The War That No One Can Stop

Lord Carrington is not one to be easily discouraged. A decade ago, Britain's unflappable former foreign secretary brokered the delicate negotiations that transformed Rhodesia into Zimbabwe-a task that had defeated successive efforts of lesser men. His persistence in 1979 was fueled, he said, by the conviction that both sides were sick of bloodshed. But what can you do in a crisis where all the combatants are out for blood? Last week Carrington, acting for the European Community, brokered yet another cease-fire in Yugoslavia. It fell apart within hours. Carrington's aristocratic cool was no match for the heat of Yugoslavia's ethnic rivalries.

The war continued to be hard for outsiders to follow-and even harder for anyone to quash. By the end of the week, Croatia's eastern frontier was a battlefield. Yugoslav warplanes bombed militia positions on the outskirts of Zagreb, the Croatian capital, while Croatian forces traded artillery fire with warships blocking the secessionist republic's ports. A six-mile-long armored column pulled out of Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and made for the war zone, bent on aiding Army units besieged in their barracks by Croatian forces. Yugoslavia, Carrington said, was on the brink of an "irretrievable civil war."

Belgrade is determined to avoid a repetition of Slovenia's relatively bloodless exit this summer from the troubled Yugoslav federation. This time, the Army is ready, and Croatia's military seems no match for it. The Army seemed to be consolidating Serbian gains in an arc of Croatia stretching from the Danube River to the Adriatic Sea. There, a substantial Serbian minority has resisted Croatia's June 25th independence declaration; guerrilla forces supported by Serbia have seized territory and declared it their own autonomous region. The neighboring republic of Bosnia could be next: like the Croats, Bosnia's Muslims traditionally oppose the Serbs. Three regions of the republic already have declared independence. A similar declaration this month by another republic, Macedonia, raises the prospect of an even wider war. Meanwhile, Serbian ultranationalists talk of "recapturing" land from neighboring countries and are circulating maps of "greater Serbia" -including much of Croatia and Bosnia, and even slices of Hungary and Romania.

If the widening battle threatens to remake the map of Yugoslavia, it also raises questions about the influence of another political entity: the new Europe. The end of the cold war raised ho that for the first time since 1945, Europe could manage its own security. Indeed, the EC has played the major role in aiding new democracies in Eastern Europe. The Yugoslav war is precisely the kind of situation in which "Europe" should be able to act: about half of Yugoslavia's trade is carried on with Western Europe, and cultural and ethnic ties bind much of the country to EC members. "The European Community has part of its credit riding on this affair," said French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas.

Instead, the civil war exposed the inherent weakness of any European security policy. Germany and Italy threatened to recognize Slovenia and Croatia, while Britain and other members of the Community strongly opposed the move. Croatia's foreign minister desperately hoped the EC would send peacekeeping troops; Britain led the movement against the idea. British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd urged Europe to consider political or trade sanctions against Yugoslavia, but after a long bitter meeting in The Hague, the EC foreign ministers agreed only to study ways to "reinforce" a team of unarmed cease-fire monitors.

The EC's failure to cope with a crisis on its doorstep could add to doubts about the promise of monetary and political union. EC leaders won't meet to approve those plans until December, but it's likely that the agreements they sign will be much less ambitious than was expected a few months ago. Meanwhile, the lack of progress in Yugoslavia prompted U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to step in; he announced that the U.N. Security Council would hold urgent consultations on the "extremely dangerous" situation. Lord Carrington will meet with leaders of the warring republics this week. "I don't despair," he insisted. But he also asked: "How can you hold a peace conference when everyone is killing each other?"