High Stakes in Bosnia for Clinton and Bush
IT'S time for a change in United States policy toward the Yugoslav war. Before Jan. 20 there is time to stabilize the situation. But President-elect Clinton and President Bush must work together quickly to push the West to take responsibility for Bosnia's survival. If they do nothing, President Clinton will inherit a festering crisis that may carry into other areas. Bosnia could be doomed - a terrible precedent for further aggression in the Balkans.Skip to next paragraph
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The first priority is to abandon efforts at neutrality. Balkan history or no, Serbia is the clear aggressor, a rogue country in central Europe. Although the US and United Nations single out Serbia as bearing an overwhelming share of the responsibility for this war, Western statements tend to lapse into a phony "moral equivalence" where blame is all equally spread.
Worse, the fact of Serbian culpability is lost when Mr. Bush or Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger speak. In the first presidential debate Bush talked about "ancient ethnic rivalries that cropped up as Yugoslavia has dissolved." He went on to say he would "stand by and use moral persuasion." Mr. Eagleburger echoes such remarks. He talks about centuries of ethnic conflict. He reminds the press that he has said "38,000 times" that intervention in this "civil war" won't work.
It is those often-repeated remarks, not official statements, that inform the American public. No American wants a part of another foreign civil war. So while the public remains misinformed, assistance to the victims, especially to Bosnia, is not a US policy option - for either Bush or Clinton.
Here are the facts: In July 1991, Serbia invaded Croatia, arguing that the 12 percent Serbian minority there needed protection. They did. Croat ethnic nationalism threatened non-Croat minorities. But most Serbian Croats were fairly well assimilated in places like Zagreb; Serbian minority problems could have been handled. Instead, Serbia invaded and occupied 30 percent of Croatia - killing 10,000 people and committing thousands of atrocities.
Then, in April 1992, Serbia invaded Bosnia - saying Bosnia's 31 percent Serb minority was threatened. But in Bosnia, Serbs were well assimilated - better than in Croatia. The Bosnian government pursued moderate policies to guarantee civil rights for all ethnic groups. There was no problem. In fact, Bosnia had been the model of ethnic tolerance the US government wanted other areas of Yugoslavia to emulate! Now Serb forces occupy 70 percent of Bosnia, have killed 70,000 people, driven 1.5 million from thei r homes, and committed uncounted acts of barbarism.
These events were not and are not a "civil war." There has been no fighting on Serbian soil. Neither Croatia nor Bosnia has ever harbored intentions to take part of Serbia. Rather, this is a war of aggression waged by an evil regime in Belgrade that has brainwashed its people much in the fashion of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
For the West to oppose Serb aggression it must be seen for what it is. Diplomatic hedging or indulgence in denial only prolong the suffering of innocent people. To save Bosnia, Bush and Clinton must agree the US should take sides.
Yugoslavia is the benchmark for the kind of foreign policy crises the Clinton administration will face repeatedly. It calls for US leadership in a new but dangerous world. The lesson is that international institutions, as currently organized and operated, can't deal with local, high-intensity aggression. No one knows how to deal with fragmenting former communist states - how to sort legitimate from illegitimate demands for self-determination.
The lack of such a set of rules need not result in a lack of will to confront aggression. Rather, it shows a need to adapt current institutions such as the UN and NATO to the post-cold war world.
Turmoil may rock Europe for a decade. With no institutions ready to confront aggression, the West can't cope with mini-wars in the old USSR, or elsewhere. Local leaders bent on aggression will learn from Yugoslavia that aggression pays.