Give them arms and dignity

The following is the speech that might have been delivered immediately after the fall of Srebrenica if the post of Leader of the Free World was not currently vacant
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The Independent Online
My fellow Americans, fellow citizens of the democratic world: I address you tonight about the crisis in Bosnia, because both our sense of moral outrage and the long-term interests of the democratic world call for immediate and decisive American action.

The fall of Srebrenica is a defining moment. The prolonged and brazen defiance of the international community by an armed mob of Bosnian Serbs can no longer be tolerated. The suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and the murder of tens of thousands, can no longer be passively observed by the civilised and democratic world. If our shared commitment to human rights means anything to us, as decent men and women,the United States has to react.

There is no other choice. Over the past three years the United Nations has been unable to protect the victims and to deter the aggressors. Repeated violations of UN resolutions have gone unpunished. The UN Protection Force originally deployed to protect the helpless, the unarmed and the vulnerable, has itself been subjected to humiliation, intimidation and fatalities.

When the conflict in the former Yugoslavia first broke out, our European allies insisted that it was Europe's responsibility to resolve it. Acting under a UN mandate, Unprofor was deployed to provide humanitarian assistance and to make secure the several UN-designated safe havens. A UN negotiator and a negotiator appointed by the European Community sought to find a peaceful solution. They actively discouraged any military pressure on the Serbs, particularly by the US, on the grounds that it would be counterproductive.

The result has been a moral and a political calamity of historic proportions. For some three years now ethnic cleansing, massive brutality and persistent contempt for the international community have characterised the conduct of the Bosnian Serbs.

We can no longer maintain the pretence that the conflict in Bosnia is merely an extension of ancient ethnic feuds, justifying the world's moral indifference and political passivity. The historic facts are to the contrary. Over several centuries ethnic and religious co-existence, not ethnic and religious conflict, has been the predominant reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even the current violence did not begin with the support of the majority of Bosnians, whether of Muslim, Croat or Serb origin. It is the product of an organised, brutal and fanatical minority.

The international community has the obligation to distinguish between victims and aggressors. Not to do so is to reduce the UN Charter to a farce. But the issue is not only a matter of morality, or of principle, or of simple justice. The character of the international order is also at stake. A world unable to make the distinction between victims and aggressors, andunwilling to act on that distinction, is a world in which the UN becomes the object of derision. World peace will be the ultimate casualty in Bosnia.

No one can deny that the UN has proven incapable of coping decisively with the forces of aggression in Bosnia. Even worse, the impotence of the UN has so constrained any attempt at an effective response by Nato that both the unity and the credibility of our alliance are now at stake. Nato's inability to act assertively is generating increasing tensions within the alliance itself. It would be ironic if Europe's longer-range security and stability were to join the growing list of victims of the unchallenged aggression in Bosnia.

The US, therefore, must act - and act now. The failures of the UN and Nato reward aggression and encourage its repetition. Continued inaction by the US would gravely jeopardise America's global credibility. It would be tantamount to a piecemeal abdication of America's world role. We have no choice but to step into the breach. Accordingly, I am today announcing the following three policy decisions:

1. The US is notifying the UN secretary-general as well as our allies and other states participating in the Unprofor that it favours the Unprofor's immediate withdrawal.

Unable to protect safe havens, the UN force is becoming a shield for the Bosnian Serbs, inhibiting more decisive responses. This is all the more tragic because many Unprofor soldiers have already perished at the hands of the Bosnian Serbs in the fulfilment of their thankless task. We pay tribute to their heroism but the reality must also be faced that Unprofor vulnerability is being exploited by the aggressors.

The US is prepared to deploy its ground forces immediately to render secure the Unprofor withdrawal. In doing so, the US reserves the right to protect the process of extraction also with its air power, with US air strikes conducted on a scale and directed at targets determined exclusively at American operational discretion.

Any hostile interference with US military forces engaged in this effort will precipitate immediate and significant retaliation.

2. I am asking the Congress of the US to pass a resolution, which I will immediately sign into law, endorsing the lifting of the embargo on the delivery of arms to Bosnia.

There is every reason to believe that the lifting of the embargo will significantly help the Bosnians in their effort to defend themselves. Their army, which is eager and willing to fight, is larger than the army of the Bosnian Serbs. With the arrival of more modern and plentiful arms, the Serbian advantage on the battlefield will be erased. A number of states have indicated their willingness to finance and deliver to the Bosnians the needed arms. It need not be a unilateral American undertaking.

3. I am asking the Congress to endorse my decision to warn the Bosnian Serbs that US air power will be used in a sustained and strategic fashion to retaliate against any Serbian offensive designed to take advantage of the Unprofor's withdrawal, to assault the safe havens and to pre-empt the delivery of arms to the Bosnians.

Let me make it absolutely clear that the goal of American air power is not to win the war for the Bosnians. Nor is the use of American air power the first step toward an American engagement in the ground war. That war must be fought, and will be fought, by the Bosnians. They have proven their determination. The commitment to employ American air power is necessary at this stage to prevent large-scale massacres and a Serbian effort to achieve promptly an outright victory. We will deter the Serbs from exploiting their current superiority in heavy artillery and tanks, or we will deprive them of that superiority.

There will be no more pinprick attacks. If need be, US air power will strike, effectively and repeatedly, against Bosnian Serb concentrations of heavy weaponry, command and control centres, and hostile radar systems, wherever they are located, and also against Serb logistics, ground transportation and access to Serbia proper. American air strikes against the Serb machinery of war will inflict - again, let there be no doubt - massive costs and much pain. It will not spare the war criminals in Pale. It will be punitive, it will be retaliatory, it will be sustained, and it will help to equalise the balance on the battlefield.

As a result of these actions, the Bosnian Serbs may realise that compromise is preferable to continued carnage. They are more likely to reach that conclusion when it becomes evident that they cannot subdue the Bosnians and that continued warfare could even become suicidal.

I wish to address a few words directly to the people of Serbia: Americans admire the courage that the Serbian people displayed in the Second World War. We have no interest in waging war on Serbia. We know that many people in Serbia view the leadership in Pale and its supporters as adventurers and criminals. We urge you not to let yourselves be hijacked by them. They are not only discrediting Serbia in the eyes of the world, they also threaten your own future. We urge you to press your government to opt for peace so that Serbia, too, can become a partner in building a larger and more co-operative Europe.

And I want to say also a few words to the people of Bosnia: Americans are not indifferent to your suffering. We understand that you are the victims of an ugly war that is repugnant to us all. And we honour you for the spirit that you have shown in your dire circumstances. Please do not give up hope. We will not stand by idly and watch Bosnia, and decency, destroyed.

The steps I am announcing tonight are a token of our seriousness of purpose. I am conscious of their risk, but I am even more aware of the moral and political consequences of continued indecision and passivity. The US will not be passive in the face of genocide. Fifty years after we took a stand against evil in Europe, the words "never again" must not be allowed to become a mockery. That is why America will now do what it must.

The writer is former National Security Adviser to the President, 1977- 1981. This is an edited version of an article appearing in the US magazine 'New Republic' this week.