Leading Article: The options dwindle

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The Independent Online
WE HAVE arrived at another crossroads on the road to disaster in the Balkans. Unless we take a new turning, the war is likely to widen. The Arabs have now further raised the stakes by demanding the use of force against the Serbs and the free flow of arms to the Bosnians, implying that they will take matters into their own hands if their demands are not met.

Any reassessment must start from the fact that the West's policies have failed. First there was a commitment to the integrity of Yugoslavia, then to that of Croatia, then to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In each case reality went the other way. Conferences have been held, ceasefires signed and sanctions imposed to little or no effect. The reason for their failure is that the West committed itself to policies and principles that it did not have the will to enforce. It behaved as if it were negotiating with honest diplomats over some mild conflict of interest, whereas in fact it is facing cynical, single-minded criminals bent on creating a greater Serbia. Had the Serbs been hit hard from the air in the early stages they might have had second thoughts.

Since that chance was missed, three main options remain to the West. The first is to continue making speeches, calling conferences, passing resolutions and engaging in fruitless negotiations. This is probably the riskiest policy of all because it virtually ensures that the war will spread as soon as the Serbs turn their attention to Kosovo and Macedonia - if the Arabs do not engage them first, directly or by proxy.

The second option would be to aim for maximum gain at high risk. The Serbs would be told that their gains were illegal and that they must relinquish them or face massive air strikes by the combined forces of the Western alliance, preferably authorised by the United Nations. Such a policy would belatedly uphold international law and restore the credibility of whatever states and institutions backed it. Morally it is the strongest option. With good luck the Serbs would crumble and turn to new leaders. With bad luck there could be any number of disasters.

The third option is to fall back on the West's minimal essential interests, which are to contain the conflict and end crimes against humanity. This would mean giving up any pretence of trying to reconstitute Bosnia- Herzegovina or restore the frontiers of Croatia. The Serbs would be allowed to keep much of what they have conquered. But a firm line would have to be drawn around a Muslim entity, preferably a fully fledged successor state to Bosnia-Herzegovina, to provide safety for its inhabitants and a refuge for Bosnians expelled from other areas. If it were quickly welcomed into the European family it would assuage Arab anger and counter feelings in the Islamic world that Europeans are indifferent to Muslim deaths.

This policy would be morally repugnant in so far as it accepted the forcible change of frontiers and the results of ethnic cleansing. Its only defence would be that it represented a realistic cutting of losses. It would not settle matters on its own. The situation in Kosovo would remain highly dangerous, and protection would also be needed for Macedonia and the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina.

It is difficult to see how this protection could be provided without a substantial presence of UN forces on the ground, backed by the threat of very strong action against any Serbian interference. The danger of being drawn into a Lebanese situation exists, but modern technology allows a great deal of persuasive force to be deployed from the air. If that force were fully used it could bring Serbia to its knees very quickly. It might, therefore, make possible some rolling back of Serbian gains. What is quite certain is that no policy will succeed unless its aims are realistic, clearly defined and backed by a convincing show of force. That is the sad lesson of this miserable affair.