General Smith's Training

WITH prospects for a new war growing in Bosnia, UN commander Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith threatens NATO airstrikes on Serb forces. To balance this, UN civilian head Yasushi Akashi criticizes the Bosnian government for fighting back against Serbs, thus breaking a cease-fire. Serb forces often break the cease-fire, but no one notices anymore.

With spring coming, the two sides are gearing up for war because there is no just option. Serb leader Radovan Karadzic wants to keep if not expand ill-gotten Serb gains in Bosnia. The Bosnian government does not want him to; it wants to reassert its normal rights as a recognized United Nations state. The five-nation plan to divide Bosnia, signed by Bosnians and Croats but not the Serbs, fell apart when the West folded on its threat to force Serb compliance.

Sadly, the political line in the West is to criticize both parties for breaking the cease-fire -- and to sigh deeply and assert that the parties are cursed to fight until one side wins.

Such arguments play into the Serb position. They remove the West's normal inclination to call the war a criminal one-sided aggression -- and to make policy accordingly. The West ostensibly opposes war crimes and supports stability and multiethnic harmony in the heart of Europe. But it does not do so in Bosnia.

For example, the first war crimes tribunal since Nazi Germany is under way. A recent CIA report shows that 90 percent of the crimes in Bosnia were conducted by Serb forces -- with orders given by leaders in Belgrade and Pale. These events took place in recent years, but there is a total disconnect between the tribunal and action in Bosnia.

The most telling case under way is of General Smith. Serbs recently shelled Gorazde and Sarajevo (targeting civilians in Sarajevo with a 20-millimeter cannon). The normal reaction for a military commander would be to call in airstrikes -- which is what Smith seems ready to do. Not only is this logical, it is his mandate.

Yet NATO officials have heard nothing from the UN about air strikes. On Tuesday Smith flew to Zagreb to seek ''clear guidance'' on them.

What Smith may not yet understand is that his real commanding officer is Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic sets NATO's parameters. As Smith's predecessor, General Rose, found, if one does't cooperate with Serbs, they kill or hold UN troops hostage. Wednesday, Karadzic threatened just that.

If the Western powers want justice in Bosnia, they need to ensure that Smith takes his orders from them. Not from Karadzic.

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