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The Time Has Come for Serious Talk, and Action, in Bosnia

Western power will have to be affirmatively applied

Bosnians have been the beneficiaries of endless bouts of "conflict resolution." Well-meaning Westerners have come and held seminars to "bring people together" and get them to know one another and "communicate."

Bosnians are happy to go to these seminars. They cannot help but be glad to get some time off from the misery all around them and chat for a few days - all paid for in style by some American foundation. But they laugh at it in their hearts. The problem in Bosnia isn't that people don't know one another. They know one another all too well. The war might never have started if they had been strangers.

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The leaders of the different sides in Bosnia all knew each other personally. Sarajevo was not such a big town. Radovan Karadzic, now leader of the Serb extremists, was a student in the medical classes of Nadzhib Sacirbegovic, a longtime comrade of Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic and now Bosnia's ambassador-at-large in the US. Stjepan Kljuic, the leader of the Croatian nationalists at the beginning of the war, used to spend long nights playing cards with Mr. Karadzic.

When conflict-resolution specialists come in, they have the bright idea of getting Serbs and Croats and Muslims to come together and talk. Or getting Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim priests and imams to talk. Most of these people have been living as neighbors and talking for years. The nearest neighbors have often been the most vicious in cutting one another to pieces. This is why civil wars are usually the bloodiest of wars - as Americans should recognize from their own history.

The problem between Serbs and Muslims was that the Serbian nationalists wanted a separate state and more territory, while the Muslims wanted a common state since they had a plurality - or, later, at least wanted back their territory lost to the Serbs. As long as the Serbs held that territory by force, it was a joke to hope for them to change their minds by talking to Muslims. It was like trying to get Nazi prison guards and their Jewish inmates to resolve their conflict by talking together.

Foundations get what they want

Yet, in a sense, the American foundations that put up the money for all these confabs do get what they want. They want to be able to show that they have done something for peace in Bosnia. They want it to be something that everyone can approve. They don't want it to be anything that would be politically controversial, anything that would commit them to a point of view, anything that would arouse opposition. None of that would be good for their annual report. All that they want to be seen doing is the completely innocent act of bringing people together and getting them to communicate.

The confabs have gone on and on, as did the war. For a long time, people kept "communicating" and the war kept getting worse. The United Nations sent in neutral peacekeepers - the neutralism was part of the whole culture of being noncontroversial - not standing for anything, not doing anything that anyone could object to - and often ended up being used by the aggressors.

The war stopped only when the power situation changed. The West led an embargo that pressured Serbia to cut off support for the Bosnian Serbs. NATO airstrikes opened the way for the Muslims and Croats to reconquer large territories. After that, conditions were ripe for communicating seriously about peace. America stepped in and brokered an agreement. Even then, the agreement could not have been reached except for the fact that America and NATO pledged to put up 60,000 troops to enforce it.

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Communication didn't bring peace

It was not communication that led to peace and tamed the militants. It was the hegemonic power of the West that led to peace and to the relevance of communication. When Western power was interposed, it created the opportunity for structuring communication to flow into channels that could build peace. When Western power was not used, the endless communicating went into a black hole

To be sure, power alone does not produce peace, any more than communication does. To arrive at peace, communication needs to be interwoven skillfully with power. America cannot afford to forget this, for America is the core power in the new world order.

Now that a truce is in place and IFOR troops are present, there is a fleeting chance for real conflict resolution. This will require some courageous action. IFOR troops will have to be used to enable the civil aspects of the agreement to be fulfilled. They can't just be kept on the sidelines like potted plants.

Freedom of movement will have to be enforced. Nationwide TV communications (not artificial "conflict resolution" communications) will have to be established. Only this will make it possible to hold a true Bosnia-wide campaign for the elections this September. And only IFOR can do these things. But IFOR is just standing by.

The war criminals will have to be arrested. Thus far they have been left in power. They continue to sabotage the accords. The Serb extremists have fired other Serb officials who have been trying to cooperate with IFOR. The extremists can't invade and cleanse Muslim areas any longer, so they have cleansed their own people out of areas that were to be turned over to Muslim authorities. IFOR has just stood by.

Meanwhile the "conflict resolution" meetings continue. The dance goes on. The danger grows of an unravelling of the peace.

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