To Intervene or Not to Intervene in Bosnia

Secretary of State Warren Christopher has raised four tests for United States military intervention in Bosnia. The US needs to consider Mr. Christopher's views quickly. The issue is whether the US and/or NATO is willing to use air strikes to deter further Serbian attacks on civilian populations. This might be coupled by lifting the arms embargo, but the latter is helpful only if there is a US/NATO effort to deliver arms rapidly to the Bosnians. The following are answers to Christopher's four tests:

* Clear goal. The military objective should be to prevent further Serbian attacks on civilian populations. We would not try to roll the Serbs back from territory they occupy by military means. We would protect the United Nations troops from Serbian attack, in particular the Canadian forces in Srebrenica and the other enclaves in eastern Bosnia. Air strikes would be employed, not ground troops. Strategic bombing would be held in reserve, to be undertaken if the Serbs continue to attack civilian population s.

* Probability of success. Air strikes are limited in their impact but have the best likelihood of deterring further Serbian aggression, short of using ground forces. The alternative of not resisting the Serbs leaves the Muslims at risk in Bosnia and destroys completely the credibility of the UN. The Serbs are then more likely to move into other areas such as Kosovo.

* Exit strategy. As US ground forces are not envisioned, an exit strategy is less central. The US would not be attempting to conquer Serbia, but to prevent the Serbs from conquering the rest of Bosnia. If the air strikes are an effective deterrent, they become a stabilizing factor. The UN is prepared to deploy peacekeeping forces when the fighting stops.

* Sustained public support. I believe that the American public will accept using air power to prevent further attacks on civilians in Bosnia. Given the delay in European and US public responses to the Bosnian crisis, there are only imperfect options to choose from; but letting Serbian aggression run its course is the worst option of all. Srebrenica is a critical test of whether the UN will protect civilians. We cannot shirk backing the people of Srebrenica and their Canadian defenders. Other safe areas s hould be designated and the Serbs should be told that further use of artillery against Sarajevo will provoke aerial counterattack. But for air strikes to be a real deterrent, we need to telegraph to the Serbs our preparedness to use them and end the present ambiguity. Lionel A. Rosenblatt, Washington President, Refugees International

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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