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US Should Work With the UN to Solve Bosnia Crisis

By Lee H. Hamilton. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D) of Indiana is chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. / March 16, 1993



SECRETARY of State Warren Christopher last month announced a six-point United States initiative to try to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Notwithstanding the ups and downs of more-recent events in Bosnia, this plan is an important development. It directly engages the US for the first time in multilateral peace efforts to end the 11-month-old war. More important, by committing US resources, including military power, to international enforcement of a peace accord, the initiative increases the likelihood

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that a workable peace settlement will emerge.

In working out a plan, military measures, including direct intervention or lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, were considered and rejected. Such measures were deemed likely to undermine negotiations, endanger UN peacekeepers, and interrupt already inadequate humanitarian deliveries. The administration decided that only negotiations could end the war, and that an imposed peace could not be enforced.

The US has an urgent humanitarian interest in ending this vicious war. We cannot ignore the immense human suffering - tens of thousands dead, more than 2 million displaced (many by the brutal policy of ethnic cleansing), and widespread rape, torture, detention, and executions. As the Clinton administration's air drops of food and medicine showed, a determined effort must be made to improve the flow of humanitarian aid.

The US has a stake in preventing the spread of conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Serb attacks against the 90 percent Albanian majority in Kosovo province, or violence in Macedonia, could ignite a new Balkan war involving Albania, Bulgaria, and NATO allies Greece and Turkey. The White House has repeated George Bush's warning that the US will respond, militarily if necessary, to Serbian expansion of the conflict. Beyond these concerns, the response of the international community to the violence in Bosnia will set an important precedent for containing ethnic conflict elsewhere.

The US initiative comes at a crucial moment. Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen have produced a peace proposal that gives Bosnia a constitutional framework as a unitary but decentralized state. It proposes a ceasefire that puts heavy weapons under UN control. It also divides Bosnia into 10 provinces. Croats accept the proposal. Serbs object to the map because it would reduce from 70 percent to 40 percent the territory under their control. Muslims have agreed to the constitutional framework and have signed on to t he document on the disengagement of forces.

The Clinton initiative is designed to build on the Vance-Owen proposal which, despite its flaws, is the only peace plan in sight. In particular, the administration seeks to address the legitimate concerns of Bosnian Muslims and ratchet up the pressure on all sides, particularly Serbia, to accept a peace settlement.

The Russians are sympathetic to the concerns of their historic ally, Serbia. Failure to coordinate with Russia could not only doom the peace process in Bosnia but undermine Russian reformers already under attack from nationalists at home. Implementation is key. The map in the UN plan, or any improvement on it, is meaningful only if enforced. Only the presence on the ground of international peacekeeping forces can assure that all sides disarm, give up heavy weapons, and permit refugees to go home.

The importance of the Clinton initiative is that it includes a US pledge to help implement and enforce, in the context of a multilateral effort under a UN mandate, an agreement reached by all parties. This limited commitment of US military is crucial.

Key questions on the deployment of US forces must be answered: the size, role, and command of US forces. Only in the context of implementing a peace settlement can the president build enough support in Congress for US deployment.

UN negotiations, augmented by the administration, are the beginning, not the end, of the peace process. We should pursue it vigorously. Any plan to end the war in Bosnia will be fragile, tenuous, and difficult. If not successful, other steps must be considered. Our goals, however, remain the same: stop the killing, secure a lasting cease-fire, and begin reconciliation.