Let Bosnia Defend Itself

BY passing the Dole-Lieberman bill tomorrow, which would unilaterally lift the arms embargo on the Bosnians, the Senate will force the White House to deal seriously with the problem of Bosnia for the first time.

The embargo was misguided from the beginning. It was imposed in 1991, 10 days after Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia, to keep Yugoslavia unified and stable. Instead, it gave the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Army he controls a green light to conduct a brutal, one-sided aggression and occupation, first in Croatia and then in Bosnia. Sadly, the West's arms embargo has aided aggression that turned into genocide.

Having failed to keep Yugoslavia together, the West shifted the rationale for the embargo in 1992 when Serbia invaded Bosnia, an internationally recognized state: The Europeans now opposed any action that would cause ``a further bloodletting.'' This position counted on the swift defeat of the Bosnian government. When this did not occur, and after President Clinton was elected having said he would lift the arms embargo, the Europeans added that lifting the embargo would endanger their peacekeeping troops on the ground, who were providing humanitarian aid. The Bosnian government itself has always preferred the right to defend itself to being held hostage to a ``humanitarian'' policy that aids Serbian aggression. It wants the embargo lifted.

Two weeks ago the House voted overwhelmingly to do so. The Senate should too. As Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan put it to Clinton administration officials in hearings last week: ``What has this been but bloody? Each of you gentlemen, if your country was in the position of Bosnia, would want to defend yourselves.''

Several European officials, including British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, lobbied on Capitol Hill last week against lifting the embargo. They argued again that such a move will cause more fighting and that the ``contact group'' of Russia, Europe, and the United States is on the verge of a partition peace plan that all parties can sign. Mainly to preserve this unity with European governments, the White House has reversed itself and now opposes lifting the embargo.

We find it unconvincing that the same Western governments (including the US) that ignored the ``ethnic cleansing'' in Bosnia are now working to deny the Bosnians their right to self-defense because somehow this is good for them. Nor do officials really believe the Serbs will withdraw from captured territory. For three years the West has said that a negotiated settlement was almost at hand. As longtime US diplomat Max Kampelman noted Thursday, giving Serbs 49 percent of territory taken through mass murder is not much to applaud in a world where other hostile regimes are watching the Balkans to decide what the rules are in the post-cold-war era.

Protecting United Nations troops on the ground is not complicated: Redeploy them to where there is no fighting. Fighting may continue, but that is Mr. Milosevic's responsibility. That peacekeepers are now used to deny Bosnia a means of self-defense mocks their ultimate purpose; they need a peace to keep, not an aggression to perpetrate.

The Senate should vote to lift the arms embargo.

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