High Stakes in Bosnia for Clinton and Bush
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The key to a larger solution is in Bosnia. The next two months are critical. The Bush administration must not give in to the inertia of failure; the men around Bush should pause to consider their role and responsibilities. They will be blamed if the rot spreads. They may well appear culpable for the deaths of many innocent people when history is finally told. Before leaving power, they should leave a cleaner slate:Skip to next paragraph
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First, close the US embassy in Belgrade. Its very existence sends Serbia the same mixed message Bush and Eagleburger send the American people. It tells Belgrade we can almost do business as usual. It tells Serbs that the US won't act militarily, lest we put our diplomats in a hostage situation. In a sense, having an embassy in Belgrade is much like siding with Serbia. If the embassy were closed, the US could move to deal with the problems at hand.
THE second, perhaps last, step the Bush administration should take is to work to lift the UN arms embargo against Bosnia.
Giving Bosnians access to weapons, and giving aid to people affected by the fighting, are linked. Unless Bosnians control some land, the ability of Western governments and the UN to deliver aid depends on Serb willingness to distribute it. Incredibly, the US government considers it possible to deliver aid through Belgrade. More likely, despite assurances, Serb forces will not forward humanitarian relief - but continue to kill civilians and ethnically cleanse Bosnia of non-Serbs.
The 1.5 million refugee Bosnians, mainly Muslims, plus 500,000 others in beseiged towns, are caught, to quote Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadjic, "like rats in a cage." They are desperate to escape. But Croatia, ignoring international obligations to accept refugees, turns displaced Bosnians back. Europe and the US only take a token number. Recently, Croat forces in Bosnia - assuming the collapse of the Bosnian government and the carving up of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia - have begun "cleansing" M uslims, who have literally nowhere to go but the hills. Earlier UN estimates that 400,000 people may die this winter may be too low. A million deaths is not inconceivable.
As things stand, Bosnia cannot long survive. Bosnia's government still controls 10 percent of its territory - a few towns and the capital, Sarajevo. But with no weapons, Bosnians cannot resist Serb heavy guns. If the US were to give the Bosnians arms, or allow them access to arms, they could defend the areas they control; expand them into "havens" for people trapped in small villages; protect convoys through enemy territory. Arming the Bosnians is far more sensible than sending UN or NATO troops to fight
their way through on escort duty. That would be the sort of quagmire we want to avoid. Arms won't assure that Bosnia or Bosnians survive, but they offer a chance. In my judgment, the Bosnians could, if armed now, succeed in recovering and reconstituting their country.
The logic against arming Bosnians is that it would only contribute to more violence. Western mediators tell Bosnians to give up land in exchange for their lives. But from the Bosnian point of view, negotiation or surrender is not an answer. They know what to expect from Serb forces. The choice the Bosnians see is to give up and die quickly, or resist and die slowly but with hope. They choose the latter. That is their choice to make, not ours.
Not only morally, but legally, the arms embargo doesn't make sense. The UN imposed an arms embargo on Yugoslavia when that state was intact. But Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia are now UN members. The former Yugoslavia no longer exists. As an independent state, Bosnia has a right to collective self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Bosnians want that help. If the US won't give it to them, other states will - but only after the embargo is lifted. For that, US leadership is needed. If Bosnia loses control of its land, the task of reconstituting Bosnia becomes far more complicated, perhaps impossible. A victory will only whet Serbia's appetite for further conquest. Kosovo is next. Then the entire Balkans will go up in flames.