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The Best Option on Bosnia

THE West cannot continue to "muddle through" in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The time has come for the Clinton administration to end its vacillation toward the situation in Bosnia and choose the best of all available options.

Let's face the undeniable facts: The United Nations has failed in its mission to control the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. Since 1992, there has never been any peace to "keep" and the United Nations - as demonstrated in Somalia, Bosnia, and elsewhere - is simply not capable of conducting military operations in hostile environments.

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UNPROFOR's mission in Bosnia has disintegrated miserably in the face of Serbian intimidation, falling off from the noble goals of humanitarian relief and protection of civilian populations to an exercise in reconsolidation or withdrawal. NATO, nominally the enforcers of United Nations policy in Bosnia, has allowed itself to be pushed around and repeatedly humiliated by third-rate (at best) Serbian forces in order to prop up the UN.

There are several options available to President Clinton in dealing with the Bosnian conflict. The first, continuing to "muddle through," as a UN official recently described Western actions, will serve only to diminish the credibility of the United States, NATO, and the UN. This option would also send dangerous signals around the world to both allies and potential adversaries concerning America's lack of resolve. Worse yet, by continuing on this course, the United States runs the risk of the taint of compliance with Bosnian genocide.

A second option is to declare the Serbs the aggressors and enter into the conflict on behalf of the beleaguered Bosnian government forces. Military objectives would not be clear and UN and NATO personnel on the ground would certainly be put in jeopardy. Additionally, air power alone would not be sufficient. US troops in large numbers would end up on the ground in Bosnia to fight an unwinnable conflict. Analogies with Vietnam are clear.

A third option, and one the Clinton administration has been unwilling to pursue, is to lift the arms embargo on Bosnian forces. The administration has voiced concerns that lifting the embargo would escalate and widen the conflict which might then "spill over" into Kosovo or Macedonia, creating a "domino effect" that would bring into the war NATO allies such as Greece and Turkey and other European nations. The logic seems to imply that Bosnia should be sacrificed to save the rest of the Balkans from what, at best, is a theoretical collapse.

The United States has no vital interests in Bosnia: Our national interests are threatened only by the potential for "spillover."

Both the Bush and Clinton administrations have made it clear to the Serbian leadership that such a situation will not be tolerated and would result in direct US military intervention (hence the US troops now stationed in Macedonia).

Lifting the arms embargo does nothing to jeopardize these interests. Furthermore, lifting the embargo does not put US troops in harm's way in a region where US interests are minimal, and it can satisfy America's moral desire to "do the right thing." Bosnian forces are ready to fight but remain hamstrung by the embargo and ineffectually protected by peacekeepers who can hardly protect themselves. Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic recently said, "I understand that Americans don't care about Bosnia. Fine. Just untie our hands. Let us fight." Our conscience should tell us that he is right.

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