Elections scheduled for this September in Bosnia are the capstone of last year's Dayton peace accord. This exercise in democracy is meant to put the country on course toward unified nationhood. It's also meant to clear the way for withdrawing international peacekeepers.
But anyone who watched Bosnia's descent into war and atrocity knows the path toward September is strewn with difficulties. Chief among these is the persistence in power of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, an indicted war criminal. It was agreed in Dayton that Mr. Karadzic and others facing war-crimes prosecution could not run for office in the fall elections. But his continued exercise of authority thwarts the emergence of alternative political voices.
Efforts by international diplomats to secure an agreement on Karadzic's exit have so far failed. Hopes that diplomatic pressure on Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia proper, would lead to the removal of Karadzic are fading. The Muslim-led government in Sarajevo, meanwhile, refuses to participate come September if Karadzic remains in power.
The United States, which leads the peacekeeping coalition, insists that the elections proceed on schedule. Secretary of State Christpher said this week that NATO patrols will be strengthened, with the implication that they will arrest Karadzic or his fellow war-crimes suspect, Gen. Ratko Mladic, if they come across them. But the Clinton administration is chary of that course of action - fearing a violent reaction from extremist Serbs and, if US soldiers are harmed, a political reaction from Americans.
Yet the risks of another kind of disaster - the unraveling of the Bosnian elections and perhaps the whole Dayton process - are growing day by day. With Karadzic still holding court in Pale, all sides in Bosnia are digging in, resisting efforts by international officials to set up election-monitoring teams and voter-registration centers. Ethnic cleansing grinds on - less massively but just as perniciously.
The simple truth is that Karadzic must go if peace is to have a chance. He and Mladic should be sent to The Hague. Short of that, everything possible must be done to so marginalize him that he can't distort the electoral process. The US and its allies should put some enforcement muscle behind election preparations.
For the elections to have their intended effect, voices other than those of rabid nationalism have to be heard.