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NATO Takes a Stand

WITH Serb forces about to overrun the city of Gorazde on Sunday, two NATO F-16 jets launched four rockets on Serb tanks, and as of this writing Monday, NATO jets were again engaging Serb forces that were shelling the town.

We support NATO action to protect UN forces, to save innocent lives in one of six Bosnian cities the UN declared as ``safe havens'' last May, and to show resolve in bringing Serbs to the peace table. Still more resolve may be needed. The sudden use of NATO force was required to reverse what may still be a disaster in a Bosnian town Serbs still want.

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US policymakers, as well as the UN commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Rose of Britain, appear to have again miscalculated the Serbs. The skillful diplomacy of US envoy Charles Redman following the NATO ultimatum in February led many in the West, and particularly in the Clinton administration, to believe the situation in Bosnia had been stabilized, if not settled, and that all parties were set for peace talks.

Yet off camera, the ``ethnic cleansing'' of Croats and Muslims by Serbs, the besieging of towns and cities, and a major Serb offensive against Gorazde continued. Western officials chose not to notice. US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. John Shalikashvili and Defense Secretary William Perry even went so far as to announce to the world on several occasions that no more NATO forces would be used in Bosnia. Such statements were properly criticized as giving a green light to Serb generals, many of whom already doubted the West's resolve. As a result, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and Secretary of State Warren Christopher went out of their way to say the use of force in Bosnia had not been ruled out.

But Serbs chose to believe US military leaders. Finally on Sunday it was evident a ``safe haven'' was about to fall and that news reports could record a slaughter worse than the Sarajevo marketplace massacre.

NATO states acted to avoid ugly headlines and to save US-brokered peace talks. Russians were angry at not being consulted. But there literally may not have been time. President Clinton was right to say Monday that the strikes occur under a UN ``safe havens'' agreement that Russia did vote for. Still, the Serb attack raises questions about whether the NATO allies have been unwisely squandering the leverage they gained in February.

What may be needed is a stiffer NATO ultimatum: Peace may be discussed on well-known terms. But land grabs may bring a real air campaign.

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