Leading Article: . . . and the will?

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IN THE most serious crisis on the European Community's doorstep, the United States has again felt obliged to take the initiative. The 'firm warning' issued yesterday to Serbia by the Group of Seven industrial nations owes much to the determination of President George Bush to guarantee the safety of those attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Bosnia. The G7 statement falls short of being an ultimatum. It is, however, significantly tougher than earlier cautions from international bodies and is endorsed by the four leading European players: Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Serbia would be well advised to heed the call. But Serbia has been singularly ill advised and ill led in recent months.

The message from Munich is unambiguous. The current airlift to Sarajevo is merely the beginning of a far larger international effort to bring succour to the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This initiative will also involve the establishment of land corridors from ports to a number of towns and cities, including Sarajevo. If the exercise is disrupted, or if the lives of those engaged in relief operations are endangered, by regular or irregular forces, the United Nations Security Council will be called on to authorise the use of military might. The stated purpose would be to protect those bringing aid and to ensure the success of their operations.

Given the volatile nature of the situation on the ground, the likelihood must be that the shooting will not stop for long. An approach to the UN will follow the next major incident; both could happen sooner than expected. There can be no doubt that the UN Security Council would back the use of force.

The first stage (one that this paper has argued for some months might become necessary) would probably involve strikes by Western air forces or US warships against the artillery that has been bombarding Sarajevo and continues to threaten the security of its airport. From this it would be a relatively small step to launch a series of strikes against Serbia's communications systems, its military airports and barracks, arms dumps and concentrations of tanks and military vehicles. The aim would be to cripple Serbia's military capacity and to undermine morale by demonstrating the superior fire power available to a UN-endorsed force. But, sooner or later, as Brent Scowcroft, Mr Bush's national security adviser, said yesterday, it will be necessary to send ground convoys, prepared to defend themselves if attacked.

This is a very high-risk strategy, which goes some way to explaining why Europe, and Britain in particular, has been so hesitant to intervene, in spite of the mounting death and destruction and the fear that conflict might engulf the entire Balkan region. But no nation or group of nations can live indefinitely with chaos on its borders. Nonintervention was morally unsustainable in the face of Serbian atrocities and made nonsense of talk of a common European foreign policy.

What is essential is to ensure that the EC plays a united and wholehearted role alongside the United States, and that it does so within a limited and clear mandate supplied by the UN Security Council. The objective must be to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid is not impeded; it cannot be to enforce the peace throughout what once was Yugoslavia by the commitment of large numbers of combat troops.