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Force in Bosnia

IF there were easy answers in the former Yugoslavia, someone would have found them by now.

The Clinton administration's move to have the United States Navy stop enforcing the arms embargo against the Bosnian government, difficult though the decision must have been, is the right course of action.

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It was an incremental policy change, which the administration is already playing down. But the enforcement halt has strained relations with NATO allies already worried about American foreign policy now that Congress is coming under Republican control.

The US should never regard its allies lightly, and we do not believe that that is what is happening here. Unity within the alliance - including keeping everyone on board with sanctions policies - is important. But neither the United Nations nor NATO has been effectual in stopping the fighting in Bosnia. So Congress, which in effect forced the policy change by voting over the summer to cut funds for enforcement of the embargo, felt a need to do something.

The argument against lifting the embargo was that it would lead to escalation of the fighting.

In fact, in recent days some of the territorial gains the Bosnian Muslims made earlier have been reversed. But with the arms embargo in place, Bosnian Muslims have no hope of a truly ``level playing field'' on which to defend themselves.

The change in control of the Congress may give the president an opportunity to play good cop, bad cop vis-a-vis the allies, with Sen. Robert Dole (R), soon to be Senate majority leader, as the bad cop. Mr. Dole had originally pushed for a unilateral lifting of the embargo itself, but what Congress passed was a measure crafted by Sens. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, and George Mitchell (D) of Maine, the outgoing Senate majority leader. With pressure from Congress, the president may be able to get the allies to go along with a less passive policy on Bosnia, including enforcement of sanctions already agreed to.

After all, it is clear that the Bosnian Serbs respond to force, not just tough talk. When the West has acted decisively, it has gotten results - as happened after the Sarajevo marketplace massacre this winter, when NATO launched airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs, who then pulled back their big guns.

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