WASHINGTON — THIS week's decision by NATO to enforce a United Nations embargo against Yugoslavia is the latest step the international community has taken in its long and so far fruitless attempt to quell ethnic violence in the Balkans.
Some analysts believe it is just a small step, that it will have only limited and delayed results, and that it may not be decisive in stopping the bloodletting that reportedly has left more than 15,000 dead in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia.
The embargo "is an important and necessary move, but it's going to take quite a while before it really begins to bite," says the Rand Corporation's F. Stephen Larrabee. "In some sense, it's more of a symbolic way of upping the ante against Serbia."
The naval embargo, which will be jointly implemented by NATO and the nine-nation Western European Union (WEU), the military arm of the European Community, was announced Wednesday. It is designed to enforce a UN ban on the transshipment of various strategic materials, including crude oil, to Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics that make up the reconstituted Yugoslavia.
Another leading expert on Yugoslavia, Yale University historian Ivo Banac, says the ban, which tightens a six-month-old UN trade embargo on Serbia, is no substitute for the two measures that would make a decisive difference in halting Serbian aggression against Bosnia.
One would be the deployment of international forces to enforce a cease-fire in Bosnia. The other would be the lifting of an existing UN arms embargo on Bosnia. So far, both options have been rejected by the international community.
"On one hand, we tie the victim's hands behind his back. On the other, we say we're not going to help you, either. Bosnia is in a bind either way," says Dr. Banac. "Bosnia-Herzogovina still has sufficient resources if it is properly armed to put an end to the aggression."
Yugoslavia has been supporting Serbians in Bosnia, who have seized 70 percent of Bosnia since the country's Muslim and Croat majority voted for independence last spring.
Despite the embargo, strategic materials used to support Bosnian Serbs have filtered into Yugoslavia, mostly along the Danube River, which links Yugoslavia with the Black Sea. Although some prices are higher since the trade embargo began, few severe shortages have been reported in Serbia.
Western warships have been monitoring shipping along the Adriatic coast since the trade embargo was imposed. This week's UN resolution allows them to stop and search ships suspected of carrying contraband. Romania and Bulgaria, Yugoslavia's downstream neighbors, are expected to have the main responsibility for enforcing the sanctions along the Danube.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said this week that the procedures used to enforce the embargo would be similar to those used to stop Iraqi shipping: "You stop the ship; you, if necessary, board the ship if you think it might be laden [with contraband]; you inspect the cargo and check it against the manifest."
The naval embargo would make it harder for Serbia to obtain fuel and other essential materiel needed to keep its army moving and to keep its allies, the Bosnian Serbs, supplied.
Foreign and defense ministers from the WEU states are to meet in Rome today to announce the WEU's participation in the embargo.
Experts say that even with this action, it will be difficult to staunch the flow of contraband into Yugoslavia because of the country's long land borders. To the extent the embargo does work, they add, it may be an invitation to criminal activity.
"Criminal elements will see it as a real opportunity to make big bucks," Dr. Larrabee says. "If they can get it in they can charge a lot of money."
This week's UN resolution, however, does call for observers along the Bosnian border to detect the flow of arms, personnel, and embargoed supplies.