Missing in Bosnia: Clear Goals

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THE spectacle of UN peacekeepers manacled to ammo dumps is as shocking as 1992's images of Bosnian men herded into concentration camps. One wants to shout to the heavens, "Do something!" But the pressure on earthly governments to do something - anything - fast, can get in the way of doing something that works.

That happened in 1992, when the major powers responded to the concentration camps primarily with purely humanitarian aid. Will it happen again in 1995, when responses to the outrages of late May look like a disjointed series of military counter-moves?

That sage of European warfare, Carl von Clausewitz, would put the focus where it belongs: Before anything else leaders should define political goals. What kind of attainable and sustainable political outcome would we like to see in Bosnia? Only after defining that should leaders pull together the resources needed to attain it.

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The only political goal for Bosnia that the Clinton administration has spelled out recently has been the American interest, as stated again by the president June 3, in "limiting the spread of the conflict." This may sound laudable and prudent. But it seeks only to postpone, rather than resolve, the question of what shape of outcome we would like to see in Bosnia. As such, it is a recipe for dragging out the horrors of the conflict without end. (And it should not need saying that this would only continue the erosion of NATO and UN authority that is this conflict's unavoidable companion.)

Most Americans, looking at Bosnia, have only a few historical precedents in mind: Munich, Vietnam, Mogadishu. But others are also relevant. For example: the speedy withdrawal of British power from India made necessary by Britain's catastrophic enfeeblement during World War II. The British withdrawal was accompanied by horrific eruptions of intercommunal violence. (Sound familiar?) Within just a few weeks around the withdrawal date, a population exchange involving 15 million people took place between independent India and the new separatist country of Pakistan.

Britain's withdrawal from India was not, to put it kindly, perfect. It left numerous loose ends that gnaw at South Asia to this day. But the two political entities born in 1947 succeeded in taking root, and few would argue that their peoples' lot would have been better if Britain had sought merely to "contain" the communal violence, rather than acceding to the demand for a Muslim entity.

In contrast to the clear (though never ideal) plan that the British aimed for in India, what political outcome does the West see for Bosnia? The latest "contact" group plan seeks to maintain the currently recognized boundaries for something called "Bosnia," while allowing different communities inside it considerable powers, including the ability to form loose links with other states. This looks disastrous! Wouldn't it be better to recognize that followers of ethnic-Serb renegade, Radovan Karadzic, cannot be successfully integrated into a Bosnian state; to concede that Bosnia may therefore need to be divided; and to concentrate on seeing that the aggressed-against citizens of the central government get the best they can out of the deal?

Such an approach would almost certainly involve further massive movements of population. It would not bring perfect justice. But it would have two huge advantages: It would give the Bosnian majority a chance to build a viable state, and it would end the West's nauseating and self-defeating stress on appeasing Serb President Slobodan Milosevic as a way to contain the conflict.

True, today's first priority is to get UN and NATO hostages released. But as Western leaders seek to achieve this, they should also - however belatedly - be working out a winning political strategy for Bosnia. Partition is definitely one they should look at.

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