UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — BY suspending the peace talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina Jan. 30 and moving them to New York, mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen are counting on the United Nations Security Council to break the impasse. Of Bosnia's three warring parties, only the Croats have endorsed the entire three-part plan.
Just how the Security Council should exert the needed pressure and whether or not all members can agree on the next step is a matter of intense discussion here. Long urged by the mediators not to take tougher action until the peace talks had a chance to progress, the 15-member Council has developed a few potentially serious fissures of its own.
The foreign ministers of the European Community endorsed the Bosnian peace plan in Brussels Feb. 1.
Yet the Clinton administration, while supporting the negotiations process, has been reluctant to endorse the peace plan. Some US officials see the 10-province plan as unfair to Bosnian Muslims and unduly rewarding to Bosnian Serbs.
Former United States Ambassador to the UN Donald McHenry, who now teaches at Georgetown University, says he thinks the Council will endorse the concept of negotiations, but not the Vance-Owen plan per se. Though the Council did endorse political plans for Namibia, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, he says, the action usually followed approvals by the parties themselves.
"I think too many people are lukewarm about this one [the Bosnia plan]," Mr. McHenry says. "The Council is not likely to ... endorse a plan which is still under contention."
The Council agreed in the past to an arms embargo for all republics of the former Yugoslavia and imposed stiff economic sanctions on Yugoslav Serbs for their role in the conflict.
Many options remain. Most are controversial.
Enforcement of the Council's October ban on military flights over Bosnia has long been regarded as the next logical step. Yet France and Britain are concerned that their UN peacekeeping troops in Bosnia could easily become targets for retaliation. The Europeans see preventative measures such as bombing Serbian airfields, part of the broad range of actions favored by the US, as particularly dangerous in that regard.
Muslim nations continue to press the Council to lift the arms embargo for Bosnian Muslims, a move favored by the Clinton administration. Russians, who have long had strong ties with the Serbs, and other Europeans, who say the move would escalate the fighting, are reluctant.
The Council also could impose more and tougher economic sanctions. Yet at the request of Mr. Vance and Lord Owen, the EC so far has avoided any move to stiffen sanctions against Serb-led Yugoslavia, though it has not ruled them out if the talks collapse.
Beyond that, the question of which groups deserve UN sanctions is becoming harder to answer. Neither Bosnian Muslims nor Bosnian Serbs yet endorse the entire Vance-Owen plan. Though Bosnian Croats signed on, Croatia itself has been engaged in bitter fighting against Serbs in UN protected enclaves in Croatia since Jan. 22.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman says he is determined to reaffirm government control over all of Croatia and hints he may oppose continuation of the UN peacekeeping mandate there that expires next month. Russia opposes any further sanctions against the Serbs unless Croatia also is threatened with a trade embargo. Some forces in Russia even want to ease Serb sanctions.
"The situation has become very complicated," says Janusz Bugajski, a fellow in east European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I'm certain there's going to be a bit of a stalemate at the UN."
"There are so many balls in the air," agrees one Council diplomat. "I think the Americans would like to hit the Serbs harder, yet the Russians and some of the other Europeans say more balance is needed. I think we're in for quite a week."
"There is unanimity on one thing - that this situation is a mess which we can't get our hands around in a form we're willing to do," McHenry says. "Something needs to be done, but what we're able to do, we're not willing to do."
AT a press conference in New York Feb. 1, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher confirmed anew that the US is not considering any dispatch of ground troops to Bosnia.
Even if the international community decided on such military intervention, diplomats and analysts say, there is no guarantee the move would end the conflict.
"Masses of troops might not work," says Mr. Bugajski. "There's the question of whose side you'd be fighting on and what your mission would be. In other words, at what point would you leave?"
Noting that Bosnian Muslims seem determined to take back much of their lost land, while Bosnian Serbs try to keep their gains, Bugajski says he thinks the conflict ultimately will be decided "on the ground."
He cites the recent offensive in Croatia against the Serbs as a case in point.
"The problem is that at this stage people still believe that they can obtain their objectives by force," McHenry says. "Until they reach the point where they conclude that they can't, they are not going to be inclined to negotiate.
"As harsh as it may seem, the situation may have to deteriorate further before the parties will see that their best interests are served by a settlement."