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The New World Order of Indifference and Impotence : The slaughter spreads in Bosnia as the West looks on in paralysis

April 17, 1993

Two years ago, when the Croatian town of Vukovar fell to invading Serb forces, the sack that followed had a ferocity not seen since the Nazis entered Warsaw. Vukovar, at that moment, took its grim place in the endlessly violent history of Europe. Srebenica is the Bosnian Vukovar.

The fall of this refugee-swollen town near Bosnia's eastern border with Serbia brings Bosnia itself a large step closer to falling. And fallen, too, are the vain hopes of those who believed the U.N.-EC peace plan drafted by Cyrus R. Vance and Lord David Owen was anything but a license for further Serb violence in Bosnia.

The vanity of that plan was that it excused the Europeans and the Americans, NATO and the United Nations from taking any action to enforce peace unless and until all the Bosnian parties voluntarily agreed to it. To say this was to say to the victim of a rape: "We will step in and put a stop to this, but only when both you and he agree that we should put a stop to it." She has agreed, long since. He, no surprise, has not agreed. Srebenica is the result.

It is not true that nothing short of the commitment of hundreds of thousands of ground troops could have stopped this horror. Conservative doves have lamented the sudden support of liberal hawks for military intervention. But there are also conservative hawks: George P. Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of them have called for action. It is true that U.S. policy under Bush was one of standing by and watching, but now Bush's Democratic successor has continued this policy. Clinton's airdrop of food was a feckless effort, quickly and properly discontinued. True, the United States led the way in proposing enforcement of a Bosnian no-fly zone, though the European tilt toward Serbia led to its weakening. But at this point, neither that measure nor any other form of air intervention can save Srebenica.

Timely political intervention to guarantee the safety of Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia might have foiled the neo-fascist designs of Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs' Radovan Karadzic at the start. Early aerial intervention, experts say, could have seriously raised the cost to the Serbs without endangering civilians. U.N. peacekeepers were turned into Western hostages in Serb hands when protecting them became an argument blocking even modest military means against the horrendous aggression. Sanctions, which have done some damage in Yugoslavia, could easily have been made much more severe many months ago.

All that is hindsight. What of saving Bosnia now? Will an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council go no further than agreement that the time has come to strengthen economic sanctions against Yugoslavia? The British, who accepted foreign arms against the Nazis, though their doing so undoubtedly did spread the fighting, long have been unwilling to lift an arms embargo to allow the Bosnians to do the same. It is this, among other things, that properly enrages Thatcher.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher is in agreement with official Britain, dismissing Thatcher as "emotional." Others in the Clinton Administration, proposing such measures as the creation of refugee havens within Bosnia, clearly do not have the boss's ear. But, in the end, it may not matter. The Europeans unanimously oppose arming the Bosnians and unanimously oppose even such inconvenience to the Serbs as air strikes might provide. Lord Owen, his folly exposed by events, now favors strikes, but they do not. Without European cooperation, Clinton has said until now that he is reluctant to move.

In short, ghastly as the slaughter will be, fateful as will be the precedent established for the rest of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, it looks right now as if nothing of any consequence will be done. This impotence, this appalling unanimity, is as much of a new world order as we shall soon see.

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