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Political quagmire buried in moral morass: Bosnia defies the world's best solutions.

NEW YORK -- In mid-May, Russia canceled a planned meeting of U.N. Security Council foreign ministers to discuss the U.N.'s peacemaking role in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The nonmoving of SC members -- which would have included China and Third World nations -- reflects a growing embarrassment for the Western powers: that the U.N., as "emperor" of the new world disorder, has virtually no diplomatically credible clothes.

Instead, Western leaders of the old world order desperately scrambled to cobble together a stopgap agreement that papers over their own rifts, but does little to advance a sustainable and just political settlement. Already the ethnic apartheids of Lebanon, Cyprus, Palestine and Northern Ireland loom uncomfortably large on the future Balkan horizon.

As ordinary citizens, we face a Babel of contradictory policy proposals from all sides on how to bring peace to Bosnia. Western governments are as confused as the rest of us.

The plan they approved May 22 will likely prove unimplementable. Serbian leaders welcomed its implied acceptance of the "facts" they have created on the ground through "ethnic cleansing." Bosnian leaders bitterly condemned its implied permission to carve up their nation while denying them the right -- theirs under the U.N. Charter -- to ask other countries to come to their aid.

The very powers that approved creating "safe havens," including the United States, are still reluctant to commit substantial troops or funds to defend them. And U.N. High Commission for Refugees officials fear such "safe areas" may degenerate into captive resource-strapped refugee camps at the mercy of Serbian commanders' whims.

How did the global community come to such an impasse?

In great part because we -- and Yugoslavia -- spent the last 45 years laying the groundwork for war by building military-industrial complexes, rather than investing in civilian-based peacemaking and peacekeeping diplomacy.

The arms used to kill Bosnia's civilians, many produced by the Serbian-centered Yugoslav arms industry with American know-how, are products of the Cold War. Like California, Serbia's economy rested in great part on military production. It has found it difficult to shift to nonmilitary production, one reason it resisted the loss of Croatia's and Slovenia's more diversified economies.

While our Cold War-generated false certitudes as to "who the enemy is" have dwindled, ex-Yugoslavs' certitudes have grown. While it is tempting to see the Balkans' historical fault lines of religion and ethnicity as inevitable fate, Michael Ignatieff argues in the New York Review of Books that it is a fate contrived by nationalist ideologues.

They worked to obliterate "a shared (multiethnic) village existence" by committing atrocities to cement their hold over followers, Ignatieff writes. "The Balkan peoples had to be transformed from neighbors into enemies" and "imprisoned ... in the fiction of 'pure' ethnic identity."

While the Balkans' worldview becomes brutally simplistic, the rest of the world has entered a new terrain of moral ambiguity in which our very attempts to help often harm.

Former Polish prime minister and U.N. human rights investigator Tadeusz Mazowiecki noted in May that the Vance-Owen plan had actually accelerated ethnic cleansing, and that the West's failure to halt Serbian rights abuses had created a "precedent of impunity" that prompted Bosnian Croats to do the same.

In the late 1980s, the West failed to "end the Cold War with a comprehensive territorial settlement" that "adjudicated between rival claims to self-determination," notes Ignatieff. It must now determine its stance "toward the emerging order of ethnically cleansed microstates which have taken the place of Yugoslavia," he adds, and toward an "ethnic apartheid" that "is the only guarantee of safety they are (now) prepared to trust."

Experience with South Africa should have indicated the high cost of failing to apply effective sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro long before April 26, when they were finally tightened. They might then have helped preempt much of the violence that has sparked further violence.

As the religious community wrestles with the moral dilemmas -- and governments with the political ones -- of military intervention to try to save lives in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a few groups are groping toward longer-term solutions. The American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee for National Legislation appealed to President Clinton for "moral imagination and creativity" in using peaceful means to resolve the conflict.

The War Resisters League, in a May 24 statement arguing forcefully against military intervention, urged active support for antiwar and pro-democracy opposition movements in all of ex-Yugoslavia's republics: "backing the independent press, offering political asylum to war resisters and deserters, supporting ecumenical religious efforts" and use of "economic sanctions ... designed in consultation with these constituencies, so that they result in pressures on those in power, not just further suffering for the general population."

Echoing the U.S. Catholic Conference when it said that "there is no real military solution" to ex-Yugoslavia's crisis, the WRL urged "the creation of a new kind of international peackeeping force under United Nations auspices, a civilian body trained in conflict resolution and strategies of nonviolent civilian resistance."

Such an innovation would not bear the fruit of saved lives overnight. But it suggests one path toward keeping the peace by moral force rather than military force. Have we the courage to take the first steps and shift our security policies and funding priorities accordingly?
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Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jun 4, 1993
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