THIS was to be the year of Europe, remember? But not for the reasons that events in Europe have captured our attention for the last 12 months.
The year 1992 began with high expectations for Euro-enthusiasts. An ambitious plan was formulated and ready for ratification by the 12 members of the European Community. The Maastricht Treaty, calling for the creation of a single currency, a central bank, and a common foreign and security policy, was said to be a giant step toward making the EC into a "United States of Europe." A new superpower stood poised to enter the world scene.
The US was expected to stay on the sidelines. The American role had been pretty much played out on this continent, where twice in one century Europe was rescued from its follies by US intervention. Often critical of American hegemony, Europeans called for "European solutions to European problems." Many pointed to the multitude of socio-economic problems in the US - racism, crime, economic decline, and homelessness - and suggested rather smugly that this was no longer a nation fit to lead the free world. Europe, instead, was now the shining beacon of progress, unity, and growing power.
In light of actual events and developments of 1992, it is truly ironic to recall such judgments and expectations.
If this has been the "Year of Europe," it is because of political fragmentation, ethnic conflicts, racist violence, economic recession, and monetary confusion - now all too apparent on the old continent. Most important, however, it is because of the ongoing war in the former Yugoslavia - Europe's first post-cold-war military conflict.
The horrors in Bosnia demonstrate all too dramatically the limits on European unity. We are faced with the rebirth of aggressive acts and policies reminiscent of the condemned Nazi era. Ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, mass executions, and systematic gang rapes of women are reported and documented.
Continuous shelling and bombardments have reduced thriving cities to rubble and have made whole communities disappear from the map. The death toll is now more than 80,000 and the refugee flow from Croatia and Bosnia exceeds 2 million. At this moment, an estimated 400,000 Bosnian Muslims are huddled together in make-do shelters, destined to die from cold, hunger, and disease if the war continues through the winter.
AND yet, Europeans find it difficult to agree on what can be done and must be done to bring this dangerous conflict to an end. Sanctions, yes, but without real teeth, given the objection to the use of military force. "Peace conferences," yes, producing little more than an opportunity for delegates to travel and meet in Europe's glamour capitals. "Cease- fire" agreements, yes, lasting usually less than 24 hours.
The hesitancy and disunity apparent here is all the more serious given the very real possibility of war spreading beyond Yugoslavia. The main source of aggression and violence has been identified over and over again: It is Serb military power primarily under the direction of Serbian strongman, President Slobodan Milosevic.
It is to be noted that no destruction has taken place inside the republic of Serbia. Serbia at this point has succeeded in taking large portions of Croatia and Bosnia, declaring them to be Serbian lands, or the new Serbia. In other words, the Serbian forces are demonstrating that military force works. The former great European powers, the Western European Union, and the Conference for Cooperation and Security in Europe, are unable or unwilling to stop massive human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, an d acquisition of territory by military means.
To some expert observers, the Balkan conflict looks increasingly like the situation described in "The Guns of August," Barbara Tuchman's brilliant dissection of the slide into World War I. It is also Europe's Lebanon, according to the influential newspaper The European. Finally, recognition is growing that if Serbia is permitted to demonstrate that military force rules and a genocidal war will meet no effective resistance, then the "new Europe" is indeed finished.
So, of course, is the "new world order." Both the US and the UN are concerned about and will have to get involved in the attempted resolution of this conflict. Respected world leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and George Shultz have recently addressed the question with a gratifying clarity of mind and courage of conviction. They have called for intervention, military might sufficient to halt the aggression and save human lives, war crimes trials for the aggressors, and effective protection f or the victims.
Let us not forget, however, that Yugoslavia is primarily a European problem. It is not only appropriate, but far better for Europe's image in the world, that the main initiative and burden of necessary actions are taken by the Europeans themselves. So far, the European response serves mainly to remind us of Europe as "the dangerous continent."