We all share the shame of Bosnia's betrayal

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The Independent Online
AGGRESSION pays. Unless the West's vital interests are at stake, you cannot rely on the West. We lack a wider moral purpose that will drag us into other people's wars. Our 'new world order' is pretentious nonsense. The European Community, far from being a superpower-in-waiting, shuns its own backyard. President Bill Clinton is weak and untrustworthy.

All these are reasonable conclusions to draw from the decision to accept that the Serbs have taken those parts of Bosnia they want. All the bold-sounding stuff about not rewarding ethnic cleansing has been exposed as hot waffle. Is there anyone not ashamed at the compliments now oozing our way from Radovan Karadzic? His embrace is repulsive. And, what is worse, we in the West have earned it.

Among the Western leaders, Mr Clinton comes out worst. The others, including John Major, had decided early on that their people would not stomach body bags returning from the Balkans. That being so, they were impotent. They could convene all the top-level meetings they liked, froth and bluster, but they had no leverage that mattered. From time to time in the Commons and elsewhere, European leaders pretended that something might be done, but only vaguely and always unconvincingly.

Mr Clinton's case was different. He had taken his time to put together a plan centred on the use of force and a lifting of the arms embargo. His reluctance to involve American ground troops in all this rather undermined this plan, but he seemed ready to press it, or something like it, on his allies. In the event, he caved in.

This led to some absurdities. As long ago as Friday, Mr Clinton was warning against 'safe havens' as the basis of a new policy for Bosnia: 'I don't want to see the United States getting in a position where we're re-creating Northern Ireland, Lebanon or Cyprus or anything else.' A day later, under Russian and European pressure, that was Mr Clinton's policy.

The Bosnian Muslim leaders were outraged. Their state is now history, the future of their people grim. If they fight, they will be crushed. If they flee to the new 'safe havens' they will experience nothing like real security: boldly, the United Nations will only fire to protect its own troops, not Muslim civilians. The best they can hope for is to survive in a twilight zone, sandwiched between their victorious enemies and forgotten by the rest of the world. Probably, young terrorists will grow up there.

Even that is not the worst consequence of this decision, still mocked with the name of 'peace process'. Last week, writing in the International Herald Tribune, Bujar Bukoshi, a leader of the Albanian majority in the Serbian province of Kosovo (and styled its prime minister), appealed to the world for help. He listed examples of Serbian repression and warned: 'We have preached and lived by peaceful opposition to Serbian brutality. Yet, unless we are allowed to pursue our basic rights, our people will have no recourse but to take matters into their own hands. That would present Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Serbia, with an excuse for a military crackdown. The disastrous result would make the tragedy of Bosnia pale in comparison. . . .'

He warned that military units were surrounding Albanian towns and that Serbian artillery had been calibrated to target key Albanian areas: it was clear that Mr Milosevic was preparing to act. Mr Bukoshi asked for peace- keeping troops and that his province should become a UN protectorate. He warned: 'If the world does not come to our aid now, our unarmed population will suffer a slaughter even worse than that in Croatia and Bosnia.'

Oh, Mr Bukoshi, the world will not come to your aid, either now or in the future. A protectorate? Fat chance. Troops? It doesn't seem likely. I hope that you were only trying to make our flesh creep, that you are overstating your danger. It would be wonderful if you proved to be a hysteric or a liar. But the truth is that you are probably an honest man, and your warning a real one. Since you appealed to us, Serbian extremists have been encouraged . . . by us. They probably will come for your people next.

UN promises of more observers in Kosovo, just like UN threats of war crimes tribunals, are empty. Our governments have no hope to offer the oppressed of other countries. If the war spreads through Kosovo to Macedonia and Albania, or other parts of the Balkans, then Washington will be worried and furious. Sabres will be rattled across Europe and in the US. But will they be drawn? Not on current form.

What was the alternative? It was that force should have been threatened, and if necessary used, to hit Serbian lines and to protect Muslim cities. But this was always a minority view in the West; few politicians preached it. Serbian leaders watched the spread of the new pacifism with close and intelligent interest. When, a few weeks ago, it looked as if the United Nations might sanction force, their resolve briefly (but clearly) faltered. Then they realised, rightly, that the West didn't mean it. Those on the other side of the interventionist argument are entitled to pin the New Pacifists to the consequences that now flow.

Maybe it will appear that none do, at least for a time. The oil price will be unaffected. British national pride will seem to be undented, since our territory was not involved. The Serbs may wait until the fruits of Bosnian slaughter have been properly digested. But our sleep will be disturbed again. We have been lessened by our inaction and our little corner of the world has been made significantly more dangerous.