PARIS -- American policy on Bosnia has taken on that rationality and political realism Europeans claimed in the past for themselves.
The West Europeans persist in a sentimentalism about peace, war and war settlements, which caused them to fail in Yugoslavia. They object that the Dayton agreement on Bosnia was signed under American duress, and ratifies ethnic cleansing and national expansion by both Serbia and Croatia.
The Bosnian government gained the nominally united Bosnia-Herzegovina it wanted, but the Bosnian Serbs object, and the Sarajevo authorities must expect trouble from their Croatian partners in the Bosno-Croatian federation that Washington invented and, for their own good, has forced upon both.
A chance to last
This peace settlement, unsatisfactory as it is, happens to be the only game in town. Four years after well intentioned outsiders began looking for a settlement of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, there is one. It incorporates major injustices as faits-accomplis, but it has a serious chance to last because all three warring parties get more out of it than they would get from more war.
Radovan Karadzic's Bosnian Serb followers, particularly those in the Serb-held part of Sarajevo, are the big losers. They threaten to turn Sarajevo into Beirut, but in fact are packing their bags, which is wise of them. Slobodan Milosevic, president of the new Serbia-Macedonia in Belgrade, has abandoned them, and would not mind were their leader, Mr. Karadzic, to be delivered to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, which has indicted him for genocide.
Dr. Karadzic and his fellow-accused, Gen. Ratko Mladic, are now obstacles not only to peace but to the future of Mr. Milosevic, who is, of course, the principal instigator of this war, but one with whom the international community is compelled to deal, unlike the highly dispensable Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic.
The Bosnian government's forces, under this agreement, will be expanded and armed. This is essential if American forces expect to leave in a year. A year reflects President Clinton's electoral timetable, but is also a salutary time limit.
Richard Holbrooke was asked last week why this agreement should succeed when previous ones have failed. He answered that if one of the parties violates the agreement, "the war would resume." However "the Yugoslavs, and particularly President Milosevic, have had it with this war." There is no serious scenario by which any party which reopens the war can expect to profit from doing so.
This has to be a self-enforcing peace. Mutual deterrence has to function among Bosnians, Serbs, and Croatians. Unless the Bosnians are armed, the peace will not hold. The Europeans will go when the United States goes. The deterrence which functioned in the Cold War can function here. It would be greatly reinforced were it backed by a threat of renewed NATO bombing in case of renewed aggression.
The European governments, who failed so spectacularly in their effort to deal with Yugoslavia, still seem unwilling to admit why they failed. There has been much semi-official criticism in the last few days of the American "steamroller" in Dayton, which crushed West European as well as Balkan sensitivities, but if there had been no steamroller there would have been no peace.
Something to talk about
The main European complaint has been that Washington used force and partisan intervention to get results. The Europeans had practiced impartiality between aggressors and victims, and had insisted upon dialogue between parties who had nothing to say to one another, until the United States provided subjects they had to talk about.
As for the political debate in Washington on whether the United States should actually send troops to enforce this agreement, the answer is the one the president gave Monday: Having created this agreement and forced it on the Yugoslav parties, the U.S. has to follow through. If it does not, the United States forfeits its claim to continue to be taken seriously in international affairs.
The cry-baby approach to whether "our boys" (professional soldiers) might be shot at in the execution of national commitments, has already done massive damage to America's reputation in those countries which have taken scores of casualties among their own people serving in U.N. (and the private aid agencies') efforts to provide humanitarian help to the Yugoslavs. It used to be an American axiom that if you start something you finish it.
William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.