AFTER more than a year and a half, the search for peace in the former Yugoslavia has been spinning its wheels. The contention that negotiation is the only way out is fallacious. The parties to the conflict have used negotiation only as a form of political warfare.
Equally, calls for air attacks against roadblocks and siege positions rest on the fallacy of "surgical strikes" against micro-targets.
What to do? The priorities are plain: (1) Stop the killing; (2) feed the hungry; and (3) impound all heavy weapons. But, how?
First, and above all, the peacemakers must get the attention and respect of the parties.
Slobodan Milosevic and his Serb extremists are not the only villains, but they are the biggest. They have given the United Nations and the European Community false promises and patriotic bluster. The Europeans' official indignation has gone no farther than token efforts to help the victims while not stopping the victimizers. The United States, having allowed itself to be trapped in this charade, cannot now but see that air drops of food, while symbolically satisfying, would be inadequate, actually confir ming the Serbs' conviction that they need fear no decisive measures. Washington must demand that the Europeans join at last in effective action.
What action? Diplomatic, as a start.
Forget the UN Security Council for the moment. There is no longer time for that. Washington and the Europeans, with or without Russia (although Moscow might well accept so cautiously phased a scenario), must deliver a short-term, 48 or 72 hour, ultimatum to cease all military operations. This would apply to regular, irregular, and paramilitary forces. The fraud that Mr. Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and company cannot control them should be dismissed out of hand. The same ultimatum must go to the Croats, who have lately taken a page out of Serbia's book, and to the Bosnian Muslims.
The coalition must, meanwhile, tighten the hitherto farcical supervision of UN economic sanctions on Serbia voted last May. If the fighting continues, as it well may, the coalition should proclaim a no-fly zone over Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, shooting down any aircraft testing the ban.
If, after two or three days, fighting still does not stop, the coalition would threaten and then proceed to attack clearly identified military targets, such as airfields, arms factories, ammunition-storage areas, and barracks. This proof of determination would cut the extremists of all parties down to their small size and obviate any need for large suppressive ground operations.
The way would then be clear for peacekeepers by agreement or by force to collect and destroy all heavy weapons. This is essential, given the deeply ingrained suspicion and distrust. There is no place anywhere in the former Yugoslavia for tanks, bombs, rockets, artillery, or the like. (It is the failure to disarm the combatants that has troubled such well-meaning operations as Iraq, Somalia, Cambodia, and Angola.)
The peacekeepers, operating normally under UN rules, would assume the police power. Beneath this protective shield, people would be encouraged and helped to rebuild their houses and their lives in their own ways.
The presence would be strongest in Bosnia, less pervasive in Croatia and, perhaps, unnecessary in Serbia - although the forcibly annexed provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina pose serious questions. The UN, however, would not form a military government. Legitimate authority - and there still is such a thing - would remain untouched on the national as well as the local level. No new order would be imposed; in a state of peace, any new order would develop from below. But this is not Alice in Wonderland. The pe acekeepers must be numerous enough and have the mandate to stifle political provocations of the Balkans "Black Hand" variety, acts of revenge and clandestine ethnic cleansing, the expectable aftermath of such a terrible conflict. The example of the new Lebanon suggests that violence is not self-perpetuating.
The peacekeeping arm would be large and long-term. NATO has reckoned that it would take some 50,000 troops to enforce the present unenforceable peace plan. This one would be under constant UN review and serving no special interest.
Difficult? Complex? Certainly. Also, risky.
However, doing nothing but dithering means condoning genocide and inviting other chauvinist rabble-rousers to follow Milosevic's example. Since the Europeans seem unwilling or unable to act with resolution, it befalls the US, even in a time of domestic strain, to rouse them. When Europeans defied Hitler in World War II, and Stalin thereafter, the US joined them. But the American people would not have done so had Europe shrunk from its responsibility, nor would they today. Europe's failure to rally agains t this evil in its midst could antagonize America and erode the transatlantic bond of half a century. It would be a tragedy for both sides.