A dotted line in the sand

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Yesterday, the Independent called upon the Western powers meeting in London to draw a line in Bosnia, behind which the brutalised people of that unhappy place can find safety and from which the West can resume the laborious process of regaining leverage in the most serious political and moral crisis in Europe since the war against Hitler. Unfortunately, the line drawn at Lancaster House looks dotted rather than solid.

The positive side is that for the first time since the war began, the West appears to be on the point of collaborating in a military response to Serb aggression, or at least it threatens to do so should the Serbs attack the safe haven of Gorazde. In speaking of a "substantial response" against any Serb offensive, presumably the politicians have recognised that this time they must act at once and in earnest if their bluff is called.

The conference also delivered a welcome reaffirmation of the role of the United Nations protection force and appears to have addressed the issue of military command in the event of a confrontation with the Serbs. A marker was also laid down about the position of Sarajevo, which is critical.

There is, however, no concealing the fact that serious tactical and strategic differences still divide the allies. Some, perhaps most of those involved still seem, in reality, to be preparing for the opportunity to disengage from Bosnia.

As a result, last night's statement failed to deliver the rock-solid sense of military purpose and strategy that the situation demands. In dealing with the Bosnian Serbs, dotted lines won't do.