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The Right to Fight for Life

November 09, 1994

Bosnia, many in the West have argued, is a Vietnam waiting to swamp any outside power foolish enough to intervene. What too few have recognized is that the outside power likeliest to be swamped in a Bosnian Vietnam has always been Serbia. During the last week Bosnia began, visibly, to become a Vietnam for Serbia as the Bosnian Muslims and Croats scored major victories against the Bosnian Serbs.

What made Vietnam an unwinnable war for the United States was the psychologically inescapable fact that the Americans could always leave, while the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong could not. In Bosnia, the Bosnian Serbs have Serbia to flee to, the Bosnian Croats have Croatia but the Bosnian Muslims have only Bosnia. Lacking any refuge and faced with an enemy intent on "ethnic cleansing," the Muslims have no alternative but to fight on. Capitulation, for practical purposes, is not an option.

The British and French have warned that if the new fighting escalates too far, they may have to withdraw the troops they have committed to UNPROFOR, the U.N. peacekeeping force. They have also warned that withdrawal could follow any lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia.

This embargo is what preserved the arms imbalance that enabled the Serbs to make their initial bid for a Greater Serbia stretching--for the first time in history--from the Danube to the Adriatic. As the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia increasingly receives arms via Croatia, this imbalance is fading. But Bosnia's U.N. ambassador said on Nov. 3 that forced to choose between UNPROFOR and a lifting of the embargo, Bosnia would choose a lifting of the embargo.

On the same day, the U.N. General Assembly voted 97 to 0 to lift the embargo. The resolution was non-binding, and the Security Council is likely to ignore it. But Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was right to compare Bosnia to the Ethiopia of the 1930s--a country that, tragically, was denied the right to defend itself. She admonished the United Nations, saying, "We cannot allow the Bosnian Serbs to hold this organization hostage."

If the Security Council refuses to lift the embargo, the United States should do so unilaterally--even as it assists UNPROFOR in its retreat.

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