Half-Steps Overstep in Yugoslavia

By Benjamin Schwarz

2 December 1992 Christian Science Monitor


AMERICA’S participation through NATO in the recently imposed United Nations naval blockade of Serbia is cynical and dangerous. It should be opposed on grounds of practicality and principle.

Presumably, this embargo will force Serbians to end their aggression and to relinquish the territory they have occupied. But leaders in Washington and the European capitals know that a blockade will not accomplish this. A blockade has never decided a war, let alone forced a people to give up land they have “liberated.” The UN blockade of Iraq, for instance, proven ineffective, had to be followed by deployment of the only instrument that can dislodge armies and insurgents from territory – ground troops.

The only way to bring peace to Yugoslavia is to send soldiers there. These soldiers, in effect, will have to hold guns to the heads of the combatants and demand that they stop their slaughter. European and American leaders rightfully shrink from this prospect. These leaders know that the current fighting in Yugoslavia results from centuries of ethnic and religious hatreds, fueled by wrongs committed on all sides. They recognize that too many in the region would rather kill each other than coexist accordi ng to international schemes for multi-ethnic harmony.

Some experts argue that Serbia leader Slobodan Milosevic is merely playing on his countrymen’s ethnic antipathies as a means to consolidate his power. But Mr. Milosevic’s motives are irrelevant; he can play the “nationalist card” only because that card is so powerful. The Serbs, who have suffered horrifically in the past, are prepared to endure great pain in what they regard as the defense of their nation.

Western leaders grasp that even if “peace” can be imposed, it will be maintained only by troops indefinitely stationed between hostile tribes, who will soon make the peacekeepers the object of their enmity. In short, these leaders know that ending the killing in Yugoslavia requires a savage war of peace, brutalizing to all.

Since the necessary means are abhorrent, the Americans and Europeans, responding to cries that they must do “something,” choose half-measures – such as the blockade and “humanitarian relief” to feed the doomed – that they know will not be enough.

Once committed to extricating Serbia from Bosnia, Western governments will find it very difficult to abandon that goal just because their limited measures did not succeed – especially when there are so many potent measures at their disposal.

Even more important, American intervention in Yugoslavia portends a lavish extension of our interests and a dangerous transformation of our military commitments.

THE US military was stationed in Europe to contain our superpower rival. With the threat gone, it would seem that our expensive commitment to NATO would end. But those who search for a new global role for the US have found new enemies. They decree that NATO should now prevent and suppress “instability” in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

While the prospect of greater instability is real, the belief that it, in itself, threatens the US is wrong. America’s strategic interest in Europe is to prevent a single power’s dominance there, not to insure against any untoward event. Disorder on Europe’s fringes is a matter for Europeans, who have the wherewithal to combat it, to quarantine it, or to ignore it. Europeans’ reluctance to interfere in Yugoslavia should be regarded as prudence, not as an inability to take care of themselves without Ameri can leadership.

To transform NATO into an instrument to combat instability and enforce peace threatens to entangle us in intractable quarrels beside which the Yugoslavian mess pales.

The object of foreign policy cannot be to transform societies or to change men’s hearts. Defending our security by containing, deterring, and fighting a hostile country is one thing; attempting that defense by fundamentally influencing internal change is quite another. Our attempts to do so in the past have brought us spectacular failure.

By pursuing in Yugoslavia grand visions pleasing to our image of ourselves, we will be courting disaster, and in making others the objects of our generous wishes, we will inevitably succumb to making them the objects of our domination

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