Western pretence in Bosnia has been exposed. Neal Ascherson asks: what next?

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Chirac of France says that the Srebrenica crisis is like "appeasement". The miserable response of the Western democracies to the fall of the Bosnian enclaves reminded him, he said on Thursday, of Chamberlain and Daladier in 1938, devising reasons not to stand up to Hitler over the Sudetenland.

He was wrong. In September 1938 Britain and France betrayed a nation, for until that moment Czechoslovakia thought that we would stand firm to our alliance. But by July 1995, the Bosnian government had no such illusions. It has known since December last year that the Europeans were looking for a way to pull Unprofor out and were not prepared to let their soldiers die to win justice for Bosnia.

But there was a betrayal, all the same. Officials of Nato and the UN now wonder that anyone was naive enough to suppose that Srebrenica and Zepa could be defended. Unfortunately, the inhabitants supposed so. They supposed that we, the foreigners, were in Bosnia to save them and when they saw that they had been deceived, they cursed us.

Politically, this human catastrophe changes little. The true situation which became clear some eight months ago remains. The pretence that the UN or the European Union could bring the war to an end on just terms is dead. The Serbs have mostly won their war: there will be some form of Greater Serbia even if worse fighting breaks out after an Unprofor withdrawal.

Ending the arms embargo for Bosnia is not likely to change that outcome. As for the enclaves in eastern Bosnia, their capture by the Bosnian Serbs means little in military terms. Losing the most vulnerable of the Muslim enclaves even makes the UN position in Bosnia slightly stronger.

Neither is this - quite - the end of the road for Unprofor in Bosnia. The French, to the consternation of the British, are suddenly talking tough. And their ideas are not impractical. To garrison Gorazde with the new Rapid Reaction Force, to force open the Igman supply route into Sarajevo - both these things could and should be done.

Yet they will not make much difference in the end. The Serbs, on previous form, will now rest on their gains and let the world's fury simmer down. Then, before the UN leaves, they can make peace. As it is, they have most of what they want: Sarajevo they need only to keep in check, not to capture. If the UN is suddenly gripped with remorse, it would be better to reinforce the security of Macedonia and head off a full-scale Balkan war.

With their urgent schemes and emergency meetings, Chirac, Major and the others are really acting for audiences at home. A show of forceful action - a transient "bloody nose" for the Bosnian Serbs - may console the democracies for their humiliation. The Bosnian government knows that, and shrugs.

Nation-states, not international organisations, make war. That is largely what they were designed for. When the "United Nations" goes into battle, it does so - in Korea, or the Gulf - as the infantry of some great power which would have fought anyway. If France and Germany agree one day to invade a troublesome neighbour, then the EU will on the instant acquire a "common defence policy".

But in ex-Yugoslavia, the statesmen who took part in the UN operation had no intention of fighting to protect civilians - and yet they pretended that Unprofor as a collective creature somehow did mean to fight. That was a cruel deception. And those who were taken in by it are now lying on the rough ground at Tuzla, without homes or hope.