The author of this article is a U.S. official who requested anonymity. AN extraordinary combination of circumstances makes this a propitious moment for a new effort to end the cruel war in Bosnia. It is not a time to step back, although the temptation to do so is strong.
After the defiant vote of Bosnian Serb leaders to reject the Vance-Owen peace plan, and under intense pressure from economic sanctions and President Clinton's credible threat of force, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia has suddenly stopped encouraging his allies in Bosnia.
Boris Yeltsin has made it clear that he supports international peace efforts, and will not throw a life preserver to Serbs in either Bosnia or Serbia.
Finally, recent fighting around Mostar has reminded the world that Croatia as well as Serbia must be brought to heel if there is to be progress toward peace.
If the United States and its allies can agree on a strategy to take advantage of these circumstances, they can fashion a new approach that could break Bosnia's spiral of death, prevent a spill-over of the conflict to neighboring lands and discourage nationalist extremists who hope to provoke similar conflicts elsewhere.
This would have to be a comprehensive strategy, not a piecemeal approach like those attempted so far, and it would have to be given time to work.
In order to be successful, any framework for peace in the Balkans must meet several tests: It must guarantee respect for internationally recognized borders, though it could hold out the possibility of future adjustments through mutual agreement.
It must not reward those who have engaged in odious "ethnic cleansing" in pursuit of racially pure nation-states.
And it must strengthen rather than weaken NATO by attracting support from both the United States and its European allies, as well as from Moscow.
Unless such a solution can be found, the carnage in Bosnia will worsen, and the message of international impotence will encourage similar conflicts in other parts of Europe and in the former Soviet republics.
Whatever the merits of aerial bombardment against Serb supply lines and artillery positions, it is now clear that European governments will not support it. Nor will they accept a lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia's Muslim-led government.
The challenge in Bosnia is not to introduce new weaponry, but to find ways of reducing the vast arsenals already there.
One promising approach is the idea of "safe havens," which has been raised by the Security Council and finds especially strong support in France.
Simply declaring certain besieged cities to be havens and demanding that fighting there cease, however, is not enough.
A multilateral ground force is needed to enforce peace in these havens and to show warring factions that it is to their advantage to silence their guns.
This ground force could not succeed unless it included troops from the United States. President Clinton has, until now, opposed the commitment of American troops in the absence of a peace settlement, but if they were used to help protect safe havens, their role would be essentially defensive, rather than offensive.
They would, of course, be in harm's way, as were the 40 United Nations soldiers from other lands who have already lost their lives in the former Yugoslavia.
European leaders, however, are right when they say that American concern over the killing in Bosnia cannot be taken fully seriously as long as the United States is unwilling to share all the risks.
To be credible, such a military force, of 25,000 to 50,000, would have to cooperate with NATO, and include Russian troops. It would need a U.N. mandate stronger than the one under which the forces in Bosnia are now operating.
The mandate should allow blue-helmeted soldiers to operate under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes troops to enforce their will rather than serving simply as observers, mediators and protectors of aid convoys. This force would first establish a presence in the designated havens, which would include Sarajevo.
It would then pursue the urgent goal of silencing the artillery that is pounding these unfortunate communities.
To achieve this, the West should introduce a carrot-and-stick policy that, unlike past policies, would seek to increase both the costs of continued defiance and the attractiveness of cooperation.
Within the safe havens, civilian and military authorities would be pressed to comply with the Vance-Owen plan, including disarmament. As soon as they do so, their communities would qualify for protection against further aggression, protection that could include air strikes against artillery positions.
In addition, these communities would be offered generous aid for reconstruction. Water and electric supplies would be restored, destroyed homes and public buildings rebuilt and a semblance of normal life restored. Refugees would be invited back.
The considerable costs of reconstruction should be borne by a specially created bank. Since the first havens would be predominantly Muslim, the bank should be financed in large part by wealthy Muslim countries that have expressed willingness to help but have not yet been given a format.
At the same time, hostile forces surrounding the havens must be completely isolated from outside support. Observers with modern monitoring equipment should be posted along Bosnia's
borders. No supplies of any kind, with the exception of basic foods and medicine delivered by international agencies, should be permitted to reach fighters who refuse to lay down their weapons, or civilian communities that back them.
The holdouts would soon find it impossible to grow, produce, buy or sell almost anything at all.
The contrast between relative prosperity within regions that accept the Vance-Owen plan and steep decline in conditions outside them would soon become stark. U.N. troops would seek gradually to expand the size of the havens by promising those outside an end to privation if they cooperate.
President Milosevic should be tested to see if he is really serious about ending support for the Bosnian Serbs. Remembering his record of mendacity, we should proceed warily.
But if international monitors verify that he has cut Belgrade's lifeline to the Bosnian Serbs, foreign governments should agree to discuss easing the sanctions that have crippled his country.
President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia should be put to a comparable test. Croatia has regular army troops fighting in Bosnia, holding down front-line positions against Serb fighters but also terrorizing civilians in Mostar and central Bosnia.
Mr. Tudjman should be told that if he does not withdraw them and stop supplying Croatian militias, who are engaged in their own "ethnic cleansing," his country will be punished with sanctions as harsh as those that have been applied against Serbia.
Another incentive should be the presentation of all war crimes cases to the U.N. tribunal to be established for this purpose. Hatred among the three warring sides has reached such a level that there is little confidence in the ability of any of them to prosecute these cases fairly.
Turning them over to a body that could guarantee due process would build confidence in the Vance-Owen process and ease fears that the trials would degenerate into orgies of political revenge. The tribunal could also hold out the possibility of amnesty if it could be negotiated by the parties.
This strategy would require re-thinking some assumptions. It would require President Clinton to modify two conditions he has set in the past: He would have to accept the involvement of
American ground troops before the signing of a comprehensive peace treaty, since European countries alone would be unwilling to launch such an ambitious new effort.
And he would have to permit the deployment of these troops without a firm timetable for their withdrawal.
Another troublesome question is that of getting aid to the safe havens, which at least at the outset would be encircled by hostile fighters. Some aid could be dropped by air, but much would certainly have to be trucked across unfriendly territory.
If Serb fighters continue to block these convoys, U.N. ground troops might have to use force to bring them through, increasing the likelihood of casualties.
There are two important reasons to commit military and economic resources to a multilateral effort to bring peace to Bosnia. The first is one to which Americans have already responded, which is the crying need to relieve unimaginable human suffering. The second is that American national security interests are at stake.
NATO and the United Nations, the institutions best equipped to keep international peace, have been badly battered by this crisis. If they cannot act now, the world will be even more poorly equipped when the next similar crisis erupts in Eastern Europe or the former Soviet republics.