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Appeasing Serbia Has Its Price


Paris.--The international conference on Yugoslavia, which opened Wednesday in London, is more likely than not to give victory to Serbia and to the practices of aggression and ethnic purge.

These will be provisional victories, since to complete their creation of a Greater Serbia, the Serbs must also purge Kosovo of its 1.2 million Albanians, and drive out the Hungarian and other minorities from the formerly self-governing province of Vojvodina and all the rest of Serbia. Macedonia must be dealt with, and this -- like the purge of Kosovo -- risks provoking another Balkan war. The Serbs will also have to hold their conquests against eventual Croatian and Bosnian counterattacks.

However, the Western powers meeting in London seem ready to accept as fait accompli the division of Bosnian territories already imposed by Serbian and Croatian aggression. U.S. Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger says that what Washington wants from the London conference is "some sort of permanent mechanism" which could provide "a forum" for talking about the war. He told the New York Times last week that he does not expect the London conference to end the war, and offered no suggestion as to how the war might otherwise be halted.

This appears to be the British position as well. John Major's government has been promoting the idea of a cease-fire on the present battle lines, with subsequent political negotiations -- Mr. Eagleburger's "permanent mechanism." The U.N. troop reinforcements to escort humanitarian convoys would in the meantime provide the appearance of a Western peacemaking intervention without the risk of a real one.

The French government would almost certainly be content with this arrangement, although the French have been more willing than the others to take risks in humanitarian intervention, and there is considerable public pressure for military intervention against the Serbs.

Germany strongly favors intervention but cannot effectively advocate it, since Germany is both constitutionally and politically precluded from sending forces to Yugoslavia.

The arrangement favored by London and Washington means that the Serbs win. They will be confirmed in possession of nearly all they have wanted in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The president of the self-proclaimed "Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina" said last weekend: "We control the Serbian territories in Bosnia; we have a state, an administration, an army -- all we need; all that remains is to negotiate a peace agreement."

The Croatians have already helped themselves to substantially what they want in Bosnia, too. The Bosnians will undoubtedly be informally, if not formally, advised in London to accept the division of their country into Serb, Croatian and Muslim "cantons." These will effectively become components of the new and Greater Serbia and of a new Croatia.

If the Bosnians insist on the principle of the unified and multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina to which the United States and the European Community have accorded formal recognition -- which is the present position of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic -- they will undoubtedly be told, like the Czechs in 1938, that the democratic world will hold them responsible for whatever catastrophe may follow. An English historian of the late 19th Century once remarked that the study of history "may make you wise, but it cannot fail but make you sad."

There are two reasons for the Western powers' willingness to appease Serbia and abandon Bosnia. The first is internal politics. Mr. Major's electorate and the Conservative Party establishment are hostile to military intervention in the distant Balkans. In Washington, the Bush administration now is driven exclusively by considerations of re-election, and there are few votes to win in Bosnia.

The second is despair of an alternative. Established opinion hagenerally persuaded itself that any intervention would mean whole NATO armies committed to endless war against guerrilla resistance in a hate-ravaged land where rights and wrongs are hopelessly intermingled. This formulation of the problem permits only one answer: that intervention would be useless.

Establishment opinion, however, tends to reflect establishmeninterests, and there are many independent military sources and people acquainted with Yugoslavia today who say that this is not a true description of the problem. They suggest that Serbia is politically fragile, seriously divided internally, and that the Serbian forces now fighting inside Bosnia are a confused and undisciplined mass of local warlords and freebooters.

They believe, as does this writer, that if aggression prospers in the Balkans, to Western indifference, we close the door on 47 years of European peace and general progress among the democracies -- and justified hope for the future; and we open another door, into a darkened room.

The director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the most respected of such institutions, Francois Heisbourg, has, for example, proposed the following:

* Blockade (in place of embargo) of Serbia, to inhibit Serbia's support for the Serbian militias fighting inside Bosnia-Herzegovina.

* Air and naval attack on those militias' heavy weapons, logistics and lines of communications.

* Arms supply to the internationally recognized Bosnian government.

* Military support for that government's defense of the territories it still holds, notably the regions around Sarajevo and the town of Bihac in the north, bases for eventual Bosnian offensive action to halt ethnic purges.

Mr. Heisbourg argues that a force of 70,000 to 100,000 foreign troops -- a reinforced army corps -- could certainly deal with the attacks of Serbian militias and also stop any renewed offensive by the ex-Yugoslav national army. He sensibly adds that this should be an ad hoc coalition under single command (as in the gulf war), and that no new U.N. authority is needed for democratic states to go to the assistance of a recognized government under assault.

He does not suggest -- nor would any sensible person -- that the Western powers try through military measures to impose a general settlement in Yugoslavia. What the democratic powers can do is demonstrate that aggression, war crimes and ethnic and racial purge cannot be committed in Europe with impunity. London promises to demonstrate the precise opposite.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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