Advertisement

Reckoning Time in Bosnia : Bombs and bullets, along with strong words, will get the Serbs' attention and force them to stop their aggressive ways. But does the West have the guts to stand fast?

June 04, 1995|Charles A. Kupchan | Charles A. Kupchan, senior fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown University, was on the staff of the National Security Council for the first year of the Clinton Administration

NEW YORK — The crisis in Bosnia has reached a long overdue turning point. Serb capture of hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers underscores the absurdity of dropping light ly armed troops into the middle of a war zone and telling them to keep the peace. The downing of a U.S. aircraft forces the Clinton Administration to take a stand on whether Americans should be prepared to die for Bosnia. Time and again, the United States and its NATO allies have threatened to punish the Serbs if they continue efforts to carve up Bosnia and attack civilian centers and the U.N. troops supposedly protecting them. Time and again, the Serbs have shown these threats hollow and made a mockery of the Western powers and their institutions.

NATO allies can no longer hide behind the illusion that maintaining a token U.N. force in Bosnia and dropping an occasional bomb on the Serbs are better than doing nothing. They are not. The war is being prolonged. The Bosnian Muslims continue to hold out, buoyed by the prospect of outside help that is not forthcoming. The gap between Western rhetoric and Western action is eating away at the fabric of Europe and whatever is left of a transatlantic community of civil, democratic states.

NATO allies now have to choose between two options. They must either come clean about the limits of their willingness to use force in Bosnia and let the Serbs have their way, which will at least stop the charade even if it rewards Serb aggression. Or they must up the ante, giving U.N. troops the ability to protect themselves and carrying out a sustained air campaign against the Bosnian Serbs aimed at pressing them to accept a negotiated settlement. The second course is far preferable. But it requires what has thus far been most lacking among NATO allies: determination and guts.

The Serbs have all along threatened to retaliate against U.N. peacekeepers in response to NATO attacks on Serb positions. Now that they have done so, a continuation of the status quo is untenable. Confronted with the prospect of a hostage crisis after each air strike, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can no longer credibly claim that it will retaliate against Serb attacks on Bosnia's designated "safe areas." NATO's strategy of coercive diplomacy, already undermined by repeated bouts of unanswered Serb aggression, has been defanged.

Because the Serbs have called NATO's bluff, members of the Atlantic Alliance must do some serious soul-searching. Is the fate of Bosnia important enough to justify deeper military involvement and the consequent risks? Will not NATO and the European Union lose popular support and relevance in the post-Cold War landscape if they punt on Bosnia? Are American, British and French leaders prepared to stay the course and see through a strategy of escalation even when their soldiers die and domestic criticism mounts?

Unless policy-makers in NATO countries can affirm with confidence that they are prepared to stand up to Serb resolve, it is time to throw in the towel. It is far better to assert that the interests at stake in Bosnia do not warrant further Western involvement than to continue undermining Western institutions and cohesion by shrinking from the challenge every time the Serbs test NATO. And the Bosnian Muslims need to hear that they are on their own--if that is indeed the case. Otherwise, they will continue to assume that the West is behind them and wait for a better deal.

No harm will be done if U.N. peacekeepers are left in Bosnia as a fig leaf--delivering food and medicine whenever Serb forces are in the mood to allow it. But NATO's empty threats to defend them and the safe areas will have to end. And so will any hope of winning more land for the Bosnian Muslims and foiling the forces of virulent nationalism that will have succeeded in creating a Greater Serbia.

If NATO is unprepared to cut and run, it has only one other option: a strategy of graduated escalation and coercive diplomacy aimed at punishing the Serbs and forcing their hand at the negotiating table. In light of Bosnia's proximity to areas of vital interest to NATO members, the potential for the war to spread if Serb aggression goes unchecked, and the damaging effect that inaction is having on the West and its institutions, this strategy is far preferable. But NATO should pursue it if, and only if, its members are willing to accept the risks involved and put their troops' lives on the line to return peace to the Balkans.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|