Behind US's Scuttled Bosnia Plan European Leaders Have Resigned Themselves to a Serb Conquest in Bosnia, Analysts Say

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IF you were afraid of a {Western} military intervention, you can breathe easy," the voice on Bosnian Serb television told its audience this week. "President Clinton has decided to put Bosnia aside and return to domestic political issues because the European Community refused the military option."

With some voices in Europe and the United States trading sharp charges over responsibility for the failure to arrive at a united Western position on Bosnia, the Bosnian Serb statement has the virtue of getting to the point.

Underlying the Western failure is US ambiguity over taking on a foreign mission in a complex conflict, and European paralysis in the face of a war it would rather see contained than running the risk of escalation into something larger.

"The Europeans, alas, have concluded that for Bosnia it is too late," says Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for Foreign Relations. "They are afraid to launch into something they wouldn't be able to control, and so they have resigned themselves" to a Serbian victory.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher's inability last week to line up European capitals behind a two-step US proposal for limited military intervention resulted in part from the fluidity of events in Bosnia during Mr. Christopher's visit. The Clinton administration proposed beginning with bombing of strategic Serb positions until the Bosnian Muslims could be armed to adequately defend themselves.

But at the root of the transatlantic dissonance are strong European concerns about where military intervention might lead. French Foreign Ministry officials speak of "avoiding an Afghanistan across the Adriatic from Italy" and "the dangers of sliding into World War III."

In addition, Europeans interpreted the US plan as options to be discussed and not as Clinton's policy - and, importantly, as options that do not even enjoy broad US public support.

"If the Americans came with a clear plan and said, `This is what must be done, follow us," the Europeans would say `yes,' " Mr. Moisi says. "But that is not what they came here with." That leaves the doubt for many Europeans that the US wants to be followed.

As one observer summarized in the Paris daily Liberation, "The war in ex-Yugoslavia is above all a European affair, and Clinton would have had trouble finding the political support to wage a war in Europe that Europe doesn't want to fight."

Yet despite longstanding European reluctance toward military steps, a window to agreement on military steps appeared to open after the self-proclaimed Bosnian "parliament" rejected the UN- and EC-brokered Vance-Owen Bosnia peace plan May 6. European leaders had been publicly very clear before Christopher arrived in their opposition to lifting the arms embargo to allow rearming the Muslims, and only slightly more open to air strikes. …