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Hoagland Jim, International Herald Tribune - 20 febbraio 1995
Bosnia: the diplomacy of desperation.


by Jim Hoagland

SUMMARY: Is there no hoop through which the Clinton administration will not jump, no line it will not abandon, to keep the war in Bosnia from spreading ? That is the question raised by the latest turn in America's desperation diplomacy in the Balkans. (International Herald Tribune, February 20, 1995)

The U.S. diplomatic approach toward Serbia now seems to boil down to a single question: "How high, Slobodan?" The answer from Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic is constant: "Higher."

The United States and four European partners in the Contact Group on Bosnia unveiled a new negotiating plan last week that offers to suspend all economic sanctions against Serbia in return for another round of doubtful promises by the Serbs to stop its wars of aggression in Bosnia and Croatia.

This approach is painted by its advocates as a necessary, expedient adjustment in policy to avoid even greater bloodshed. But such diplomacy is bad leadership and questionable morality. The longterm costs to America's position in world affairs and to its self-image must now be weighed in the balance against the dwindling hopes that new concessions can head off new war in the Balkans.

Writing about Bosnia, Eugene Rostow noted that one force "sustains all law: moral revulsion." To bargain away sanctions - the one clear action taken to mobilize international revulsion against the Serbs - in an effort to contain the horrors of Bosnia to Bosnia is an affront to the concept of international law and justice.

This is a bleak moment for the U.S. State Department. "You ask yourself if it can get any worse in Bosnia and then yes, it does get worse," Secretary of State Warren Christopher said candidly in our recent conversation. "The options are diminishing."

Croatia's demand that the United Nations withdraw its peacekeepers by the end of March - a demand "they seem determined to carry out," Mr. Christopher says - is a turning point for international diplomacy on Bosnia that for the past three years has never been glorious but has often been defensible in its own terms.

It no longer is. In offering to suspend all economic sanctions against Serbia to protect the status quo on the ground the administration risks crossing a line that separates expediency from dishonor.

This is not to dispute that the situation becomes much more tenuous and dangerous with the Croatian threat. The Pentagon and State Department have asked President Bill Clinton to extend the pledge he made in December to help UN peacekeepers evacuate Bosnia to include Croatia as well. U.S. ground troops could be engaged in covering a difficult strategic retreat in the Balkans in a matter of weeks if the diplomatic effort now under way fails.

Until now, the major powers and the United Nations justified their failure to intervene and stop the carnage and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia by saying they had at least prevented things from getting worse. They had "contained" the war.

Croatia is poised to snatch away that last fig leaf of honor by resuming its war with Serbia when the peacekeepers leave. To head that off, the U.S. administration has joined Britain, France, Germany and Russia in offering to lift sanctions against Serbia in return for Belgrade's recognition and policing of its borders with Bosnia and Croatia.

The Serbs have shown little interest in a deal that would also have to be approved by Croatia, which would have to agree to keep the United Nations in place and accept an extended cease-fire that would leave Serbs in control of 25 percent of Croatia and 70 percent of Bosnia.

U.S. officials acknowledge this is desperation diplomacy. Mr. Christopher and the national security adviser, Anthony Lake, went along reluctantly with offering the Serbs the sanctions-lifting incentive under pressure from the Europeans and only after getting a green light from the Bosnian government. France argues that the sanctions offer could clear the way for a Balkans peace conference proposed by Paris. If that turns out to be a miscalculation, the intangible costs for America and its allies will be enormous.

Bosnia has produced bitter arguments in America and Europe about fundamental issues: justice, honor, responsibility. Governments responded by emphasizing the dangers of intervention, the good that humanitarian relief was doing and the success of containment. Those arguments added up to powerful reasons for America and its allies not taking sides in the conflict in any meaningful way.

But the containment policy is unraveling. The Serbian manipulation of humanitarian aid for its war aims has become transparent. The willingness now to bargain sanctions away for small Serbian commitments undermines the international cooperation needed to keep Mr. Milosevic isolated.

The sanctions offer cuts away the halfway ground on which America has balanced in Bosnia. Soon Washington will have to get in deeper, on the side of the governments of Sarajevo and Zagreb, or get out completely and accept the terrible consequences of not choosing sides in a war of aggression on the European continent.


(The Washington Post)

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