THE situation in the Balkans is tipping more toward Western military intervention.
With the self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament refusing to approve an international peace plan, United States officials now intend to more urgently discuss possible bombing raids and other forceful measures with allies.
President Clinton said yesterday he is disappointed with the Bosnian Serb parliament's rejection of an international peace agreement and called on the "international community to unite and to act quickly and decisively."
"America has made its position clear. It is ready to do its part, but Europe must be willing to act with us," he said.
In Brussels to meet with Nato officials, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher said of the Bosnian Serb action, "I think it's another ploy to gain delay, and I for one will not be thrown off-track."
US officials never had high hopes that Wednesday's meeting of the Bosnian Serb representatives in the ironically named Heavenly Valley Hotel would approve the peace plan drawn up by international mediators Lord David Owen and Cyrus Vance. They have put more emphasis on the stick half of a carrot-and-stick strategy approved by President Clinton last week: Bomb Serb artillery and arm Bosnian Muslims if the peace process falls apart.
But as Secretary of State Christopher traveled to European capitals in recent days he had found allies more interested in talking about the peace plan carrot. While not breaking openly with the US they had indicated hesitance about more aggressive steps. Among other reasons, they cited concerns for the safety of their troops already on the ground in Bosnia as part of the United Nations Balkans humanitarian aid effort.
But after pinning hopes on peace, European officials were dismayed by the actions of the Bosnian Serbs, who in effect rejected the Vance-Owen plan by voting to refer it to a referendum. "It is clearly a serious setback," said Britain's Deputy Foreign Secretary Douglas Hogg.
Mr. Hogg said airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs had not been ruled out and that stronger measures might be called for. But he also said that further economic pressure on Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs' patron, was a possibility.
"It's important that we ensure sanctions are turned into an effective blockade," he said.
A coauthor of the peace plan, had sharper words for the Bosnian Serbs' rejection: "It's obscene," Lord Owen said.
At the French Foreign Ministry, spokesman Richard Duque called the Bosnian Serbs' decision "grave," and one official said "new measures or indications" of action could be expected before Monday, once consultations among Western partners were complete. France was in agreement with Christopher's response Thursday that "tougher measures" were now required.
Meanwhile, members of Congress have warned President Clinton in recent days that he needs to rally the American people around the US policy in Bosnia. In particular, the White House needs to prepare voters for the possible commitment of thousands of US ground troops to the area if the Bosnian Serbs come around and sign the Vance-Owen peace agreement.
Rep. Robert Michel (R) of Illinois, House minority leader, said Wednesday that in contrast to the Gulf war, many Americans "are not aware of the importance" of the Balkans conflict.
Considering the intransigence of the Bosnian Serbs, a quick implementation of the Vance-Owen plan seems unlikely. But if it does come about, the NATO effort would be massive - plans call for 20,000 or more US troops to participate in a peacekeeping force of 60,000 to 80,000. NATO is poised to move fast if the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs agree to lay down arms. The American people could be taken by surprise by the rapidity with which their sons and daughters are shipped into the former Yugoslavia.
Some units poised to participate, such as elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, "could be on the plane before we hang up the phone," noted one US official.
Congress would certainly vote on whether or not to approve a US Balkans peacekeeping effort, indicated key lawmakers on Wednesday. Whether that would occur in a timely manner is another question. The House just got around to approving the deployment of US forces in Somalia on May 6.
The US has now formally turned over control of the Somalia mission to the UN.