bosnia report
No. 10 April - May 1995
The UN Prolongs the War in Ex-Yugoslavia
by Robin Harris

After two days of Zagreb being shelled, and with a fragile ceasefire apparently continuing, the UN behaves as if nothing much has changed, trying as usual to equate the blame between 'warring factions'.

But the UN is conveniently overlooking the fact that in no other region of the world would dropping cluster bombs on civilians be regarded as legitimate 'retaliation' for a government's attempt to protect traffic passing through its territory. In fact, the war in Yugoslavia is about to enter its decisive phase - and the best the international community can do is to accelerate, not retard, that moment of decision.

Slowly, and in spite of the arms embargo, Bosnian and Croatian forces are now approaching a military balance with Serbian forces. Notwithstanding the ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population which continues - often under UN supervision - in the Croatian and Bosnian territories, rebel Serbs are beginning to feel the effects of over-exdtension of their forces. In fact, they are now losing, and will continue to lose, as long as the international community does not fly to their rescue. Yet this is precisely what the Un Security Council seems to be intent on doing, by maintaining the arms embargo and holding out the threat of sanctions against Croatia.

The legal position, of course, is quite clear. The Croatian and Bosnian governments, internationally recognised as sovereign states, have the authority to recover territory seized by rebels supported by another state. Nor can there be any doubt of the moral position. According to the figures recently presented by the UN commission of exports on human-rights abuses in ex-Yugoslavia, the great majority of crimes were perpetrated by the rebel Serb side.

If refugees are to return to their homes, if the killing is to stop and if those responsible are to be brought before the special war-crimes tribunal which has now begun proceedings, the realities on the ground have to change. In short, the elected governments of Bosnia and Croatia have to regain control of their territory. And this strictly practical matter is all that need concern the UN and Western poliyc-makers.

Three steps should be taken without delay. The first, and most important, is to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia and Croatia. Even with the embargo, the Croatians and Bosnians will defeat the Serb rebels because their morale is better and because their numbers are greater. But the war willÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ be prolonged if the two have to fight against a military force that continues to enjoy superiority in heavy weapons.

Following last year's argument between the United States and Great Britain over lifting the arms embargo and the alleged risks this would pose to UN tropps in Bosnia, there is now a tendency on both sides of the Atlantic to downplay the embargo's significance. Yet UN troops are in the former Yugoslavia precisely because the Security Council sought to prevent the victims from obtaining the means to defend themselves. So it is the height of cynicism for the British and French governments to pressure America and the Bosnians into keeping the embargo by threatening withdrawal of their troops.

A second step that should be taken is for the UN to end its efforsts to barter territory for peace. This means that there must be no more threats to Croatia of the sort that prevented its troops from attacking the 'Krajina' Serbs when they joined the Bosnian Serbs in their deadly assaults on Bihac. It also means that UN forces should voluntarily abandon their positions in Serbian-occupied Croatia, as the Croats have asked them to do. These forces serve to prolong an unjust, and ultimately unsustainable, status quo.

The UN should also recognise that Croatian public opinion after the shelling of Zagreb - killing six people and wounding 160 - will undoub tedly now demand a definite defeat of the Serb rebels. President Franjo Tudjman and his government jhave up to now been pursuing a policy of trying to use Serbian President Milosevic's infuence and a range of economic inducements to draw moderate Serbs in the rebel-held territory to agree to terms to return within Croatian control.

But this strategy has yielded few results. The government's attempt to play down the significance of the attacks on Zagreb are now even less in tune with Croatian public opinion. Even those Croats primarily concerned to keep good relations with the European Union have now had to recognise that Zagreb will never become a prosperous Central European capital as long as it remains vulnerable to attacks. For the UN this highlights the need to stop hectoring, stand back and allow Croatia to deal with threats to its own security.

The Bosnian government is now equally resolved to take war to the enemy. Its forces have been advancing on most fronts since last year. Its strategy is to cut rebel Serb communications by a series of carefully planned offensives. This signals that there is a real chance that the conflict could be over by the end of the year - a prospect that the UN should welcome.

Third, the UN should wholeheartedly commit its forces in Bosnia to a vigorous but limited role of enforcing Security Council resolutions. For even though the UN troops in Croatia ultimately assist the Serb rebels, some continuing UN involvement in Bosnia does assist the victims. This applies above all in exposed enclaves such as Zepa, Gorazde and Srebrenica. Until the government forces are able to retake Mount Igman, it also applies to Sarajevo.

If Britain and France then wished to withdraw from Bosnia, their troops could be replaced by others, such as the Turks who throughout the war have been keen to play a larger role but have been held back by NATO. And it is quite possible that military campaigns this summer could result in the Bosnians restoring control of their own terrirory and forcing peace on the Serb rebels. In that case, UN forces could speedily withdraw altogether.

The foreign ministers of the former Allies of Worl War II should take time off to discuss the situation in the former Yugoslavia, where the results of their invervention so far have been an inglorious failure. But rather than wringing their hands, diplomats should recognise the significance of the change that has taken place in the balance of forces. Croatia and Bosnia now have the will, and most of the means, to reverse the aggression against them. In doing so they deserve helop, but reprimands.

Robin Harris was ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street policy unit. He is writing a book on the history of the Republic of Raguse (Dubrovnik). This article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Europe, 5-6 May, 1995.


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