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DIPLOMACY : Discord Over Bosnia Opens Rift Between U.S., NATO Allies : European officials voice concern over name-calling and backbiting in the wake of American policy changes.


LONDON — Disagreements between the United States and its Western European allies over tactics and goals in Bosnia-Herzegovina are contributing to a serious rift in the Western security alliance, some diplomats say.

To Europeans, American leadership in Europe seems to be waning after a period of mutual misunderstanding, creating a situation in which, as the Times of London put it this week, "The Atlantic gets wider every day." And as one senior ambassador here described it, "I think Europeans are going to be adrift in their relations with Washington, until we find out what American foreign policy is going to be."

Few officials suggest that the Atlantic Alliance, which has survived more than 40 years as the most successful defense grouping in history, is on the ropes.

But many senior officials in Europe are concerned over the current spate of name-calling and backbiting in the wake of the Clinton Administration's changing policy involving the use of military force in Bosnia.

In the view of Europeans, President Clinton for a time appeared to make decisions on Bosnia based more on simplistic television reporting and editorial comment than on hardheaded assessments of the effects of the use of force.

The crisis of transatlantic confidence crested after Secretary of State Warren Christopher's European visit last month, when he tried to sell the allies on arming Bosnian Muslims and launching air strikes against Serbian forces.

The Europeans warned against such moves. On Christopher's return to Washington, Clinton seemed to take the Europeans' advice. But at the same time, his aides blamed allies for their counsel of caution.

Some long-suffering European diplomats like British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd have turned the other cheek to Washington, believing unfair criticism by Washington of European Bosnian policy is a small price to pay for overall transatlantic harmony.

Hurd and others are trying to reduce the tensions that have been created within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, especially between Washington and London, where Americans can usually find support.

Pointing out that the alliance no longer has the Cold War to unite NATO, European External Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek this week admitted that, in the view of Americans and others, "the image of the European Community has suffered grievously from our failure to resolve this ghastly conflict on our doorstep."

"The absence of a credible EC threat to use military force has resulted in European impotence and the need for ultimate U.S. involvement, a pattern too familiar in European history," he observed.

The former Dutch foreign minister urged Europe to "get its act together" to speak with one voice to Washington--because, as he suggested, there is no contradiction between "being a good Atlanticist and a good European."

Raymond Seitz, the experienced and respected American ambassador to Britain, warns against allowing differences over Bosnia to get out of hand.

"The worst possible outcome from Bosnia," he says, "would be to make an essentially Balkan problem into a transatlantic problem. We and our allies may not agree on all options. But we should not permit disagreement to erode or undermine the indivisibility of our joint security.

"In an unhappy, ironic way, Bosnia has demonstrated that there is no genuine European security without an American presence, and so long as the United States maintains its vigorous role in Europe, even at reduced levels, the dangers of widening instability are remote."

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