Suppose the world stood by and did nothing to stop the slaughter in Bosnia? The West already seems headed in that direction. While the United States and its European allies argue over what action to take, Bosnian Serbs and Croats cement territorial gains that will be difficult, if not impossible, to most telling sign of international resignation, the allies have anointed Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic as the last, best hope for peace in the region. "How can the Butcher of Belgrade be the force for good?" asks a White House aide.
Part of the answer is that Greater Serbia is a virtual fait accompli. After a year of assaults on largely civilian settlements, the Bosnian Serbs have grabbed some 70 percent of a republic in which they were a prewar minority. A few outlying areas, particularly in the northeast corridor that links Serb-held areas, are still key conquests. "Behind the front lines," says Jose Maria Mendiluce, the outgoing special envoy to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, "the policy of ethnic cleansing continues to be a daily reality." Some cynics have suggested that the European neighbors just wish the Serbs would get it over with a little quicker.
But relying on Milosevic to end the war is problematic. Aside from the moral question of whether the chief architect of Serbian aggression is fit to wage peace, there's considerable doubt about whether he can rein in his former proteges. After the self-appointed Bosnian Serb Parliament voted down the Vance-Owen plan for the third time, Milosevic declared he would cut off their supplies. The blockade along the Drina River has been spotty, at best, with supply trucks rumbling regularly across bridges into Bosnia. Even if the noose were tightened, Bosnian Serbs could hold out for some time: they have stockpiles of ammunition for at least six months and quite possibly for longer, say military and political analysts in Belgrade. No one is quite clear how wide the Serbian Serb/Bosnian Serb split really is-or what it implies. "The argument between Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs is a tactical dispute," says a Western diplomat in the Serbian capital. "They still agree on Greater Serbia."
The Croats are another problem. Throughout the 13-month conflict, they have been stealth villains, conducting their own brutal land grab in Bosnia while continually eluding Western scrutiny and censure. Only recently has international attention, normally focused on Serbian aggression, turned to the Croatian Defense Council, backed by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. "The Croats have been watching the Serbs," said Gordana Knezevic, deputy editor of Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo's daily. "They've seen that they can get away with what they want." Once nominal allies of the Bosnians, the Croats have recently turned on them with ferocity. Last week Croat forces attacked Mostar, in southern Bosnia, reportedly killing up to 150 Muslim civilians. Red Cross and U.N. officials said they found 2,000 Muslims from Mostar interned against their will, and an additional 260 Muslim prisoners in neighboring Croat villages. United Nations officials scoffed at Croat claims that they were herded into camps for their own protection. For the West, the Croat-Muslim fighting has meant a new wrinkle in the familiar plan to lift the arms embargo: the only way to get weapons to the Muslims is through Croatia.
The logical result of Western inaction is the trisection of Bosnia into areas controlled by Croats, Serbs and Muslims, who would be squeezed into an area a fraction of the size they once inhabited. The structure is already in place for a Muslim welfare state. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross would continue feeding the 810,000 Bosnians now on the World Food Program dole, perhaps indefinitely; donations, which fell short for the past several months, are up, perhaps reflecting the world's bad conscience. World Health Organization officials say relief food is just enough to maintain the Muslims, if in a somewhat emaciated state. U.N. Protection Forces would continue to impose an imperfect peace on designated safe areas; those were recently expanded by the Security Council to include the Muslim-held pockets of Tuzla, Bihac, Gorazde and Sarajevo, as well as Zepa and Srebrenica. That, in turn, would give Muslim refugees somewhere to flee to, where relief agencies could provide for them and NATO planes protect them.
The do-nothing approach may sound both far too cynical and far too optimistic. "In the long term, it's a vision of Gaza," says a U.N. diplomat in Belgrade." Europe will have a nightmare it never dreamed of: Muslim pockets in the middle of Europe. The United Nations will be here a long time." Perhaps that's why hardly anyone has publicly advocated the idea of doing nothing-even if it's what the world's policy maybe.