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A Military Role in Bosnia?


Paris. The struggle to obtain a cease-fire in Sarajevo has made people both in Washington and the European capitals think seriously about military intervention in Yugoslavia.

This thinking has been more serious in Washington than in Western Europe -- the place that ought to be serious about this crisis -- because Washington has the habit of action. It remains all but impossible to get agreement among the West Europeans on matters so drastic as military action in what formerly was Yugoslavia.

However, no one in Washington or Europe has a satisfactory answer to the question of what would be the ultimate purpose of this intervention. The U.N.'s sanctions do have a clear and limited aim: to stop Serbian aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the U.N. military intervention discussed last week concerned opening a logistical corridor to Sarajevo to feed the population and treat its casualties, with the airport reopened under U.N. control for the same purpose.

It was a humanitarian enterprise. If the cease-fire in Sarajevo holds, a limited humanitarian aid success will have been achieved by U.N. sanctions. Such a success, however, has no clear sequel.

And what is to be done if the Sarajevo cease-fire does not hold? The population could be protected by clearing away the Serbian irregulars controlling the heights around the city. But that could not be done with a few air strikes. Infantry would have to sweep the irregulars' positions and secure them. At what point would the U.N. infantry stop, given that each position taken up by an intervention force would itself be vulnerable to further attack?

Presumably the rationale of any intervention is to produce a political settlement of the Yugoslav war. But on what terms? Simply a permanent cease-fire on the present lines occupied by Serb, Croat and Bosnian forces?

If that is what happens, Serbia has won the war. It has done what it set out to do: annex those parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with substantial Serbian populations and expel the rest of the people (or kill them, which certainly has happened). For practical purposes, a "Greater Serbia" now has been created, thanks mainly to the heavy weapons of the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army.

This could not be a stable settlement, however, because the peoples who have had their territories seized and seen their relatives expelled or killed will naturally set out to get revenge and recover their lands -- presumably then expelling or killing the Serbian occupants, thereby laying the foundation for the next war among the South Slavs.

A logical alternative is to try to re-establish the frontiers that existed at the time Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina declared their independence. This is what the international community has called for. For obvious reasons this is as difficult a solution as the previous one is unsatisfactory. Who is going to drive the Serbs out? A U.N. army? Rearmed Croats and Muslims acting with U.N. blessing or support?

A more modest and attainable objective of international intervention is the one implicit in what both EC and the United Nations have already done: to cause the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic and his government in Belgrade, and to promote negotiations between a successor government in Serbia and the other states of what used to be Yugoslavia in order to put a peaceful end to this affair.

The developing opposition inside Serbia to the Milosevic government and its adventures suggests that this outcome is not impossible. The sanctions are having an effect. The Orthodox Church opposes the government. The shock of a Western military intervention, at Sarajevo or elsewhere, could be decisive. Or so it may be argued. No one knows. There are plenty of Serbs who enthusiastically support what the Milosevic government has done.

One would like to believe this affair is nearing its end, but of course it has quite possibly only begun. Troop intervention must certainly be given a political objective, and this must be defined now, because military intervention remains a serious possibility.

The primordial issue is that national aggrandizement in Europe through aggressive war must not be allowed to succeed. If it does succeed, all that has been accomplished in the moral remaking of European politics and policy since 1945 is betrayed. is worth a great deal to prevent that.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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