UN mission stands on the brink

BOSNIA CRISIS COMMENTARY If Nato steps up attacks on the Serbs, peace-keepers will have to quit, writes Tony Barber, Europe Editor

Nato officials defended the latest air strikes on Bosnian Serb targets yesterday, saying they were needed to maintain the credibility of the United Nations peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. At the same time, Natodiplomats wonder openly whether the end result of the raids might be the collapse of the UN operation.

"There is no middle ground left after this," one envoy said. "Muddling through in the old way won't work, so either you apply force selectively or you pull the UN out altogether."

Like the six Nato attacks on Bosnian and Croatian Serb targets last year, the air strikes made little impact on the Bosnian Serbs' military strength. But the political repercussions of the attacks appear far-reaching.

The air raids provoked such a brutal response from the Bosnian Serb army, including a bombardment of Tuzla that killed 71 people, as well as the use of UN personnel as human shields, that Nato may have to strike again or risk looking impotent.

The White House spokes-man, Mike McCurry, yesterday reminded the Bosnian Serbs that hostage-taking would not deter new air attacks.

But there is a point beyond which Nato cannot intensify the conflict without causing a break with Russia. That would destroy the negotiating process, jeopardise more Bosnian Muslim lives and force the withdrawal of UN forces. Some Clinton administration officials accept this, and say it is important to replace bombing with negotiations, so that the UN does not have to leave Bosnia.

Hard though it is for Nato staff to accept, the lesson of last year's Nato attacks on the Bosnian Serbs was that it was Nato that blinked first. That has not changed, as the political conditions have never existed for a full-scale Nato assault on the Bosnian Serb forces of Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.

Bosnia's Muslim Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, put his finger on the problem when, reacting to the Nato strikes, he said: "We want massive measures, because we believe that the Karadzic Serbs will only listen to massive response and will react positively only if massive response by Nato is exercised."

That response that will not be forthcoming. As Nato's Secretary-General, Willy Claes, pointed out: "There is no military solution, only a diplomatic solution."

The paradox for Nato is that, while it had little choice but to launch the air raids on Thursday and yesterday, the strikes seem likely in the long run to damage Nato's reputation, as there can be no effective follow- up. The Serbs have demonstrated that they can carry on shelling civilians and intimidating the UN.

Nato and UN commanders deemed the air strikes necessary because the credibility of the organisations had been badly dented this month. Wanton Bosnian Serb shelling of Sarajevo had killed 11 people and fully justified a military response. But the UN in Zagreb vetoed air strikes, making Nato look helpless.

Next time, Nato members, in particular the United States, were determined to rise to the challenge. It came in the form of the Bosnian Serbs' seizure of four heavy weapons from a UN weapons-collection site, and the Serbs' failure to meet a deadline for returning them.

However, if the subsequent remarks of President Bill Clinton and leading US officials are treated at face value, the Nato attacks did not achieve their goal. President Clinton said he hoped that Nato's action would "ease suffering in the region", although it clearly did not have that effect in Tuzla.

The Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said: "We also hope it will persuade them to end violence and pursue appropriate settlements".

But the Bosnian Serb response was quite the opposite, while the Muslim- led Bosnian government appeared to see the use of force by Nato as an opportunity to take the war to the Serbs.

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General John Shalikashvili, said he hoped Nato's action would "bring people back to the negotiating table". But the response of General Mladic to the air strikes was to call the UN commander in Bosnia, General Rupert Smith, of Britain, demand an end to the attacks and slam the phone down.

Although the West's diplomacy in Bosnia has enjoyed few successes in three years of war, one moderately promising avenue of opportunity has been closed off since the air strikes.

This is the attempt to persuade Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, to recognise Bosnia in its pre-war borders, thereby undercutting Mr Karadzic and General Mladic.

Mr Milosevic may still harbour a dream of Greater Serbia and may have tried to deceive international mediators when he discussed recognising Bosnia in return for an end to sanctions on rump Yugoslavia.

British and French officials insist that Mr Milosevic was serious and, was "80 or 90 per cent" on the way to taking the momentous step when his talks with a US envoy, Robert Frasure, broke down last Tuesday.

With this way forward now blocked, with the UN operation in serious danger and with Nato's options limited, it seems that the only predictable factor in the Bosnian equation is that the war will stretch on into a fourth winter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy