Forgotten Bosnia

THE Balkans have famously been called ``the despair of tidy minds.'' In recent months this has never been more true. The problem of Bosnia has become so complicated that even those familiar with it find it hard to untangle and describe.

As news, Bosnia has nearly disappeared. American headlines are dominated by Somalia and Haiti. US troops are in Somalia; Haiti is off American shores. The United States has a role in dealing with these serious problems.

Yet in overall strategic and even moral terms, the problems of Haiti and Somalia are not in the scale with a genocide in Europe that has thrown collective security in that region into its deepest crisis since World War II. The former Yugoslavia is the first unanswered challenge to the post-cold-war order. Lt. General Cedras and General Aideed may be nasty and unreliable. But they are not in a position to systematically challenge the inner workings of Western values and order, as are Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and Serb President Milosevic. Serbs, and to some extent Croats, continue to destroy a civilization, conduct mass murder in the name of ethnic stability, create millions of refugees, change the borders of a recognized state in defiance of Helsinki accords, and flout the West.

It may be easy to forget, but the European city of Sarajevo is in its 18th month of siege. Citizens are trapped, shorn of dignity and peace. Shelling continues. Gas and water are shut off arbitrarily. In the rest of Serb-held Bosnia a second wave of ``ethnic cleansing'' is under way, as the Monitor has reported. Winter is coming; humanitarian aid is choked.

It is clear the Europeans could not face the moral and strategic implications of Bosnia. Their strategy, led by the British, has been simple and steady: Do not merely accept the outcome of Milosevic's policy, but help bring a quick end to the war by enforcing an arms embargo on the Bosnians who won't stand long against the old Yugoslav Army held by Milosevic. In simple language, the European policy is: ``A Greater Serbia means stability in the Balkans, sad to say.''

This pattern is seen in the diplomatic record. Bosnia's recognition by and admittance to the UN was followed by UN-European Community talks at the London Conference of August 1992. The West was beginning to capitulate. The Vance-Owen plan would bring ``peace'' but ratify Serb gains. Vance-Owen collapsed last July to be replaced by a ``partition plan'' negotiated by Lord Owen. That plan is dead. Lord Owen now calls for a conference to ``internationalize'' the issue of Bosnia. The new conference is quietly being set up to remove support of the principles of international law stated (though not acted on) in the London Conference. Thus, the way will be smoothed for the legal dismemberment of Bosnia. All that will be left is for the US to sign on.

In the face of history and humanity - will it? It should not.

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