A BALKAN dictator with a small army of cowardly thugs has brought genocide back to Europe, a half century after we defeated a much more powerful brand of fascism and swore "never again."
The United States has flinched in its first encounter with post-cold-war fascism. We have betrayed the victims, hoping that appeasement would deter. But it has only strengthened the aggressor. We have emboldened hatred and intolerance throughout Europe and allowed Europe to regress to the era of the League of Nations, Munich, and death camps. We have put at risk the long-term security of the US. President Bush is responsible for this fiasco. President-elect Clinton will have to set it right. The genocide
Genocidal Serb aggression began in Croatia in the summer of 1991. It killed "only" 10,000 (proportionately equal to 650,000 deaths in the US), because Serb tactics and ambitions were still being developed and met strong Croat armed resistance. But the intent was clearly not just to conquer land, but also to destroy all non-Serb life in that land. In early 1992 the West responded with appeasement. Serb fascists went unpunished, and United Nations "peacekeeping" allowed Serb forces to consolidate their gai ns while protected from Croat counterattacks.
Genocidal Serb aggression moved to Bosnia in spring 1992 and escalated sharply. Serb forces had grown more fierce, systematic, and ambitious. Bosnia, heeding Western injunctions against military preparations and counting on Western support, has had little means to resist.
Serb forces in Bosnia have killed between 128,000 and 200,000 persons - almost one in 10 Bosnian Muslims. They particularly target educated, white-collar Bosnia Muslims in the death camps. This is "elitocide," or the sociopolitical decapitation of a people. Women of child-bearing age are also targeted for destruction in the rape/death camps. I know no name for this new horror. The UN predicts up to 400,000 deaths this winter, from Serb weapons and from equally purposeful Serb subjection of Bosnian Musli ms and Croats to freezing weather, famine, and disease. By winter's end the death toll is likely to reach a half million - a quarter of Bosnia's Muslims. Half of Bosnia's Muslims have already been forcibly displaced, and their homes and cultural institutions destroyed.
At the end of 1992, the West's response remains appeasement. Despite a trade embargo, the threat of an enforced no-fly zone, and eventual war crimes trials, the key Western message for Serb fascists is expressed by the UN/EC mediators in Geneva. The message, shorn of rhetoric, runs as follows: "We will continue to legitimize you as the spokesman for the Serb nation. We will stick to diplomacy no matter what you do. We will continue to hobble your victims with an arms embargo. You can achieve de facto par tition of Bosnia just as you did in Croatia. We worry about your next victims, Kosovo and Macedonia, but have no real deterrent threat to make."
We know that genocide is underway in the Balkans. Our television screens show us bits of it. The alarm is sounded by the press, human rights groups, political figures around the world, and many governments. Western leaders compare Serb fascists actions to those of the Nazis.
And yet we don't seem to know it, yet. Western governments and international bodies still use the perpetrators' euphemism: "ethnic cleansing." They often put this in a morally neutral context of "ancient blood feuds ... civil war ... tribal conflict." They downplay known and projected death tolls. They focus on single, high-profile atrocities rather than the systematic destruction of a people.
Historians will debate when we "should have known" and when we "knew" of genocide in the Balkans. Arguments will rage about why it took so long to know it and why so little was done to stop it. This will happen just as it did for the World War II Holocaust. The same shameful conclusions will be drawn.
In November, a UN human rights commission asked member states if Serb actions in Bosnia met the definition of genocide under the Genocide Convention - which requires that genocide be prevented and punished.
I challenge Mr. Bush to give the right US answer - now. Once he does, Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger will no longer be able to obfuscate by arguing that there is little we can do "when Serbs, Croats, and Muslims are intent on killing each other." UN/EC mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen will have to explain why they press Bosnia and Croatia to sit down and compromise with the perpetrators of genocide, and why Western governments should continue to "give peace a chance."
Serbia strongman Slobodan Milosevic and his surrogates are committing genocide against the Bosnian Muslims. They are preparing a wider Balkan war that will multiply the carnage and splinter NATO. They are undermining the credibility of the US, the European Community, NATO, CSCE, and the UN. They are emboldening Russian nationalists to challenge Boris Yeltsin with anti-Western, reactionary irredentism. They are embittering relations between the Western and Muslim worlds. The West's response
The US-led West has responded to genocidal Serb aggression with rhetorical bluster, equivocation, hand-wringing, and de facto appeasement which has only abetted virulent Serb nationalism. With this defeatism, Bush and his vaunted foreign policy team have failed to deter evil and allowed it to develop into a serious threat to the future of Europe and thus to US national security.
This fiasco resembles the Bush administration's failure to deter Iraqi aggression, and will similarly be harder to correct than it would have been to prevent. But it is a fiasco of greater impact.
We are required to look back at 1992 as a year of immense moral and human tragedy in Europe, when the principles and institutions crucial to America's security ominously eroded. This in turn requires us to face in 1993 the urgent task of developing a victory strategy in the Balkans.
That strategy must be equal to our moral and democratic values and to the inescapable truth that our security depends on the well-being of Europe. It must reflect the underlying strength of our principles, of our alliance with Europe, and our determination to continue building a more just, democratic, and secure world. It must respond to the dignity and courage of the Bosnian resistance. It must defeat and contain genocidal Serb aggression by saving Bosnia, restoring Croatia, and protecting Kosovo and Ma cedonia. It must not just threaten but actually punish those responsible for genocide.