The madness of Bosnia matters here

It is still possible to relieve Sarajevo and rearm the Muslim government - and it would be right
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The Independent Online
Hegel, who was not always verbose, was asked about the lessons of history. The lesson of history, he replied, is that governments and people don't learn anything from history. Tomorrow, as politicians and generals assemble in London to contemplate Bosnia, we must assume they have learnt not a jot or tittle from their previous failures there.

It looks as if they will remain determined to act forcefully, while excluding force. If they issue any ultimatums, they will have no idea about what to do when these are ignored. They will send troops; but too few, and with the wrong orders. Nine-tenths of the UN troops in Bosnia are now protecting other UN troops. There will be military memoirs written in acid.

Compare the headless chickens of the New World Order with the real strategists, the Bosnian Serbs. Their intent is to destroy multi-cultural life, leaving only Greater Serbia and Lesser Croatia. The Muslims are to be denied any political identity. Those who object are to be forced to flee , perhaps to Anatolia,or, as seems to be happening to many of the men of Srebrenica, they are to be liquidated.

All of which should surprise nobody. The leaders of the Serb war have made their aims abundantly clear. Journalists and interviewers have recorded their words. Writers like Noel Malcolm, Mark Almond and Norman Cigar have produced careful, thoughtful, superbly sourced books bulging with evidence. For those too busy for books, there has always been television: Serb commanders are hardly camera-shy about their intentions. And where words stalked first, deeds have trampled quickly behind.

If we have ears to hear or eyes to see, we have no excuses for misunderstanding. Yet the West has twisted and thrashed about desperately searching for any explanation other than the obvious. We have at times been half-seduced by the nonsense that the Balkans have "always'' been soaked in inter-communal bloodshed. We have pretended that Belgrade will sort out its over-enthusiastic co-Serbs and settle down to normal Western life.

We have cheerfully told ourselves that the Bosnian Muslims can be as vicious as the Serbs - which is rather like condemning the Belgians for acts of wanton violence against the Imperial German Army in 1914.

We have been impressed by the way the Serbs cited the behaviour of Nazis and their Croat partners as lessons from the Forties that resound in the Nineties - which of course they do, though in a different way. The Croat Ustasha slogan from the killing-days of 1941-2 was "kill a third, convert a third, expel a third''. It seems pretty relevant to the Serbs; Hegel would have laughed.

But now we have run through every excuse and are left only with reality. In this pit of failure, even here, it is important to remember that the United Nations has saved many lives, and to reassert that troops who carry out orders to stand by and help in limited ways are not disgracing themselves. It is the organisation that has been let down by the individual countries, and the soldiers who have been let down by the presidents and prime ministers.

These leaders must realise that if the UN pulls right out and the Bosnian government is overwhelmed, then there are two likely outcomes. First, there will be a tidal wave of embittered, radicalised refugees arriving in the European Union. Second, there will be an unstable terror-state left in the Balkans, in which dissidents disappear; where violent bands of killers are still at large; and whose political leadership is locked into the politics of territorial aggrandisement.

That Serbia would be the constitutional refutation of everything modern Europe aspires to be. Pluralism, multi-culturalism, democracy and liberalism would be as foreign to it as they are in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. John Major has called this outcome a catastrophe.

The alternative outcome, perhaps likelier, is the survival of a tiny and unviable rump Bosnia, a sort of UN-subsidised Greater Refugee Camp with hills and trees. It would be the equivalent of the refugee camps of the Lebanon, and there is no reason to think that the extremist Islamic militancy of the Middle East wouldn't flourish as ripely.

This would, in many ways, suit the Serbs better than outright conquest. The discredited "world order'' would find itself sullenly feeding and policing its fiercest critics, while the culprits jeered from over the border. Because this would be merely a disaster, it may be preferred to the catastrophe.

In theory, however, it is still possible for the West to reduce the scale of this disaster by using military force to relieve Sarajevo, before allowing the re-arming of the Bosnian government. UN troops would revert then to a narrowly humanitarian role inside Bosnian territory.

This is dangerous. First, it means getting our own people out of Gorazde and even Bihac, and escorting refugees into central Bosnia. Then it means an escalating artillery barrage between UN troops and the Bosnian Serbs; this would certainly involve civilian casualties and require far more political nerve than London or Paris have so far shown.

It would have to be done quickly. The diplomats would have to bring round Moscow to avoid the greater danger of war between US-armed and Russian- armed forces. But it would allow the Bosnian government to try to carve out some sort of future in central Bosnia. Better a level killing-field than a giant execution-ground. And better this than the scuttle touted by some as the statesmanlike option.

For you cannot be statesmanlike without thinking first about your own state. We, too, are a multi-cultural state with no alternative to finding ways for Christians and Muslims, whites and blacks, to live together. The Serb view is that this is impossible, a modern fiction; for most of our history, most Britons would have agreed. Our domestic arrangements for these matters are recent and fragile. We have no right to be complacent about them, or to assume that the bloody dance of the Balkans is a wholly alien event. The voices of Muslim Britons have barely featured in the mainstream British debate on Bosnia. Most Britons don't know what they feel. Divides of silence and mutual mistrust exist here, too.

In the Islamic world, bitter judgements are being made and in Europe, what is happening will produce violent consequences for years ahead. Since the Second World War "national interest'' has always meant helping to protect states that were multi-cultural, diverse and democratic against the reverse of these things. We haven't; and that changes us, too.

There is still time to recover something. But as I write this, London is listless under a poisonous grey heat, and the weather seems apt. No fat, slick-sided truism hasn't been trotted out and languidly applauded. Torpid know-alls burble pointlessly. And I know nothing, or only one thing: if you have lost the will to stand up for what you believe in most, something bad will happen to you.