UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — WILL the latest United Nations Security Council move to protect six Muslim towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina create Muslim ghettos and effectively validate Bosnian Serb gains on the ground, as critics argue? Or could the effort become a step on the road to a fair peace settlement?
The answer depends on specific decisions about logistics that still lie ahead - and on the Council's determination.
"If there is a real willingness ... to demand access to these areas, protect them, and over time expand them, this could be the stepping stone to something quite significant," says Edward Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the USA. "However, if the Council is unwilling to protect [the areas] ... it loses credibility. I'm worried that this may be another hollow declaration."
Lord David Owen, co-author of the Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia, says the UN cannot deliver on many of its "fine-sounding sentiments" unless it is given more and better resources.
Several decisions to be hammered out here at the UN and at NATO headquarters in Brussels this week may prove key.
Acting under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, the Security Council June 4 voted to expand the number of peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and authorized them to use force to protect designated "safe havens" from attack. Member states also are authorized to use limited airstrikes against Serb ground targets. As many as 25,000 more peacekeepers may be needed. NATO will coordinate any airstrikes, and UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is to draft an implementation plan and cost estimates for the Council by early next week.
Gaining the cooperation of Bosnia's three warring parties will be vital. But continuing Bosnian Serb attacks on the Muslim-dominated towns of Gorazde, Gradacac, Gracanica, and Brcko this weekend, and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's insistence that he wants no more UN "occupation" troops in Serb-held areas, suggest the Bosnian Serbs will resist UN action.
Rules of engagement also must be spelled out. The US, for instance, says air strikes should be confined to retaliation for attacks on UN troops. Europeans say air strikes should also be mounted in response to attacks on Muslim residents inside the safe havens.
"What if the Serbs shoot over the heads of UN forces into the enclaves?" asks Zalmay Khalilzad, a Yugoslav expert with the Rand Corporation.
"If UN troops are simply going to be defending themselves and humanitarian convoys, the Serbs and Croats can continue doing what they have been doing if they avoid hitting the UN," agrees Janusz Bugajski, an expert on Eastern Europe with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I just feel this is too little and too late."
The bottom line, says Indar Jit Rikhye, an expert on UN peacekeeping with the US Institute of Peace, is whether or not the new peacekeeping mandate in Bosnia, which involves more risks, really will be fully implemented. Current peacekeeping forces in Bosnia had Chapter 7 authority to use force to protect the delivery of relief aid but did not use extra power. "They discovered they would have to fight," he says.
Much may depend on the Council's political determination. General Rikhye says peacekeeping troops run into trouble when their political leaders are indecisive and fail to offer clear guidance and direction.
Since the decisive rejection by Bosnian Serbs of the UN-brokered Vance-Owen peace plan last month, world leaders have been sharply divided over how to persuade Bosnian Serbs, who now hold 70 percent of the land, to give up some of their conquests. The Vance-Owen plan, which calls for division of Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous, ethnic-based provinces, would require Bosnian Serbs to pull back to 43 percent of the territory.
No major power favors direct military intervention. The US favors only a partial lifting of the UN arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims and limited airstrikes against Bosnian Serb forces, while Britain and France, which have troops on the ground with the UN, championed the safe havens. The Security Council has fleshed out the plan's call for both safe havens and a war crimes tribunal.
This week the Council will take up the third element of the plan: a call for UN monitors along Bosnian borders to ensure that fuel and other supplies are not brought in from neighboring Serbia or Croatia. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at first agreed to such monitors but now rejects them. On June 4 President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia said he would accept such monitors along Croatia's border with Bosnia.
Bosnia's Muslim-led government, which wants relief from the arms embargo, has been sharply critical of what it sees as a global lack of political will to stop Serb aggressors.
"For once confront them - or at least allow the Bosnians to confront them," insists Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN. In remarks to the Security Council before the vote, he said the safe-havens plan in effect declares "open season" on Muslims who live anywhere else in Bosnia.
It is that same sense of frustration, shared by the five nonaligned members of the Council, as well as by Hungary and New Zealand, which effectively kept the UN in a state of diplomatic limbo for most of the last two weeks.
Diego Arria, Venezuela's ambassador to the UN, delivered a long and eloquent speech before the recent UN vote in which he said he wanted a deadline by which Bosnian Serbs must take steps to implement the Vance-Owen plan or face stronger measures. He says the safe-havens approach amounts to a containment policy that could involve the UN "forever." He wanted the resolution to include more clearly defined protection for Muslim civilians. "You must be willing ... to really make these areas safe and not just give the impression that you are doing something," he said.
In the end, the Council resolution, drafted by France, included some of the nonaligned nations' key points. The measure stressed that the Council action was only one step, that tougher measures could follow, and that adoption of the Vance-Owen plan remains the goal.
China, which often abstains on measures authorizing use of force, voted for the safe-havens resolution on humanitarian grounds.
US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright called the proposal "an intermediate step" but one which could be decisive in stopping the violence.
Bosnian Serb leaders, whom Lord Owen recently described as "cocky" and not ready for serious peace negotiations, have apparently decided that Western military threats are more bark than bite.
Mr. Luck of the United Nations Association says that just as the UN is moving to a more "intrusive" stance (with safe havens and humanitarian aid delivery) that demands more cooperation from Bosnian Serbs, the West has been abandoning enforcement as a technique. "We're taking away leverage just at the time we need more," he says.