Heady Talk of European Unity Subsides in Era of Bosnia

THE war in Bosnia, which has left hundreds of thousands of Europeans dead or homeless, has claimed another casualty by deeply wounding Europe's aspirations for political union.

The continent's first blood-letting conflict in 40 years has further undermined the European order that was a keystone in the West's postwar peace and prosperity.

Having abetted Europe's plunge into its deepest pessimism since the 1930s, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia has revived old distrusts and revealed such political impotence, observers agree, that the dream of a truly common European foreign and security policy has been pushed off far into the future - if not ended altogether.

That "dream" - as outlined in the European Community's Maastricht Treaty - was never realistic to begin with, some analysts argue, and will now be replaced by something that better reflects the realities of Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Others, noting expectations that Maastricht will finally become EC law in October, say efforts to ensure European peace through closer ties will continue out of necessity, even if the idea of political integration with a truly common foreign policy has been set back.

"It was an impossible dream in the first place; now Bosnia is just the last nail in the coffin," says Michael Dewar, deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"We're going to see a looser way forward for a wider Europe," he predicts.

"[The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina] shows us that the most important national prerogatives, such as foreign policy, cannot yet be Europeanized," adds Angelika Volle, European specialist with the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn.

"Unfortunately," she concludes, "reaching that goal will be on the back burner for quite some time to come."

Maastricht, complete with plans for a single European currency and common foreign and security policy, was negotiated in the brief window of European headiness between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the slide of the former Yugoslavia into war in 1991.

Now the failure of Europe's leaders to effectively address not just Yugoslavia, but also their worst economic recession in 60 years, has gutted enthusiasm for tighter integration and left Maastricht battered and still not fully ratified.

Even German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who once enthusiastically vaunted a European federalism by calling for a "United States of Europe," no longer dares to use that expression.

Europe's "moral depression" over its failures is comparable to the crisis of the 1930s, says Dominique Moisi, assistant director of the French Institute for International Relations - but with a crucial difference: "Unlike the '30s, when the people succumbed to antidemocratic fervor, xenophobia, and economic fears, today we have primarily a failure of Europe's elites in facing their responsibilities," says Mr. Moisi. "There's a void that results from a realization that the failures were not inevitable, th at more imaginative leaders could have found other solutions."

Solutions proposed by leaders like Mr. Kohl, French President Francois Mitterrand, and Jacques Delors, president of the EC's executive commission, became institutional "straitjackets" because they weren't adapted to problem-solving in post-cold-war Europe, says Colonel Dewar - an assessment Moisi seconds. "It's the failure of a generation ill-adapted to Europe's new circumstances," Moisi says. "Mitterrand has been too conservative, Kohl unimaginative, and Delors too rigid for the times."

The same conservatism that had Mitterrand predicting in late 1989 that German reunification was still "dozens and dozens of years" away has hampered French initiative in the former Yugoslavia, observers say. And a preoccupation among European leaders with avoiding the use of force on their own continent has left the public with troubling memories of European appeasement.

Still, few Europeans see an alternative to some form of closer political cooperation, at a time when the EC has become North America's equal on the world economic stage. This leads some observers to hope that the failure of Europe's response to Yugoslavia will prompt renewed efforts at policy integration.

"Divergent views [among Europeans] on Bosnia played a negative role, and that should cause pressure for more common action," says Henri Menudier, a political scientist here specializing in French-German relations. "[A] system of cooperation among states is not sufficient."

Maastricht is expected to be adopted as law at a special EC summit in October, and some officials, notably German and French, expect that to be an occasion for renewing Europe's determination to move forward. France has already proposed a conference on European security, where signatories - notably those in Eastern Europe hoping to join the EC - would commit to fully respect ethnic minorities and international borders.

Certain to influence Europe as it tries to play a more decisive international role will be the evolution of its security relationship with the United States.

Disagreements between the US and European leaders over the approach to take in Bosnia could end up accelerating an American disengagement from Europe, some European analysts believe. But other observers say the Yugoslav conflict has already reawakened the US to its abiding interests in a secure Europe and the role it still has here.

"Those people in Washington who thought we could hand everything over to the Europeans have changed their minds," says one US official.

Yugoslavia has served as a reminder that a focus on Asia, as followed early by President Clinton, can only go forward if Europe - still America's biggest trade partner and the linchpin of Western security - is at peace.

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