Washington -- For weeks now, mass killings and real horrors have been reported from Bosnia. Muslims have been murdered on wooden crosses. They have been forced to kneel and shot dead as they prayed. They have been beaten, raped, stomped, suffocated, stabbed.
The bombings of civilian neighborhoods have become a routine part of an "ethnic purification" campaign to drive non-Serbs from their homes. The Washington Post reports that the war in Bosnia has created more than 1 million -- largely Muslim -- refugees, "the largest wave of refugees in Europe since World War II."
Sarajevo's airport has been surrounded by Serbian troops and shut down for three months now. Food has become so scarce families live on one meal a day. Diabetics lack insulin; the wounded lack antibiotics and painkillers. The "international community," on which so many hopes are pinned in the new post-Cold War world, has managed little effective action. The sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council have not worked.
Cease-fires have been negotiated and violated. Pledges have been made and broken. The airport -- which was to be opened to permit delivery of medicine and food -- remains closed. The "safe routes" created for delivery of humanitarian supplies are shut tight. Serbian mortars still pound Sarajevo's neighborhoods.
"Do they want to kill us all?" Sarajevo's residents ask one another. Apparently, they do.
"Won't someone please do something?" residents ask no one in particular.
Once again the world stands by -- its armies idle -- while heavily armed forces slaughter civilians.
What might be done?
The embargo might be tightened, for one thing. A force might be organized to ensure delivery of food and medicine, as in Kurdistan. The Western European Union has discussed plans for peacekeeping and peace-making -- but in future conflicts. The European Community has dispatched distinguished envoys to mediate.
Britain's Lord Peter Carrington will try once again to achieve a cease-fire at talks in Strasbourg. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has said he would send Canadian peacekeeping troops to occupy the Sarajevo airport if there were a cease-fire. But no cease-fire holds.
Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel observed that "military measures should not be excluded in Yugoslavia . . . [but] German troops will not and should not take part." U.S. Secretary of State James Baker has concluded it is in the U.S. interest to prevent a "humanitarian nightmare" from continuing and observed that "we should not rule out the possibility that some sort of multilateral pressure would be required."
Mr. Baker has become an activist among Western diplomats. He has withdrawn recognition from Belgrade's ambassador to the United States, closed the Yugoslav consulate in Chicago and stepped up consultations with allies on relief operations in Sarajevo.
"It's hard to believe really, in this day and age, that armed forces will fire artillery and mortars indiscriminately into the heart of a city, flushing defenseless men, women and children out into the streets and then shooting them," Mr. Baker said.
But it has happened. So far, all governments are not only unwilling to take unilateral action, they are reluctant to take any action at all. There have been few urgent meetings of the U.N. Security Council. There have been no calls for an emergency meeting of the Human Rights Commission to deal with the plight of Bosnians, though a resolution passed in the wake of the Tian An Men Square massacre was designed for just such humanitarian catastrophes.
One might have thought the European Community, which claimed jurisdiction over the Yugoslav conflict at its very outset, would have requested a meeting to focus attention on the massive use of force against the Bosnian population. One might have thought the Islamic Conference would have acted in solidarity with Bosnia's Muslim population, which is a special target of Serbian aggression.
But the European Community has limited its effort to low-key diplomatic demarches, and the Islamic Conference has been occupied this month pushing for a special session on human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.
Their diversion is a good example of the problem with the United Nations as an arena for dealing with international crises. What happens in the U.N. depends on member states -- how much they care, how well organized for action they are and, especially, on their priorities.
Bosnia's Muslims (and Christians) have not been a matter of intense international concern. Bosnia's representative has LTC sought advice and help from the Islamic Conference, but the conference and its core component, the Arab League, have been busy pressing their endless charges against Israel.
A June 5 Palestine Liberation Organization letter charged that Israel is doing to Gaza what in fact the Serbs are doing to Bosnia -- imposing a "military blockade" which could "give rise to the catastrophe of starvation in the Strip" and engaging in "brutal acts" in a "bloody and frenzied campaign against Palestinians . . . which threatens to degenerate further into genocidal massacres."
Such irresponsible vendettas, wild charges and hyperbole distort U.N. proceedings, distract attention and invite cynicism. While there is no danger of starvation or genocide against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, there is already hunger, forced relocation and mass murder in Bosnia.
Action through the United Nations requires leadership -- like that the Bush administration offered on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. No one government is likely to act in Bosnia but several might well decide to act together. Collective security depends on the leadership of governments who see vital national interests at stake -- whether those interests be oil or preventing slaughter.
No institutional arrangement can relieve governments and leaders of the responsibility to act. If there were a standing rapid deployment force available to the United Nations, as the secretary general has proposed, Mr. Boutros-Ghali would be able to use it only with the authorization of the Security Council. Securing that authorization requires leadership and support from the permanent members.
When the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China and four or five of their colleagues in the Security Council decide to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, they can do so. Should the West European Union or the NATO countries decide to act first, they can do so.
But first it would be necessary for these leaders to decide that the killing has to stop.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is a syndicated columnist.