Leading Article: Europe's heart in America's hands

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The Independent Online
THE term 'ceasefire', as applied to Bosnia, has been rescued from a bottomless pit of scepticism by recent events in Sarajevo. Not a shot appears to have been fired in the Bosnian capital since the expiry of the Nato deadline for the withdrawal of Serbian artillery. Once again it has become possible to believe that Bosnian Serbs and Muslims can keep an agreement.

So a flicker of optimism seems to be justified by news that the commanders of Bosnian Muslim and Croatian forces will meet today in the hope of signing a general ceasefire. Since more than half the fighting in Bosnia is between those two sides, a ceasefire that held would be a large stride towards peace.

Like the crucial Nato ultimatum to the Serbs, today's meeting owes much to the recent revival of US engagement in the search for a settlement. The Americans have been brokering meetings in Germany between Bosnian and Croatian representatives; and in Washington, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, has had fruitful talks with the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic. The most interesting idea to emerge is of a revived Bosnian-Croatian alliance that would counterbalance the Bosnian Serbs and their allies in Belgrade.

There may well be a large gap between agreement on this concept and on details of how disputed territory should be shared and administered. Equally, it seems improbable that the Bosnian Serbs would agree to coexist with a Muslim- Croat alliance within the loose confederation envisaged by the Americans. When so much fresh blood has been added to old enmities, living together will be hard indeed. A further question is whether the Russians would be ready to lean on the Serbs to secure their agreement, or would see more gain in backing Serbian opposition to such a plan.

Whatever happens, it looks as though it will be the US, with or without Russian help, rather than the European Union that makes the running in the search for a settlement. Europe's failure has been instructive. It suggests that an effective common foreign policy is unlikely without the motor of the Franco-German axis. The Germans were inhibited by history and constitution from playing a significant role in Bosnia.

A Franco-British alliance might have been an adequate substitute, given their shared fear of the effect of air strikes on their respective troops and aid workers in Bosnia. Eventually, British caution proved too much for the French, and they were quicker to support US pressure for action after the slaughter in Sarajevo's market-place. The overall, and in some ways depressing, message is that US involvement is indispensable to the resolution of conflict in the heart of Europe.