Bosnia Bombing Worsens the Situation


The results of the bombings of Bosnian Serb positions around Gorazde last Sunday and Monday have confirmed the fears of those who have argued all along that such an action would worsen the situation in Bosnia.

As a result of the bombing, United Nations relief operations in much of Bosnia have been stopped. Peace negotiations have been suspended. U.N. personnel, who were in fact not the target of the Bosnian Serb attack on Gorazde, are now indeed threatened as a result of the attack supposedly meant to protect them. Some are already hostages. Even the Sarajevo cease-fire has been violated.

None of these results should surprise anybody. All along, major arguments against bombing the Bosnian Serbs were that such an action would end humanitarian missions, bring U.N. personnel under threat, probably end the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and increase armed conflict. Of course, negotiations tend to be hindered rather than helped by accelerating fighting.

But the tale becomes even stranger. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has now taken its first-ever offensive military action, in a war outside of the theaters envisioned for it, against enemies never envisioned for it, to achieve goals that seem also to have not been envisioned.

It is the goals that should matter most, yet these are now less clear than ever.

The original goal, of preserving a multi-ethnic Bosnia, vanished long ago.

Even the supposed Muslim-Croatian "federation" in Bosnia amounts to little more than a plan for the more peaceful partitioning of the parts of the republic under the control of those groups. Its "constitution" does not provide any framework for a workable government, nor any means to execute central government decisions even if that supposed government were empowered to make any -- which it is not.

If the aim is to restore peace to Bosnia, then negotiations will require that the Muslims, who in losing the war have lost the most, abandon their desires to reclaim huge amounts of land. Now, however, the Muslims are mounting offensives against the Bosnian Serbs, a process that has only been encouraged by the NATO bombing

U.S. policy, in fact, seems to be to support Muslim military activity, either as a form of pressure on the Bosnian Serbs or to change the results of the war. Since the Muslims have been the primary victims thus far, this approach may appear to be fair. Unfortunately, it is also likely to be disastrous, being the strategy that may produce the greatest risk of a general Balkans war, perhaps even leading to a confrontation between NATO and Russia Since the administration keeps repeating that it is prepared to use air power against the Serbs again, it is useful to consider what might happen in the event that Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is wrong, and that air strikes might be effective in the Gorazde area. Or, to invert the previous joint chiefs chairman, Gen. Colin L. Powell, that we can "do mountains" as well as deserts.

Suppose that massive air strikes -- "going in with all guns blazing," as they say in some Beltway circles -- succeed in doing major damage to the Bosnian Serb army in Bosnia. The result might even be a rout of the Serbian forces. Then what?

In that case, the Muslim forces will go on the offensive. Who could or would stop them? Then what?

If the Muslims make serious gains, the result would be the flight of the Bosnian Serb population from eastern Bosnia -- essentially, a new wave of "ethnic cleansing," and a new wave of refugees into Serbia, to join the half-million there already. But such a result would force the Yugoslav army into becoming actively and openly involved in the battle. Then what?

The potential for disaster then increases exponentially. NATO might bomb targets in Serbia itself, an escalation of the war that would violate the United Nations' mandate and that would risk a jTC serious clash with the Russians. Such an act by NATO would certainly doom President Boris N. Yeltsin by giving overwhelming strength to the Russian nationalists who support the Serbs and oppose him. And it would probably doom the United Nations as well, as the Security Council returns to the Cold War.

But in the Balkans themselves, the potential for wider war would also increase. Croatia might use the opportunity afforded by more fighting in Bosnia to attack the Serbs in Croatia. Such an attack would likely provoke an all-out war between Serbia and Croatia, something that did not occur in 1991. Perhaps the Albanians of Kosovo would rise against the Serbian forces there. Who would then respond? Which outside countries would be drawn in? Albania? Greece? Turkey? What would then happen to Macedonia, a territory of vital interest to the Bulgarians? And where would NATO be in all of this?

Perhaps we should think of what would happen if Generals Shalikashvili and Powell are right, and that air strikes won't do serious damage to the Serbs. In that case, air strikes will only end the humanitarian effort, cause casualties among NATO forces, and provoke a Bosnian Serb offensive against the Muslims.

Or perhaps a middle course is brighter: that the bombings damage the Serbs, but that NATO or the U.N. inserts tens of thousands of peacemakers into the region to avoid a Muslim advance and the consequences of the first scenario.

All of which gets us back to square one: The results of the Sunday-Monday NATO bombings of Bosnian Serb positions around Gorazde have confirmed the fears of those who have argued all along that such action would worsen the situation in Bosnia. The only rational conclusion is that NATO, and above all others, the United States, should stop rattling sabers and take the diplomatic efforts needed to bring the war to a close, even though the peace will be unfair to the Muslims.

The alternative is a wider war.

Robert Hayden, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, is a specialist on the regions of the former Yugoslavia.

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