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A New Tack on Bosnia

NO one should be surprised that John Major and Bill Clinton are taking a more cautious approach to the Bosnian war than Jacques Chirac.

The British prime minister and the American president face reelection hurdles that are steep and, in the political time scale, coming soon. The French president, newly elected by a strong majority, is full of the decisive actions such a mandate affords.

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Messrs. Major and Clinton fear a quagmire, with their troops taking casualties through the electoral period. Mr. Chirac sees success as well as risk attached to his proposal for decisive NATO ground action to halt the Serb army's slice-and-swallow approach to Bosnian safe havens, with their very penetrable veneer of UN forces.

Mr. Major's concern is the more immediate. He has troops directly involved. Mr. Clinton is trying to keep his ground troops from being pulled into the war (except to evacuate UN forces). Hence the American preference for NATO airstrikes, rather than the ground push urged by Chirac.

Given the likelihood that this difference among the three allies will persist, they need to set out on a new course. It may need to combine elements from several sources. It should include ending UN impounding of heavy weapons, and withdrawal of UN troops from the untenable safe havens but not Sarajevo. Muslim forces should be allowed to acquire heavy weapons to defend themselves.

Clinton's proposal of more resolute NATO airstrikes fits here as a deterrent.

But the threat of such strikes will have to be credibly decisive if they are not to provoke further taking of UN hostages. Finally, there must be a concerted push by the NATO allies to press the Bosnian Serb leadership finally to accept the territorial settlement plans they have flirted with so often.

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