Bosnia: Hands Off

Why Europe has been reluctant to intervene

Many commentators have pointed out that a ground force military intervention to drive the Serbian forces from the areas they have occupied in Bosnia would have to be done in the face of fierce and vengeful resistance, and at the price of heavy casualties among the intervening forces and the civilian population both. Even advocates of military intervention acknowledge this. In a Daily Telegraph article headed "Why Britons Must Be Ready to Die for Balkans Peace," Edward Stourton admits, "An international effort to enforce peace could take several months of intense fighting and years of attrition."

Even that depressing summary of the prospects for peace enforcement in the former Yugoslavia is more cheerful than the reality requires-for the troops would have to remain there indefinitely. There is no point at which they could declare "Mission accomplished" and go home, because if they did, the Serb and Croat forces would simply fight their way back to their lands in Bosnia and Kosovo. So the intervening forces-unless they were to acknowledge that they had made a frightful mistake by their intervention-would have to stay, under the "attrition" of constant guerrilla attacks by both Croats and Serbs.

This is a nightmare prospect, for these are fearless and ferocious warriors. Guerrilla resistance in Yugoslavia during the Second World War was able to tie up many German divisions and remained undefeated. And the Germans were able at that time to use anti-guerrilla methods of collective reprisal which no civilized government could get away with today.

Some Bush Administration leaks regarding military intervention in the former Yugoslavia indicated that the American share of the intervention would be limited to the air, and implied that the Europeans were to take care of the war on the ground. The above analysis of the probable nature and duration of the occupation should show why Europeans are not attracted by this American idea of an appropriate division of labor.

Yet Americans are not alone in believing that Europeans, and specifically the European Community, must take most of the heat and carry most of the burden in the territory Most members of the United Nations (though not of the Security Council) believe something of the kind. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali clearly feels that the United States is too ready to press the UN to make commitments in Yugoslavia when the wealthy Europeans should be coming to the rescue of their European neighbors. The secretary general, an African himself, feels that equally great horrors in Africa-in Somalia and Mozambique, for example are receiving scant attention while the advanced world concentrates (however ineffectively) on Bosnia.

European government leaders are not greatly impressed by these expectations. Thinking, like politicians everywhere, of their own political future first and foremost, they know that to send their nationals "to die for Balkan peace" would mean their own political deaths, as soon as the price of peace-with-attrition began to be realized. So government leaders will supply diplomatic efforts, economic sanctions, and humanitarian aid under armed convoy, and be willing to take part in limited air strikes. But no ground troops. Nor is there any significant popular demand for serious military intervention.

Many Americans seem to think that Western Europeans should feel an urge to come to the rescue of fellow Europeans. But the urge is not there. "Fellow Europeans" is an expression very seldom heard, and when heard it has no such overtones as has the heartwarming "Fellow Americans!" of presidential speeches.

Even within the Community the pulse of European solidarity beats very feebly indeed-although it is enormously amplified by official rhetoric. There will be no United States of Eu-rope: Maastricht is a false clown. Outside the borders of the Community, European solidarity is even more tenuous. And the former Yugoslavia is not felt to be part of Europe at all. It is felt to be part of "the Balkans": a distinct region, and a zone of dangerous instability.

Sarajevo is perhaps the most ominous place-name in the history of the world-but Bosnians clearly don't agree. Princip Bridge has been in the news, as a target of snipers. The glorification of Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand led to the hecatombs and Holocaust of the two world wars, suggests that Bosnians feel little more solidarity with their fellow Europeans than-to their present misfortune-their fellow Europeans feel with them.

The fighting in the former Yugoslavia will not be ended by outside intervention. It will end-or at least wind down-only as a result of internal factors: war-weariness, of which there are already signs in Serbia, and territorial satiety, with the feeling on the part of the various "ethnic cleansers" (who include Croats as well as Serbs) that they have acquired as much territory as they can safely exploit. When the fighting does die down, Serbia-which has received almost all the blame, but should have shared some with the Croats will no doubt wish to repair its relations with the outside world, in order that there will be some room for diplomatic leverage. But most of the refugees will still be unable to return to their former homes.

What has happened, and is still happening, in Yugoslavia is an enormous human tragedy. But it would be a mistake to believe that this human tragedy could have been, or could now be, averted or ended by outside military intervention. Such intervention would only extend the scope of the tragedy and prolong its duration. And even a long and bloodstained occupation would not, on its ending, bring peace to the Balkans.

There are places where a lot of men prefer war and the looting and raping and domineering that go with it to any sort of peacetime occupation. One such place is Afghanistan. Another is Yugoslavia, after the collapse of the centralizing communist regime.