The Case For U.s. Intervention: If Somalia, Then Why Not Bosnia?

Posted: December 11, 1992

There is something cockeyed about official U.S. explanations of why intervention is right in Somalia but wrong in Bosnia.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney says Bosnia is "dramatically different"

from Somalia and it would be "inappropriate" to send U.S. ground troops into Bosnia. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who equates Bosnia with quagmire, says about Somalia: "This is one that we could do something about."

The implication is that we can do nothing about Bosnia, that our only option there is to send in the Marines, which would be a mission doomed to failure. But no one is suggesting such an option; No critics of U.S. policy toward Yugoslavia are asking the us to send ground forces into that maelstrom.

On the other hand, the United States can "do something about" stopping the slaughter in Bosnia.

For starters, the Bush administration could explain to the American public why resolving the Bosnian issue is so important, much more so than the Somalian disaster. In Somalia, the issue is purely humanitarian, saving millions who are starving due to anarchy in their country.

In Bosnia, issue goes beyond the purely humanitarian. It has become a security issue for Europe. Moreover, in Bosnia the killing of civilians is a deliberate policy of ethnic purification, not the result of anarchy. Taking a stand against such slaughter becomes a key question of principle for all who espouse a peaceful post-Cold War era.

Today in Bosnia, Serbs are massively shelling civilians in Sarajevo and are poised to capture the whole city. Muslim civilians are being raped, tortured, murdered and driven out en masse purely because they are Muslims, whom Bosnian Serbs want to "cleanse" from their territory to make a pure Serbian Christian state.

If unopposed by the world community, this practice could spread to other countries in Europe where virulent nationalism is resurgent. If unchallenged, Serb aggression could ignite fighting in much of the Balkans. That means political and economic instablity and more refugees in Europe which is bad for America, too.

The Pentagon response is that America can do nothing. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Colin Powell only wants to send troops where America can ''win," like in Kuwait, or achieve "decisive results," as he hopes to do in Somalia.

But what's needed in Bosnia is not a military "defeat" of the Serbs. Rather, the West must take a stand against the practice of "ethnic cleansing," - by Serbs or anyone else. And it must compel Serbs to sit down in good faith to negotiate a peaceful solution with Muslims and Croats in the former Yugoslavia.

European nations should have taken the lead in this process. They have failed miserably. So have U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, who haven't the arms or the mandate to stop Serbs from dirty work. Even the U.N. general in charge of peacekeeping forces in Sarejevo is now calling for international military help.

The situation cries out for the United States to play the role of catalyst (just what President Bush prescribed for America in Somalia), prodding the Europeans to do what they should have done long ago and pressing NATO to take military action under a U.N. umbrella. The list of possible actions is long. The most urgent are as follows:

* Before considering military intervention, Western nations should pay attention to Serbian elections scheduled for Dec. 20.

Milan Panic, the Serbian-American prime minister of Yugoslavia who wants to stop the fighting, is challenging the chief Yugoslav villain, Serb president Slobodan Milosevic, for his office. Polls show them running neck and neck, reflecting Serb popular weariness with the fighting and the U.N. economic embargo.

Bush should address the Serbs, emphasizing that America has no quarrel with them, only with their misguided nationalist leaders. He should pledge U.S. support for the international protection of all minorities in the republics of ex-Yugoslavia, including Serbs living in Bosnia and Croatia. Western nations should send monitors to Serbia to help ensure fair election results.

* If Panic loses, NATO should threaten air strikes against Bosnian Serb artillery sites and bases unless Serbs cease their assault on Sarajevo and their "ethnic cleansing" operations. NATO planes should prevent Bosnian Serb planes from violating the U.N. ban on overflights. If U.N. peacekeeping troops on the ground fear retaliation from Serb gunners, they should leave.

* The U.N. embargo should be lifted on arms sales to the Bosnian government. Serbs have huge stocks of guns from the ex-Yugoslav army. But the Bosnian Muslims - the chief victims - have few heavy weapons to defend themselves, one key reason why Sarajevo may fall.

* The United Nations should warn Serbs of military retaliation if fighting spreads to Kosovo, where 1.8 million ethnic Albanians fear "ethnic cleansing."

War in Kosovo could spill over to Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. To help prevent that, U.N. peacekeepers should be dispatched quickly to Macedonia. Serbian leaders should be pressured to let U.N. troops into Kosovo, too.

None of these steps involves sending U.S. ground troops into Bosnia. Nor do they meet Gen. Powell's criteria that they be guaranteed to produce decisive results.

But if America can't take a firm stand against the practice of "ethnic cleansing," it should abandon any pretense of global leadership. Bosnia is more typical of foreign crises America will have to deal with in the future than Somalia. Ignoring it will only encourage similar mayhem elsewhere in Europe. The Pentagon should start rethinking the criteria for U.S. intervention. Now.

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