Serb Assault in Bosnia Exposes Emptiness of `New World Order'

Europe's worry about UN troops undermines efforts to help Muslims

THE West's reluctance to stop a Bosnian Serb advance into a United Nation's safe area in Bihac is the clearest sign yet that hopes of a post-cold-war ``new world order'' are in a shambles, Western observers say.

Instead, five years after the end of the cold war, the West has yet to establish an effective approach to peacekeeping. As one frustrated Western diplomat here put it, the Bosnian Serbs have shown that as far as the post-cold-war West is concerned, ``the emperor has no clothes.''

The most telling moment of the Bihac crisis may have come when NATO ministers gathered in Brussels late last week. An effort to develop a new plan to halt the Serb advance on Bihac faltered when no country was willing to send in combat troops to halt the Serbs.

``What has come out in the `new world order and the Americans are leading this - is that people are being more and more conscious of [peacekeepers coming home in] body bags,'' says Andrew Duncan, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

As a result, UN officials here say politicians in the West - through the UN Security Council - are giving the UN operation in the former Yugoslavia more and more mandates without enough ground troops to enforce them.

``You should really look at the [Bihac] situation as a paradigm for the entire UN mission in the former Yugoslavia,'' a Western diplomat says. ``If [the UN had] 100,000 troops then people could be protected, but no one is willing to deploy a division in Bosnia. That's the problem.''

A particular difficulty has been enforcing six ``safe areas'' in Bosnia - including Bihac and Sarajevo - created by the UN security council last May to protect civilian populations.

``There's a whole lot of concern with the concept of safe areas,'' says a UN official who asked not to be named. ``Our feeling is we weren't given enough resources to protect them.''

Protecting safe zones

The UN has struggled with both sides in the war over the safe zones. Bosnian Serbs, who have committed the vast majority of safe-zone violations, recently stepped up attacks on the safe areas and have repeatedly blocked UN aid convoys to them.

The Serb advance into the so-called Bihac pocket is particularly alarming in the West because it reopens the possibility of a wider Serbian state. Bihac is a Muslim stronghold that has helped block such an effort.

But the Serbs say that the UN has allowed Muslim-led government forces to use the safe areas as bases to regroup their troops and launch offensives. At one point this summer, UN commanders threatened to bomb Bosnian Muslim positions if several hundred Muslim troops strategically deployed inside the Sarajevo safe area did not withdraw.

And this latest Serb action comes after a Muslim-led army took over Serb-held areas earlier this month, drawing in Serb fighters and air attacks from parts of Croatia controlled by Serbs. NATO did launch airstrikes against the Croatia-based airport last week, but did little else to stop the advance. Instead, UN officials have been busy trying to arrange a cease-fire.

Western diplomats say the inability of the West to agree on how to punish safe-zone violations has led the UN down a slippery slope toward its current powerlessness in Bihac.

``I'm afraid we've got a situation which is no different than it was 18 months ago,'' says Paul Beaver, editor of Jane's Balkans Sentinel in London. ``It's [the Serb attacks on UN safe areas] in Gorazde and Srebrenica revisited.''

No successes yet

Mr. Beaver says the West's inaction in the Bihac crisis is the clearest example yet that attempts to establish new peacekeeping arrangements, such as a coordinated NATO and UN efforts, haven't worked ``at all.''

The United States has been pushing for stronger action against the Serbs, while the Europeans - particularly France and Britain - resist that approach in order to protect their peace-keeping troops in Bosnia.

``NATO would like to go in, and to use the British expression `give Johnny Serb a bloody nose,' '' he says. ``And the UN hasn't grasped the need for positive action, to say, `Right, that's it, enough.' ''

The US decision earlier this month to stop enforcing the arms embargo while refusing to commit ground troops in Bosnia has added to the divisions and led to vocal criticism from Russia.

``It's the worst crisis in decades between the Europeans and the US,'' Beaver says. ``It's in everyone's interest to end this.''

Mr. Duncan argues that the UN mission in the former Yugoslavia -

which was designed as a humanitarian aid effort - is being expected to do too much.

``I'm not so much surprised as I am disappointed by the European and American politicians,'' he says. ``I think that given the mandate the [UN] has, the troops they have, and the people they're dealing with, you shouldn't expect them to do any better.''

He says no strategy - including the use of more force or ground troops - has emerged as an effective means of peacekeeping when both sides have not given up on fighting and agreed to a peace settlement.

``An awful lot of thought has been going into peacekeeping,'' he says. ``But when somebody has been more aggressive - there's Somalia - it didn't work.''

Analyst Beaver says the former Yugoslavia remains a crucial, precedent-setting test for the West in the post-cold-war era.

``I certainly hope there's going to be some new order [coming] out of this,'' he says. ``I think it's pretty worrying for all of us who care about Europe and about people to see what's going on down there.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.