Bosnia's Security Is Our Security

IN 1975, the leaders of the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, and all of Europe signed the Helsinki Final Act, which enunciated important principles that were to govern European affairs.

Among them were principles regarding respect for human rights, the territorial integrity of states, obligations under international law, and, above all, the notion of not using force to settle differences.

Fifteen years later, triumphantly celebrating the end of the cold war, the leaders of these Helsinki-signatories reaffirmed those principles, asserting that "Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past." Last year in Helsinki, the leaders assembled once again to designate the Helsinki principles as "the collective conscience of our community."

During the year since the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina began, the failure of European leaders to respond effectively and decisively to wanton aggression and genocide on their continent calls into question their genuine commitment to these principles.

The recent decision to herd Bosnia's Muslims into "safe havens," is, in my view, tantamount to a repudiation of the principle that force is an unacceptable means for addressing political ends. In effect, Europe has acquiesced to the principle that might make right in the interest of political expedience.

I am deeply ashamed that the international community has declared itself unwilling to challenge the territorial aspirations of a murderous thug and his rag-tag group of Serbian militants. In so doing, it has essentially delivered territory of a sovereign nation to the forces of aggression and genocide. This can only have the most dire consequences for peace, security, and justice in our world.

After agreeing to the safe-haven concept, President Clinton noted that "at least we're together again," referring to the US and Europe. I do not question the need for a multilateral approach. But what about our agreements to uphold the Helsinki principles? And what about the Bosnian Government? Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic reacted bitterly to this latest plan asserting that it rewards genocide.

In strong contrast, the militant leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, called it "realistic" and appeared more emboldened than ever by the world's unwillingness to halt his quest for a "Greater Serbia." Indeed, Serb irregulars have since blocked deployments in the "safe haven" cities despite promises made by Mr. Karadzic

Our inaction has legitimized Serbia's campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The safe-haven plan may soothe the consciences of some, but it does nothing to punish those responsible for aggression, terrorism, and acts of genocide. As a result, it has encouraged even more killing. With little fear of Western reprisal, opportunistic Croatian forces have been given a green light to conduct their own land grab, and Bosnian forces, feeling abandoned by the world, are carrying out desperate offensives.

Far from "liberating itself" from its past legacy, post-cold-war Europe is permitting itself once again to be defined by past weaknesses - a past replete with hatred, prejudice, and ethnic rivalries.

By their inaction, Europe's most powerful nations have demonstrated that, despite their grand proclamations, they have retained the narrow, self-serving outlooks that allowed similar tragedies to occur on their continent in the past. They have also sent a dangerous signal to extremists in both Western Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Finally, this failure calls into question the future role of NATO. At a time when we are agonizing over the closure of military bases here at home, we are maintaining, with an expensive deployment of troops and equipment, an alliance that has failed miserably to respond in any meaningful way to the type of ethnic rivalry and territorial dispute it has acknowledged is the biggest risk to its members' security.

How post-cold-war security is to be defined and maintained and what role the US should play in Europe's security must be urgently reviewed. I would urge Mr. Clinton, at the earliest possible moment, to begin a high-level review with our allies regarding these issues - issues that in the long run directly affect the security of us all.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.