Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Matter of International Law and American Honor: Why Clinton Must Save Bosnia

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Matter of International Law and American Honor: Why Clinton Must Save Bosnia

Article excerpt

A Matter of International Law and American Honor: Why Clinton Must Save Bosnia

Recently a member of the Bosnian government asked an American correspondent when U.S. President Bill Clinton was born. "If he is a Gemini [born between May 21 and June 20], he might still be capable of changing his mind another time," the inquirer explained hopefully. In fact, it would not be necessary for Clinton to change his mind to save Bosnia--and American honor.

He need only act on his campaign statements criticizing then-President George Bush's inaction there, and the stirring declaration in his inaugural address last January that, "Our hopes, our hearts, our hands are with those on every continent who are building democracy and freedom."

Bosnia was the closest thing in Eastern Europe to a multi-cultural society on the American pattern. Its population was 44 percent Slavic Muslim, 31 percent Serb, 17 percent Croat and the remainder Jews, Gypsies and other minorities. They lived in mixed neighborhoods and apartment buildings. Intermarriage was common. Ethnically, the three major groups are the same, and all speak Serbo-Croatian.

It was the cancer of excessive nationalism that broke up the Yugoslavian federation, which consisted of six republics and two autonomous regions. The sickness did not start in Bosnia, where physical separation of the Orthodox Christian Serbs, Catholic Christian Croats, and the Slavic Sunni Muslims would be impossible without massive population transfers.

It originated in Serbia and then in Croatia and Slovenia, perhaps in reaction to the seizure by Serbian nationalist President Slobodan Milosevic of autonomous Kosovo in 1989 and the autonomous region of Vojvodina, with concomitant "ethnic cleansing" of Croats living there, in 1991. To Americans who blame Germany for the breakup of Yugoslavia, Germany responds that Serbia had been practicing ethnic cleansing in Croatia and seeking to stamp out Slovenian independence for six months before Germany recognized the two republics in December 1991.

The U.S. followed suit and bears special responsibility in the case of Bosnia, which it recognized as a separate republic, although that multi- cultural state did not have powerful European protectors like Serbia's Russia and France, and Croatia and Slovenia's Germany and Austria.

When Serbia began encouraging Bosnian Serb nationalist Radovan Karadzic to establish his breakaway "Srpska Republic" within Bosnia, and Croatia's extremist President Franjo Tudjman urged Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban to seize as much of Bosnia as he could, the U.S. encouraged Bosnia's joint presidency, consisting of two Croats, two Muslims, two Serbs and one representative of the other minorities, to hold together. To this day there are members of all of these groups in the Bosnian government and fighting in its armed forces for their multi-cultural government.

President Clinton's instincts have been to honor U.S. commitments to the territorial integrity of Bosnia, to the United Nations Charter's ban on the acquisition of territory by force, and to a Bosnian society patterned on American multi-culturalism. He was skeptical from the beginning of the "Vance- Owen" plan, which rewarded the Serbs and Croats for assaulting the territorial integrity of Bosnia.

Clinton's own decision was to support Bosnia's plea for lifting of the U.N. arms embargo, which prevented only the Bosnian army, and not the Serbian and Croatian militias, from obtaining arms to defend itself. He was promised congressional support for this policy by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) as well as members of his own party. …

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