The Death of an Ideal


Paris.-- It is nonsense for Sen. Robert Dole, and others in Washington, to blame the United Nations and NATO for the fiasco in Bosnia. Those organizations are the instruments of their members, and their failure in Bosnia has resulted from the cacophonous and contradictory instructions given them by their members, including the U.S. government.

The United States voted for all those vain, contradictory and self-righteous Security Council resolutions that put the United Nations and U.N. troops in Bosnia into the situation in which they now find themselves. Even if the U.N. "got out of the way," as the senator has recommended, NATO would have done nothing for Bihac, since Britain and France are also members of NATO and wanted nothing done.

Senator Dole should have applied his wisdom and energy to the problem three years ago when, with American commitment and leadership, something might have been done to stop the war in the former Yugoslavia. Having then said that the crisis was Europe's business, not worth endangering the life of a single American grenadier, he is ill-placed to complain now, and threaten to tear down the United Nations and NATO.

Saying that, I must also say something about the U.N. execution of the mandate given it by the Security Council. The Security Council created "safe areas," of which Bihac was one, and a heavy-weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo. It instructed the U.N. Protection Force to see that its resolutions were carried out. It demanded that the civilians in safe areas be protected.

The United Nations chose to make its priority the security not of those civilians but of the U.N. Protection Force itself. That U.N. soldiers are in an extraordinarily difficult situation is obvious. Equally obvious is that the Security Council has failed to provide the additional troops and resources U.N. commanders have believed they needed to execute the missions confided to them. It is, however, axiomatic among the military that no commander ever has means adequate to his task -- or at least never thinks that he does.

UNPROFOR is composed of professional soldiers or volunteers,

all of whom knew what they were getting into when they agreed to go to Yugoslavia. It is true that they are badly deployed to defend themselves and that they lack heavy weapons. It is also true, however, that if they had attempted to do what the Security Council has instructed them to do, to defend the civilians in safe areas, and came under attack by Bosnian Serb forces, they would have been given comprehensive air (and other) support from NATO, which is no negligible asset.

In combination with NATO support they could certainly give a serious account of themselves, sufficient to inflict significant casualties upon not only the Serb forces directly engaged but on Serbian command and communications centers and headquarters. This would "add war to war" (to quote France's President Francois Mitterrand), but might also have provided that shock of serious international intervention which could have caused negotiations to be substituted for intimidation.

Soldiers exist to fight and, if necessary, to die. That is the contract a soldier undertakes. The democracies, not to speak of the United Nations, no longer seem to take this very seriously. No doubt this is a tribute to the democracies' sensitivities, but it is not a tribute to their prudence or intelligence when their unwillingness to employ their soldiers as soldiers produces more war, not less. This is what has happened, and continues to happen, in the former Yugoslavia, and by extension -- the fear is a realistic one -- may happen elsewhere in the Balkans, and perhaps beyond.

There are many soldiers in that U.N. force in Bosnia who have found loathsome and shameful the role they actually have had to play as passive witnesses to atrocity, compelled to refuse the distinction between aggressor and defender -- indeed often, in practice, hostile to the victims as disturbers of such peace as has existed.

David Rieff (writing in the current issue of World Policy Journal, published at the New School in New York) has comprehensively criticized those U.N. conceptions of "peacekeeping" that make it possible for Gen. Sir Michael Rose, the U.N. commander, to say even now that "the United Nations has never said it would defend anything." The determined application to Bosnia of an irrelevant model of peace keeping has been a major factor in putting U.N. soldiers into a situation that has dishonored them.

Nonetheless, the permanent members of the Security Council are fundamentally responsible for the affair. If Britain and France have driven U.N. policy into this impasse, they also have made the principal human commitments to Bosnia and accepted a responsibility the United States refused.

The U.S. declined to take a part in this affair when it could have made a difference. It made its moralizing return to the scene only in the past few weeks, while still refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of the lifted arms embargo and massive NATO bombardments it demanded. Its return was, in any case, too late.

It is a sad tale of the death of an ideal, an accomplishment, and a promise -- that of a Europe since 1945 that believed it had put behind it sterile wars for cruel and vain ambitions. It had not; and a darker Europe has succeeded.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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