Bosnia: Half-Measures

SECRETARY of State Warren Christopher's much-awaited US policy on Bosnia articulated important truths: That the 10-month "ethnic cleansing" by Serbs against Bosnia's civilians must end. That if unmet the Balkan conflict could spread and involve Greece, Turkey, and the rest of Europe. That to do nothing at this time in world history will tell dictators and nationalist thugs everywhere that the West will stand by while the killing of innocent minorities goes on.

But after this ringing statement, the policy turns into half-measures that seem too mushy: a US envoy, tighter sanctions on Serbia, demands to negotiate, consultations, a war crimes tribunal.

The hopeful side is that the policy keeps the door open for a next move soon. The use of NATO signals a stronger position. President Clinton bought some time and running room to forge a new direction - and he did so in the middle of diplomatic pressure brought by UN negotiators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen to accept their plan immediately.

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But the down side of the policy is that if Mr. Clinton does not make a decisive next move soon, the US will become mired in a UN "peace plan" that it has already stated is unjust. That would raise both moral and practical concerns. The irony is that US plans to put 15,000 NATO troops at the service of the UN plan would result in the quagmire all want to avoid. Owen and Vance have tirelessly worked out a plan. But it may lack realism. The Serbs have no intention of keeping the negotiated plan. They have n ot kept a single agreement in two years.

Mr. Christopher says the conflict must end by negotiation and this is surely true. Yet military action does not preclude resolution by negotiation. On the contrary. At the moment, the Serbs have very little incentive to negotiate. They have won their spoils in a one-sided fight. To arm the Bosnians and let them defend themselves in a quagmire the West itself shies from, to take out the Serbian heavy guns shelling Sarajevo by air, to enforce a no-fly zone - would give the Serbs an incentive to negotiate.

The new US policy is understandable given the complexities of the crisis. But it does not provide real leadership - yet. Clinton is mistaken if he believes he has done enough.

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