THE ill-defined UN mission in Bosnia is in an untenable position - a position such as the Bosnians have suffered for 38 months.
Serb aggression is rising. The recent Bosnian counteroffensive is sputtering. UN forces cannot protect themselves - let alone Sarajevo, now shelled constantly by the Serbs.
In the midst of new furies, European leaders talk tougher. But talk is talk. In fact, further capitulation is under way. British and French hostages were released only after a tacit UN promise of no more NATO airstrikes. UN officials have further promised the leader of the Bosnian Serbs that the new European-led "rapid reaction force" will not use force, and they also have abandoned enforcement of the Sarajevo weapons exclusion zone.
Two Washington administrations deferred to this European-UN policy that failed to halt aggression. But Bosnians continue to fight for their homes, lives, and principles they thought the West championed. To assert, as some do in denying help, that the two sides fight because they only understand ethnic feuds is a mistake. The conflict began as a land grab and slaughter of a people unprepared to fight. Does the West really want the creation of state borders by genocide?
Members of the US Congress who seek stronger action against Serb aggression feel the UN mission in Bosnia is destined to leave, and should Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, a realist on military affairs, proposes a cease-fire with a deadline past which the UN would leave and the arms embargo hampering Bosnia's Muslims be lifted. GOP Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's approach is similar.
That still leaves questions: What is the most effective way to evacuate UN troops under cover of the nascent rapid reaction force? More important, on what terms will the West leave Bosnians behind?
UN withdrawal should not imply abandonment of support for the multiethnic, UN-recognized state of Bosnia. The way to both support Bosnia and withdraw troops is to allow the Bosnians to arm themselves before the peacekeepers are removed. That would permit Bosnian forces to defend themselves better and defend surrounded civilians against stepped-up shelling.
NATO could bolster deterrence by warning Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that killing UN troops - or Bosnian civilians - will result in air- strikes against many Serb targets.
It is true that the only end to this anguishing war will be by negotiated settlement. But any negotiated settlement worth its salt will not come through appeasement.