ANOTHER VIEW; Four stark choices in Bosnia

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"All the ambiguities and illusions on which the UN's operation in Bosnia have been based are now being cruelly exposed." The words are those of a senior UN commander. "Cruel" seems appropriate, especially for the people of Srebrenica, who gave up their weapons for UN protection and have paid a terrible price for their trust.

The truth that must be faced is that indecision, lack of a clear political aim and a failure of political will has resulted in the UN's troops in the front-line areas being at best an irrelevance and at worst a target for both sides. There are now only four options open, all painful and all risky.

The first is to carry on muddling through. This will be the easiest option for the politicians, but not for the soldiers on the ground. This is only the long painful route to withdrawal rather than the short sharp one.

The second is withdrawal. It may have to come to this, but the cost is huge. The casualties will include many thousands more Bosnian innocents, the UN's authority, the Atlantic relationship, peace in other areas of the Balkans, Britain and France's influence in the UN, and, perhaps once again, the triumph of fascism in Europe. And the difficulties are just as large. No one here in Sarajevo believes withdrawal can be achieved without high cost, certainly of UN equipment and possibly UN lives.

The third option could be termed "partial withdrawal". Pull the UN back from the front-line areas, lift the arms embargo and help the Bosnians to create the military balance which would bring about the peace agreement based on the contact group's plan. But balances have a habit of going wrong in the Balkans and there would be a risk of widening the conflict. Nevertheless, if the UN operation goes on failing, this option looks preferable to the other two.

Finally, the UN could take some action which would re-establish its authority and give it a role again. One more failure would be catastrophic. The tricky thing in Bosnia is not starting something. It's finishing it. So we need an operation within the UN's capability, which is clearly defined and for which we are militarily able and politically willing to match escalation with escalation. Opening the Mount Igman route for humanitarian aid into Sarajevo to break the Serbian siege of the city provides the best option for this. But we should not be in any doubt about the risks. First, it would be the first step in the UN taking sides. I cannot object to this since I have been calling for it from the start. Second, the response would inevitably be Serbian escalation. We would have to be prepared to see this through. It is pointless asking our soldiers to do a job if our leaders will not back them through the consequences. This time I hope they realise this.

The writer is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and is currently in Sarajevo.