Leading Article: Clinton shows true leadership

Click to follow
From a European perspective, President Bill Clinton's speech on Bosnia last Monday night rates as perhaps his finest foreign policy address in three years of office. His language was precise, his message was unmistakable. By the time he finished, he had succeeded in setting out not just a compelling case for sending US troops to Bosnia, but a convincing definition of long- term American interests in Europe. Senior Republicans in Congress, notably Senator Robert Dole, Mr Clinton's potential rival in next year's presidential election, were right to give a positive response to the speech and to suggest that they would no longer oppose the deployment of US soldiers in the Balkans.

The chief virtue of Mr Clinton's speech was that it recognised how much is at stake for the United States in Bosnia. It is not just a matter of the need to implement the peace agreement recently negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, though clearly the Clinton administration, having urged each side in the war to make a number of painful concessions, has a responsibility not to walk away and let the settlement unravel. The most important point made by Mr Clinton was that the Bosnian conflict, if left to fester, could "spread like poison throughout the region and eat away at Europe's stability and erode our partnership with our European allies".

The wars of the Yugoslav succession have placed this partnership under considerable strain in the past four years. The European Union, eager to prove its maturity in foreign policy and security matters, promised the US in 1991 that it would sort out the mess in former Yugoslavia, and then failed to do so. At the same time, there were justified European complaints that the US was doing just enough to undermine European peace initiatives in the Balkans without committing the full resources of its diplomacy and military strength to a solution of the Yugoslav problem.

By late last year, mutual recriminations between the US and Europe had left Nato more divided than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was vital to inject the alliance with a fresh sense of purpose, without which it might as well sink into post-Cold War obsolescence. Thankfully, the Western allies summoned the will last summer to do just that, and a short but effective bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs was followed by a determined effort to broker a definitive peace settlement before the end of this year. US leadership, however late in the day it arrived, proved absolutely essential during this period, but Mr Clinton was right to point out that all the hard work will come to nothing if the US pulls out now.

The coming 12 months will offer the US and Europe a chance to show that they can co-operate effectively in stabilising a part of the world that is notoriously treacherous for peace-makers. Setbacks can be expected, for the Ohio settlement leaves Serbs, Croats and Muslims alike dissatisfied in several important respects. However if one thing is certain it is that Bosnia would be an even more dangerous place without the presence of a US-led Nato force. Mr Clinton deserves praise for spelling that out.