WASHINGTON — THE United States has made it plain that it is largely withdrawing from the international effort to end the bitter fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Unable to convince all European allies to take active peace enforcement measures, the Clinton administration now half-heartedly endorses the idea of splitting Bosnia into loosely connected Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim provinces. US officials acknowledge that this means they have abandoned hope of maintaining an ethnically mixed Bosnian nation, and that Serbs will gain some ground seized by aggression.
The Bosnian civil war "has not been resolved in the way I would have hoped," said President Clinton at a press conference last week.
The European Community at its Copenhagen summit rejected a US-backed German effort to get the EC to approve ending the arms embargo that has disadvantaged Bosnia's Muslims. (Summit results, Page 2.) In the end, the EC at its Copenhagen summit focused largely on trying to get Bosnia's Muslim leadership to agree to talks on the tripartite partition plan, which was first proposed by the presidents of Serbia and Croatia.
Thus ends the long odyssey of the so-called Vance-Owen plan, which had called for a complicated Bosnian map of 10 inter-related ethnic zones. The Bosnian Serbs felt Vance-Owen gave away too much they had taken by force of arms.
As critics of the West's approach point out, as long as no one was threatening the Bosnian Serbs with force if they didn't go along with Vance Owen, there was little reason for them to accept it.
The tripartite plan, on the other hand, will result in a Bosnian entity that is a state in name only. The Croat- and Serb- dominated provinces will inevitably be pulled toward their neighboring Croatian and Serbian nations.
"Partition was inevitable and we should have seen it coming," says University of Chicago international relations professor John Mearsheimer.
The bleak feeling within the US government on Bosnia was well-illustrated by an unusual meeting two weeks ago between a senior administration official and a group of defense reporters. Under the ground rules of the meeting the official cannot be identified, though it can be said that he is more in the business of providing advice than making policy.
THE senior official judged that the creation of UN safe havens for Muslim refugees in Bosnia will simply create refugee camps that breed despair. He said that the Vance-Owen plan had no chance to work even if implemented.
Even the Clinton administration's so-called "lift and strike" proposal to lift the arms embargo on Muslims and conduct US airstrikes against Serbs - rejected as too harsh by Europeans - would have had little effect, according to the official.
The official said that in essence the Clinton administration had inherited a situation it could do little about. "You are basically working at the margins of the problem," he said.
Not all officials are so pessimistic in their outlook. But it seems the point of US policy is now focusing on preventing the Bosnian chaos from spreading deeper into Eastern Europe.
Some analysts suggest that one way the West might regain credibility for its efforts to prevent conflict in the region is to reorient NATO toward east-central Europe. This could head off the most dangerous long-term scenario facing the US: that instability will spread throughout the economically pressed area of the old Soviet bloc.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former Bush Defense Department official now at RAND, argues that the US should offer membership in NATO to Poland, Ukraine, and other nations of East Europe once they establish a stable democracy and market economy. In the meantime, NATO could conduct exercises with countries that have already made much progress, such as Poland. NATO headquarters should also preposition equipment in the region and establish a peacekeeping training and support center somewhere nearby, as peace enforcem ent would likely be a primary responsibility.
The prospect of joining the NATO club should even be dangled in front of Russia, says Mr. Khalilzad. "If you don't include Russia, they could perceive [NATO's expansion] as an anti-Russian move," he says.
Others argue that NATO, per se, has already shown it cannot act in problem situations now that its main reason for being - the threatening Red Army - hardly exists. They feel a more inclusive European-Atlantic organization must be constructed, perhaps on the framework of the larger Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"NATO is just not sufficient," says Dr. Daniel Nelson, a former foreign policy adviser to the House Democratic leadership and a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.