June 26 that a cease-fire must be in place within 48 hours or the Council would consider "other means" of getting relief supplies into Sarajevo.
By June 29 he told the Council there had been "considerable progress." Despite the lack of an "absolute" cease-fire, he said, the UN Protection Force in Yugoslavia "must seize the opportunity." Within hours of the Council vote, irregular Serb forces, who have kept Sarajevo and its airport in a virtual stranglehold for three months, had moved most of their heavy weapons back from the airport to UN-supervised locations. UN forces raised their blue and white flag at the airport.
Security Council members are guarding their options. "We are not excluding other measures if a cease-fire is not respected," says M. Paul Notredaeme, Belgium's ambassador to the UN and president of the Security Council during June. Escalate or withdraw?
Diplomats are well aware that either side in the Bosnian conflict could resume shelling to force the UN to move in on a larger scale. "If UN troops are fired upon and if there are casualties, the question is, `Do you escalate or do you withdraw?' " asks Dr. Bugajski.
Ultimately, as Mr. Boutros-Ghali stresses, a political solution to the Bosnian conflict must be found. A partial cease-fire could provide the parties with "breathing space," says Ruggie, "but the parties have to want to find a way out."