THE systematic killing and displacement of Muslims by Serbs in the newly recognized state of Bosnia-Herzegovina was rightly described as a "humanitarian nightmare" by Secretary of State James Baker last week, as he put the United States in the lead on isolating Serbia in the world community.
With European Community nations paralyzed by a new war on their doorstep, an outside party had to take the lead. The US has paved the way for EC nations to block Serbian travel to Europe, implement a trade embargo, and support freeing NATO troops for limited UN-based "Chapter 7" actions in Bosnia (as with air cover of Iraqi Kurds last year).
Not a minute too soon. Helped by Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, the butchery of peaceful European Muslims who have lived with Serbs and Croats in Sarajevo for 500 years is at least as bad as the nightmare Kuwaitis faced when Saddam Hussein invaded.
Nor, if Mr. Milosevic continues his power-hungry course, is the bloodletting in the Balkans likely to end in Bosnia. On Sunday, Albanian Muslims in the Serbian province of Kosovo voted to secede from Serbia. Kosovo is 90 percent Muslim but is Serbia's fervently loved mystic heartland. In 1987 Milosevic made his name by defending the Serb minority there. He reincorporated autonomous Kosovo into Serbia, took away Muslim weapons, and now runs Kosovo as a police state.
Kosovo is a time-bomb with a lit fuse. If it goes off, other Muslims in the Balkans - in Albania, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria - won't sit still. If Kosovo blows, the shreds of sanity still left among Serbia's leaders may disappear, making retreat from a larger, messier war more difficult.
Milosevic must be stopped - now. How to do it is the question. The EC was warned by everyone from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to UN envoy Cyrus Vance that Bosnia could explode. It miscalculated how far Milosevic would go once he determined Europe would not send its sons into a Balkan crossfire.
Yet even with 900,000 refugees, UN forces gone from bloody Sarajevo, and the world's attention seized, France and Greece prefer inaction. This is unacceptable. The French are piqued at a US role and want a European solution. Well - when? What?
Now that he has grabbed 70 percent of Bosnia, Milosevic has offered to help "end the war." But the US and EC must negotiate for trade and relations with Belgrade only if land is restored to a sovereign Bosnia.
Diplomatic efforts are marginal; a military solution barbarous. The crisis won't end by mere appeals to self-interest and reason. Ethnic differences aren't the problem. The exploitation of local ethnic peoples is behind the crisis - Milosevic and his propaganda. Without a change in Serb leadership, and an awakening by Serbs to the lies they have believed, the crisis will continue.
Serbia needs a leader who will speak the truth: admit the push for a Greater Serbia is wrong, that Serbs in Bosnia must lay down arms, and that Kosovo must be at least governed differently.
Average Serbs must begin to see how different it all can be.