EVEN as Serbian leaders thumb their noses at international efforts to mediate the bloody war in Bosnia, think tanks from the conservative Heritage Foundation to the libertarian Cato Institute are warning that the United States has no compelling justification for multilateral engagement in the Balkans. While this isolationist clamor is likely to find a receptive audience in an administration firmly committed to do-nothingness in post-cold-war Europe, there are pressing political, strategic, and humanitari an reasons for the US to consider a broader role, including commitment of its forces, to help contain the largest bloodletting in Europe since World War II.
Aggression by the Serb-controlled Yugoslav Army and Serb irregulars in Bosnia (and earlier in Croatia) has inflamed regional tensions. Serbia's forced incorporation and subsequent crackdown in the ethnically Albanian enclave of Kosovo could ignite friction with Albania. Unrest may spread to independent Macedonia, which has a substantial Albanian minority. Hungary has expressed concern about Serbian repressions in Vojvodina, a formerly autonomous region with a large Hungarian population. Bulgaria's recogn ition of Macedonia raises possible conflicts with Serbia and Greece. And anti-Muslim pogroms in Bosnia and in Serbia's Sanjak region may lead to political pressure in Turkey for some form of intervention. Refugees, hundreds of thousands of them, flood Hungary and other nations unable to absorb them.
So far, NATO, the UN, and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe have failed to come up with a coordinated strategy to end the fighting. Sanctions, the threat of a naval blockade, and the presence of UN peacekeepers have done little to deter Serbian hegemony or break Serbia's stranglehold on Sarajevo, where some 400,000 people face starvation and death.
IN terms of suffering, Serbia's war in Bosnia and Croatia has been horrific. Some say the casualty total is 100,000 - many being civilians. Serbian forces have engaged in atrocities against Croats and Muslims as part of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing." Videotapes and photographs from Croatia of civilian massacres last year in the villages of Skabrnje and Nadin show dozens of bodies mutilated, tortured, or shot at close range. A recent report by Newsday's Roy Gutman appears to confirm rumors of a death c amp operated by Serbs in the northern Bosnian town of Omarska. Eyewitnesses say trainloads of Muslims have been deported from Muslim regions. Scores of Muslim hostages were massacred by Serbs outside Sarajevo. Serb forces continue to shell Goradze, whose population is 70 percent Muslim Slav and includes 30,000 Muslim refugees from other wartorn areas of Bosnia.
The US response to this has been woefully inadequate. Handwringing and a few cargo planes are not enough. The White House, along with European allies, must bring force to bear to show the Serb government that the West will end the fighting. Rather than risk ground troops, NATO fighter planes in Germany, using satellite information and other intelligence, should launch strikes against Serbian artillery batteries around Sarajevo. In addition to sending a strong message to Belgrade, such action would likely
galvanize the already mounting opposition inside Serbia to strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Satellites should investigate and pinpoint the existence of death camps, and Belgrade leaders should be warned that they could face possible war crimes charges.
Use of military force is a decision of last resort. But there seems no real alternative to end a slaughter that has cost more lives than the US lost in Vietnam. The US must take the lead to force the Europeans to stop the killing in their backyard. In so doing, NATO will act as a mutual defense organization and guarantor of collective security in Europe - a message that will resound in the fragile new democracies of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Failure to do so will show that in George Bus h's new world order, the law of the jungle prevails.