The U.S. Takes Over in Bosnia


Paris -- The humiliation of Europe in what may prove the Yugoslav end-game has yet to be fully appreciated in Europe's capitals. Reproached for their four-year failure to find a coherent and effective common policy, officials and politicians in London, Paris and Bonn still answer as if the last four years have taught them nothing.

"Yes," they say, "we really must have a common European foreign policy." If the European Union did not have a common policy before the Yugoslav war, and doesn't have one now, after four years of crisis, how can anyone think that it is going to have one in the future?

The United States has taken the Yugoslav affair over, made things happen, and has a plan, which Richard Holbrooke has been in Europe to promote, to bring the war to an end. It would do so either through negotiations while the Bosnian Serbs are under duress, or failing that, by arming and protecting the Bosnian government, providing it with the means to fight for its own interests. The West thereby ceases to be the jailer of the Bosnians and the ratifiers of Serbian conquests.

The application of duress began with American sponsorship of the Croatian-Bosnian federation, and Washington's implied encouragement to Croatia's military campaign to recover the Krajina. It resumed with this week's bombings and shelling of Bosnian Serb positions and installations.

French and British policy-by-default, as well as the policy of the European Union's negotiator (at least when David Owen occupied that post), has been to press the principal victim of aggression, the Bosnian government, to end the war by giving up. The American plan presses the principal instigator of aggression, Serbia, and its Bosnian Serb allies, to yield conquered territory.

One government determined to block or punish military aggression in 1991, might have stopped the war at the start. Instead there was a vain search for European and international agreement on what, collectively, to do, ending in the hapless dispatch of humanitarian aid and unwanted mediators. Appeasement "added war to war" (to employ former French President Mitterrand's phrase).

Appeasement of aggression and adventure is all but inevitable when you insist, in a situation like this, on obtaining unanimous agreement from 12, 15, or even more different governments. Current events again demonstrate that decisive action is possible only when there is a leader prepared to define the problem and take the initiative and responsibility, allowing others to follow if they want.

The United States today is again Europe's leader; there is no other. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations tried, and failed, to persuade the European governments to take over Europe's leadership.

However the Holbrooke plan does not mean that the United States now is back, prepared to resume its old role in Europe. It is back because Bosnia has become an internal American political issue and a presidential election approaches. Mr. Clinton and his people need this war out of the way.

If that can be accomplished, the United States will turn back toward its own problems, which are considerable. Europe, once again, will be left adrift, in troubled seas and worsening international weather.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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