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DIPLOMACY : Cowboys or Wimps? : The bloody Balkan conflict has riven America and its European allies. Americans accuse the Europeans of failing to act decisively; the Europeans see the Americans as being alternately aggressive and timid, but always ill-informed

June 11, 1993|JOEL HAVEMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LUXEMBOURG — American cowboys and Eurowimps: For much of the period since World War II, that description seemed to distinguish the diplomatic styles on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Not now. In the civil war in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, neither the United States nor Europe has been willing to commit the kind of force that most experts believe is necessary to stop Serbs and Croats from terrorizing the Muslim population.

"Serious military intervention has never been contemplated by anyone at any time," Lord Owen, head of the European Community's peacemaking effort in Bosnia, told reporters here Tuesday after meeting with EC foreign ministers.

The result, according to Trevor Taylor, head of the international security program at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, was predictable: The aggressors in Bosnia feel they can act with impunity.

"Western Europe does not have enough professional military units to wield the kind of power it wants," Taylor said. And the United States' credibility has been undercut by its unwillingness to commit ground troops to Bosnia, he said.

There have been U.N. resolutions and peace plans aplenty: to impose economic sanctions against Serbia, to divide Bosnia into ethnically homogeneous provinces, to establish safe areas for Bosnia's Muslims. None has been completely enforced; none has had the desired effect.

"It is no use passing these resolutions if you are not prepared to back them up," said Owen, a former British foreign secretary.

As U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s diatribe attests, Americans and Europeans have tended to blame each other in their frustrating effort to end the carnage.

"Americans are right that the Europeans are afraid to face the problem," said Hans Stark, a researcher with the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. But the United States, he said, has been just as afraid.

Thus, when Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with the foreign ministers of the 12 EC countries here Wednesday, there was one clear area of agreement: Nobody proposed to use force to end the war in Bosnia.

That left the diplomatic situation in Bosnia unchanged, looking like this:

VANCE-OWEN PLAN: The EC foreign ministers declared Tuesday that the longstanding plan drafted by Owen and former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance would be the "centerpiece" of their effort to bring peace to Bosnia.

But Christopher declined in Luxembourg to approve the plan's specifics. From the beginning, the Clinton Administration complained that the plan allowed the Serbs to keep too much of the land they have seized from Bosnia's Muslims.

"Those criticisms look extremely hollow" now, Owen said Tuesday. The Serbs have recently gained control of so much new territory in Bosnia that the officials who met here conceded that just getting back to the Vance-Owen borders is a long way away.

SAFE AREAS: The full EC on Tuesday signed on to the plan--adopted in Washington on May 22 by the United States, Britain, France, Spain and Russia--to protect Bosnia's Muslims in six safe areas around Sarajevo and five other cities.

"The safe areas plan is a first step, a temporary plan to keep people alive," British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd told reporters here.

Owen warned the Americans and their European allies not to forget that. To leave the Muslims, who once accounted for more than 40% of Bosnia's population, with only those six areas would be to create "a Palestine situation in Europe," he said.

So far, the six safe areas have been anything but safe, and the United Nations cannot even get its peacekeeping forces into at least one of them through Serbian lines.

GROUND TROOPS: Under U.N. auspices, 11 countries--Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Ukraine--have 9,078 troops in Bosnia. Many of them are in the safe areas, although they are empowered only to observe and not to intervene.

National contingents range from 2,718 from France and 2,193 from Britain to a nine-member Portuguese medical team. The United States has refused to commit any ground troops to Bosnia.

To enforce anything like the Vance-Owen plan would require substantially more troops to supervise the rollback of Serbian and Croatian forces and to prepare the way for a free election. Owen, who had once assumed that as many as 20,000 U.S. troops would be available for this purpose, warned EC foreign ministers Tuesday that they could no longer count on any.

But the next day, Christopher said he had made clear to EC foreign ministers "our commitment eventually to provide ground troops" to support a negotiated settlement to the war.

ARMING THE MUSLIMS: As of a month ago, U.S. policy rested heavily on its plan to arm Bosnia's Muslims. A U.N. embargo on all arms shipments to Bosnia, while doing little to stem the tide of weaponry from Serbia and Croatia to ethnic Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, has practically stopped the flow of arms to the Muslims.

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