Future of Internationalism

'ALOT of thought will have to go into our next step [in Bosnia], because it will probably be the most important step the international community makes in this century.'' This statement from United Nations spokesman in Bosnia Alexander Ivanko might be viewed as an exaggeration, albeit an understandable one, considering the crisis there. But, sadly, he seems to have cut straight to the point.

Those who must plan for a worst-case scenario in Bosnia have troubling visions before them. They include abandoning UN safe areas and exposing civilian populations to possible torture, starvation, and death. They include a possible messy withdrawal of UN troops, with countries acting unilaterally in a chaotic every-man-for-himself retreat, all the while casting blame on one another. Potentially most tragically, they include a collapse of confidence that the international community can work together in the future to protect a UN member state, enforce international law, or preserve peace and stability.

The announcement of the reinforcement of UN troops in Bosnia and their redeployment into more defensible positions does represent progress, in that it recognizes what has been evident for some time: the failure of current policies. A redeployed and reinforced UN contingent will be able to continue, at least in part, its humanitarian role while protecting itself. These moves also represent a necessary first step should a future decision be made for a UN withdrawal.

Now is the time for President Clinton, with the support and cooperation of the Republican Congress, to lead by explaining to the American people just what is at stake in Bosnia. Presidential politics and the growing US debate over ''internationalism'' versus ''unilateralism'' must be put aside and replaced by a bipartisan spirit of support for US commitments and basic human rights.

A deal has almost been struck with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in which he would recognize the Bosnian government in exchange for the lifting of an international embargo on Serbia. That would effectively remove the last outside sponsor of the Bosnian Serbs.

But what will be the response of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic? A new willingness to negotiate? Or a fatalistic resolve to fight on? It is a time for those who know that prayer can lead to solutions as yet unseen to acknowledge that there is a right path forward, and that it will be found. Calm, rational thought must accompany the latest military moves, as essential as they seem to be.

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