THE peace accord signed this week by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia is a step in the right direction. But success in ending the war, which has killed 250,000 people and made 2 million refugees, depends greatly on America's willingness to make it stick.
On paper, the accord is about as good as can be achieved at this point without massive armed international intervention. It creates a central Bosnian government and two sub-entities: a Bosnian-Croat federation and a Bosnian Serb republic. Multiethnic Sarajevo remains undivided in government hands - a powerful symbol of what Bosnia-Herzegovina once was and could be again.
But how much power the central government will really have is open to doubt. The biggest impediment is that both entities will keep their armies. It is not clear that Serb nationalists, in Bosnia or Serbia, will accept the accord. The Bosnian Serbs on the delegation headed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic denounced the accord. Will Mr. Milosevic, who unleashed this war, now be able to force Bosnian Serb compliance?
As peace and economic revival take hold in Bosnia, aided by NATO troops' indispensible presence, perhaps the fires of nationalism will be damped down. As often happens, commerce could well outrun politics in bringing the people of Bosnia together. But the challenge of ethnic hatred and revenge remains strong.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of State Warren Christopher deserve the world's thanks for bringing the parties this far. Now President Clinton must convince Congress and the American people of the need to send US troops to Bosnia as part of the NATO mission. If this sorry war has shown anything, it is that only when the United States gets involved can progress be made. The world's only superpower has a heavy responsibility. Americans and their Congress must step up to it.
Success in securing peace will depend on American willingness to enforce the accord.