Leading Article: Beyond the killing fields of Srebrenica

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The Independent Online
Another wretched host of women and children was expelled this week from Srebrenica, while many of their men faced possible death at the hands of the confident and brutal Bosnian Serb army. Yet the mighty West, with all its bombs, planes and missiles, was reduced to wringing its hands on the sidelines. The United States, the continent's guarantor of peace and security for 50 years, postured chaotically from afar.

These traumatic events speak of the gravest geopolitical impotence in Europe since the war against Hitler. Over Bosnia, western European states, still not weaned off their transatlantic dependency, are too divided and poorly organised to act as the new keepers of the peace. Each maintains a distinct foreign policy, lurching from indecision to indecision. The public's moral sensibilities are moved again by the sight of desperate refugees herded along at gunpoint, but it does not translate into a clear political will that our leaders can marshall to constructive effect.

The message to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, is, thus, grimly apparent: his well-armed critics are powerless to stop him. The United Nations now looks as though it faces a rout in Bosnia. A withdrawal, if ordered, will cause a crisis of confidence in international institutions, particularly if the warring parties prevent the UN from departing without bloodshed.

For six years, since the end of the Cold War, a crisis of this nature has been predictable. US military disengagement from Europe was bound to follow the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union. Other institutions could and should have filled the gap. The original vision for the European community was, after all, to prevent another global conflict starting on this historically fractious continent. Yet its leaders have spent their energies squabbling about an important but second order issue, the details of economic integration. They have forgotten the European Union's raison d'etre.

The war in former Yugoslavia is a constant reminder of this neglect. Old conflicts which precipitated the first world war now threaten, through inadequate intervention, to spread elsewhere in the Balkans. Some might like to ignore the carnage. But when the Serbs slaughter Muslims in Bosnia, there are consequences for all of us. Not least important is the moral impact of the Serbs getting away with butchery. The fact that Britain brought an 84 year old man to trial this week, charged with war crimes allegedly committed in 1941, shows the value we still attach to punishing racially motivated murder. All of Europe will feel the effects of a tide of refugees if Bosnia collapses.

There are other pressing reasons why Europe must now begin to act in concert over foreign policy. The old order is falling apart more quickly than many anticipated. In America a mood of isolationism is again gathering. Those, particularly in Britain and France, who are trying to manage a gradual decline in the Atlantic alliance had not reckoned with deepening Republican antipathy to overseas military commitments. If Bill Clinton is forced to keep his promise, and send 25,000 troops to help evacuate the UN forces from Bosnia, a disastrous pull-out could finish his presidency and leave the US-European relationship in tatters.

Meanwhile, Russia looks increasingly unstable. It remains all too possible that Boris Yeltsin will give way to a Russian nationalist with his eyes, perhaps, on bits of eastern Europe. How would countries to the west react to such a change? Likewise, Europe increasingly needs a coordinated strategy to face the potential for political drama in Turkey and North Africa.

Europe's history stands massively in the way of a united approach. A continent that has spent centuries at war with itself is still uneasy about the idea of a uniform foreign policy. The development of still closer EU diplomatic and military ties is also at odds with the rise of Euro- scepticism and disillusionment with enhanced confederal powers. Yet, as the United States retreats, and the nation state becomes less powerful, Euro-scepticism offers only inglorious isolation and powerlessness on security questions.

It has been striking yet again this week to note the conflicting postures of Europe's leaders on Bosnia: President Chirac calls for an armed attack on Srebrenica; Mr Major says the troops should stay, but won't talk about how they might be used; Chancellor Kohl lies low; President Clinton makes phone calls and holds press conferences.

Part of the problem is that the various states traditionally have had very different interests and historical connections, but the real difficulty is the lack of leadership now that Uncle Sam wants to stay in his tent. The uncomfortable truth is that western Europe will never be able to extend itself militarily or diplomatically so long as Germany does not have military power commensurate with its economic standing. Other countries are keen to keep Germany prohibited by its constitution from deploying troops abroad. This allows France and Britain to punch above their economic weight. It is only a few years since Margaret Thatcher opposed German unification for fear of the domination that the new state would enjoy in Europe. But without Germany bearing its full strength, the EU is debilitated in a world that needs it to speak with a single, powerful voice.

There are some signs of change, of recognition that Europe is beginning to deal with its own security in a less chaotic fashion. One of the few positive aspects of the Bosnia has been the ability of troops on the ground to work effectively together. But there is still no evidence of a vision that would propel European nations to combine to protect and support peace. We need a revival of that energy and commitment to unity that existed in the aftermath of the second world war. Pax Americana has had its day on our continent. It is time for Pax Europa. But once again, the Balkans are the proving ground.