The UN's Mistakes in the Balkans

UNITED Nations policy toward former Yugoslavia is poorly conceived to deal with a war of deliberate military conquest by the Milosevic regime in Serbia, aided by paramilitary surrogates in Bosnia and Croatia. The UN policy, of course, reflects the mandate given by the Security Council, where the attitudes of the United States, Great Britain, and France weigh heavily.

These three countries have been reluctant to identify the main cause of the war in former Yugoslavia and to help end it. Instead of giving the UN a clear mandate to confront aggression, the Security Council has instituted a vague policy that "the various warring parties," with the help of UN negotiators, will accept and abide by a cease-fire and negotiate in good faith.

Instead of stopping this savage war, UN peacekeeping officials have made demands which tend to deprive the victims of what little protection they have. The secretary-general and other UN officials have been slow to admit the failure of the cease-fire policy.

In recent weeks, the former Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitary forces have been carrying out an extensive military campaign in Bosnia aimed at crushing all resistance by forces loyal to the legitimate government of Bosnia and at expelling the non-Serbian population.

In Croatia too, Serbian forces continue artillery assaults on major civilian centers such as Zadar, Osijek, and Dubrovnik. Each day the number of refugees from the Serbian campaign of "ethnic cleansing" increases by thousands. The aggressors want indisputable control over Bosnia from the Drina to the so-called Krajina region in Croatia. They want to present the world with a military and political fait accompli. Yugoslav aircraft have been bombing Bosnian towns in clear violation of peace agreements.

Given the refusal of the Serbs to end their campaign, Bosnians and their allies, the Croatians, must be allowed to defend themselves militarily. This is not a pro-war question, but one of self-defense and survival.

Time after time the Serbs have used cease-fire agreements brokered by the European Community or the UN to stop potentially successful counter- offensives by defenders. Or they are used to regroup and move in reinforcements and heavy weapons. Serb forces have used UN forces around Sarajevo airport as a shield for artillery attacks and as a way to launch armored assaults on the residential district of Dobrinja, near the airport.

While UN officials pay careful attention to the technicalities of the cease-fire agreement at the Sarajevo airport, they have ignored the strategic battles launched by Serbs throughout the republic. If the Bosnian Muslim and Croatian forces are unable to resist this massive military assault, the entire republic will fall into the hands of an aggressor whose brutal and genocidal behavior should now be clear.

THE government of Bosnia is desperately appealing to the world for military assistance in repelling the Serb forces and has openly requested assistance from Croatia. Members of the UN and the world community must decide whether they will really support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina or whether they will simply allow the aggressor to continue to gain and keep lands by conquest.

It is high time to stop playing the cease-fire game. Only the certainty of direct military measures has a chance of convincing Serbian leaders like Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic to end their campaign of military conquest and ethnic cleansing. Failure to act will set a terrible precedent for future aggressors in similar situations. The world community must abandon the pretense that all parties in this conflict are equally guilty.

The UN or NATO should be authorized to present the Serbian political and military leadership with an unambiguous ultimatum: either end hostilities and show intent to withdraw all forces and weaponry from Bosnia and Croatia or face the certainty of a military response.

The members of the UN Security Council should authorize the use of air power under UN or NATO auspices to strike selected military targets and ground the "Yugoslav" Air Force. If UN or NATO member nations are unwilling to commit their ground forces to save the peoples of Croatia and Bosnia, they should at least assist the governments and regular military forces of these countries to drive out the aggressor.

The UN arms embargo should be removed at once from Croatia and Bosnia and military aid be authorized so these two countries can resist the invaders. Military aid should be granted on the condition that internationally sanctioned advisers and human rights monitors be present.

An organized effort to assist the Bosnians and Croatians in building a well-armed, regular, and disciplined defense force is preferable to entrusting defense to ad hoc efforts of untrained local guerrillas led by local warlords armed with weapons provided by shady arms traffickers.

Arming Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina carries risks, but nothing could be worse than leaving the peoples of those countries at the mercies of marauding armies of undisciplined Serbian irregulars. Wherever resistance has been strong, the irregulars have retreated, and the Serbian government has shown a greater inclination to negotiate.

Leading members of the Security Council would also do well to heed the urgent call for Albanian President Sali Berisha for UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Only prompt action will prevent the outbreak of full-scale war in that region. An ounce of prevention from the world community today will be better than tons of belated remedies tomorrow. Instead of peacekeeping in Bosnia and Croatia, it is now time for peacemaking. Even if the world's attention is focused this week on other crises in Somalia or Iraq , the situation in former Yugoslavia will not go away, and if left unattended, will only escalate.

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