Bosnia Mission - Worth It

As always, peace in Europe hinges on American willingness to intervene

What next for Bosnia? As everyone says, making the peace will be more difficult than making the agreement. There is no assurance that the goals of the warring parties have really changed. Yet, just as the seemingly impossible search did at last find a formula for peace, peace itself may be realized if it is doggedly and creatively pursued.

The obstacles are clear. One can imagine the mental reservations buried in the elaborate Dayton documentation. Behind it lie four years of conflict marked by cold cruelty unmatched in modern times except by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. There is room for double-dealing in the voluminous protocols, for the Black Hand style of political terrorism associated with the Balkans, as well as for personal acts of revenge. There are also important sore spots left to be healed by goodwill, which is in short supply.

One of these is the Croatian-Muslim federation, with 51 percent of Bosnia's territory. It is a marriage of convenience, brokered by the United States as a counterweight to the Bosnian Serb republic, which holds the remaining 49 percent. No love is lost between the Croat and Muslim partners who fought each other bitterly in the first half of the Bosnian war. Croatian ethnic cleansing of Muslim towns and villages was as brutal (if smaller in scale and less homicidal) as that done by the Serbs. And people do not forget the map President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia drew on a menu at a London dinner earlier this year. Asked what Bosnia would look like in five years, he showed it partitioned between Croatia and Serbia.

NATO's stabilizing presence is planned for a year or a little more. Some who want to take up arms again after it ends may half welcome this as a respite. While the 60,000 strong IFOR (Implementation Force, including non-NATO units such as the Russians) and especially its 20,000 Americans go in with great power, much will depend on what happens to the heavy weapons in the hands of the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Croats. IFOR/NATO has no mandate to disarm them. And the armies of Serbia (the old Yugoslav army) and of Croatia remain untouched.

American resolve the key

More important than any of this is the strength of the American resolve to see that peace wins out. Objections raised in Congress to the commitment of American ground forces raise serious questions. The Europeans should have dealt with the Yugoslav wars in the beginning, but they were divided and confused. Only when bold American diplomacy intervened, almost too late in the day, sweeping the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic out of the negotiations, was serious bargaining possible with the principals.

The United States has made peace possible. Without full American participation it will again be up for grabs. Britain has said that its troops will be in Bosnia only together with the Americans. To be sure, US security is not immediately affected by whatever happens. However, not to see America's vital interests involved there is to see no farther than the end of one's nose. The United States tipped the balance of victory in World War I. Without American intervention World War II would have been lost.

Europe is again in crisis, groping for unity. The former Soviet satellites in the east are gripped by serious internal troubles, including ethnic differences. Russia is still an unpredictable factor. The notion that aggression and genocide are acceptable in settling disputes destroys civilization. Since 1941, when Pearl Harbor ended isolationism, it has been accepted that the US has a vital interest in a democratic, prosperous, and stable Europe. War in Yugoslavia, possibly spreading to its neighbors, could set Europe's house on fire.

The blathering of politicians

Peace is worth the probably minimal risk that a well-trained combat force will face. US politicians may wave the bloody shirt: body bags, Somalia, Beirut, Vietnam. They may blather about centuries-old hatreds and fighters who held off the German Army. In fact, Yugoslavia was essentially quiet after World War II until Slobodan Milosevich aroused the passions of nationalism to attain his Greater Serbia. And during World War II Yugoslavia was a sideshow for the Germans, who wanted mainly to keep their supply lines open to Greece and Romania. The real fighting was the civil war between Marshal Tito's Partisans and Drazha Mihailovich's Serbian Chetniks.

Peace is not doomed, but neither is it certain. IFOR/ NATO is not mandated to impose democracy, even if it could. Nothing and no one can impose tolerance. It must grow on its own. But a firm military presence can give the day-to-day security essential for recovery. The allies have one invaluable asset. After four years of horror, people want a normal life. The Marshall plan revived Europe after World War II. Seed money was part of it; and billions of dollars are earmarked for Bosnia. But the European miracle happened because people had the spirit to go to work, under US protection. In Germany, where they set about building democracy, people responded wholeheartedly. A free press, print and broadcast, started under prolonged occupation; it became the essential pillar of a new society.

In Bosnia, IFOR/NATO has less time but equal need to stimulate the natural demand for freedom. The soldiers should go in not only with weapons to teach attackers a lesson but also with the tools of the information age. Independent newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, discussion groups, and workshops in democratic federalism will find ready acceptance among people looking for a better way. The rulers of Serbia and Croatia might not like it, but there is a tradition of tolerance in Bosnia, which should help this effort bear fruit.

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