THE United Nations continues its search for ways to reduce the fierce fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina without widening the war or trapping outside powers in the struggle.
The UN Security Council's latest move, in the form of a resolution which may be adopted as early as today, is to ban all military aircraft from Bosnian skies. Only planes delivering relief supplies would be exempt.
Though always cautious and often moving against the dissenting votes of India, Zimbabwe, and China (which so far has abstained rather than use its veto), the 15-member Council has been slowly stepping up involvement in the Bosnian crisis. Much of its action until now, including the role of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, has focused on delivery of relief supplies. By barring military flights from Bosnian skies, the Council now wants to send the warring factions, particularly the Serbs, the message that acts o f aggression are being watched and carry a price.
Technically, all three warring factions in Bosnia accepted the concept of a "no fly" zone at the London peace talks in August. So did the foreign ministers of the European Community in mid-September, as a way to guard against attacks on relief planes and convoys. Last week President Bush, responding in part to recent increases of Serbian bombing attacks on Bosnian civilians, said the US is ready to use its air power to enforce a ban on flights over Bosnia, just as the US now does over southern Iraq. @BODYTEXT =
he debate among Council members on the Bosnian flight ban has focused intently on the delicate question of enforcement.
France and Britain are sending 1,600 and 1,800 troops respectively to the newly expanded UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) peacekeeping operation in Bosnia to help as armed escorts for relief convoys. Both nations are concerned that any pledge to enforce a flight ban could be seen by the Serbs as a declaration of war and lead to attacks against their ground troops.
Thus the compromise resolution now expected to pass the Council bans military flights and authorizes UN peacekeepers to be posted at airfields to report any violations. If the embargo is broken, the Council would meet again on an urgent basis to consider further steps.
"We'd like the resolution to be tougher - we'd like to see the steps delineated," comments one US source, "but we're good multilateral players, so we'll go with what the collective wisdom is."
Janusz Bugajski, an expert on Eastern Europe with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says he doubts the Serbs would challenge the flight ban and says the move could strengthen the morale of Bosnian forces. "I think it [the no-fly zone] is extremely important politically, but it's unlikely to have a major military impact."
Raymond Garthoff, a military expert with the Brookings Institution, agrees that the ban may have little real effect on Bosnian ground fighting. Enforcing a flight ban would carry additional risk of further involvement, he says, but in his view aerial enforcement is less risky than deeper involvement in the ground war where withdrawal often is more difficult.
So far none of the numerous cease-fires brokered by the UN and others have held. The Security Council continues to look for ways to tighten its economic embargo against Serbia and Montenegro. Last month, their Belgrade government was denied the former Yugoslavia's UN seat by both the General Assembly and the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the Security Council faces growing popular pressure to ease its broad, year-old arms embargo affecting all parts of the former Yugoslavia. Many critics argue that the embargo puts arms-poor Bosnians at a crucial disadvantage.
Still, the Council appears inclined to leave the embargo alone. As one Western diplomat puts it, "In effect you'd be saying, `There's no other way this can be resolved except to let them fight it out.' "