THIS is not the West's finest hour on the Balkans. Wednesday in Geneva Lord Owen reached a hallow agreement with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic condemning ethnic cleansing and opening the door for a cease-fire. But the horror, pain, and brutality in Bosnia keep overwhelming efforts of Western leaders to treat atrocities as a minor irritant.
As diplomats met in Geneva, Serbs in Bosnia launched a new campaign of "ethnic cleansing." Some 200,000 terrified Muslims are being forced from villages they have lived in for 300 years.
The West is "looking into it." If so, will it see that along with shooting 950 civilians last week, Serbs besieging Sarajevo cut off water and power to the city? CIA and UN analysts estimate that 100,000 to 400,000 Bosnians will die of cold and hunger this winter. That is, unless the West wakes up and faces down this rebirth of barbarism with force.
The West's mishandling of Yugoslavia is more tragically apparent every day. The US and the European Community have treated it simply as a crisis to be "managed." Only last week a top EC official stated: "We have dealt with Yugoslavia ... we have been able to contain the conflict."
This is not the story. The story is starvation, torture, rape, murder, genocide, families ripped apart in medieval sieges on cities that were liberal and prosperous. Nothing has been contained. Every blade of grass Serb President Slobodan Milosevic has wanted, he has taken. Kosovo is a potential massacre. Albania and Macedonia - even Greece and Turkey, NATO allies on opposite sides of the conflict - may be drawn in.
"Managing" Yugoslavia with short-term solutions isn't adequate to deeper dynamics of brutality. Recall last month's London Conference? All Serb promises are broken. Mr. Milosevic burns villages, lobs artillery, conducts air strikes, supplies arms and energy to Serb forces in Bosnia. Limited intervention - liberating concentration camps, a Bosnian no-fly zone, arms to non-Serbs - is needed. But the White House continues to suggest its only options are all-out war or nothing.
Some diplomats and Serbs put hope in Milan Panic, the blustery Serbian-American brought in as Yugoslav prime minister. Panic is Milosevic's only opposition. If the West undercuts the Serb dictator through Panic, fine. So far Panic has helped Milosevic by acting as a "legitimate" agent for peace. Panic holds media events for Western reporters, but Milosevic controls the Army, the police, the money, the media, the secret service. Panic is a straw to grasp at. The West should not lean on that frail reed whi le avoiding the hard questions in the Balkans.