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Tough Foriegn Policy Effective in Bosnia

Column by Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

At 7 p.m. on Sunday, the NATO-imposed deadline for the withdrawal of Serbian guns from around Sarajevo passed without commotion. Since Friday, the Serbs had been scrambling to comply with the NATO demands, showing a novel interest in peace. NATO and the United Nations recognized what they saw as good intentions by the Serbs, and have pledged, for the time being, not to carry out the threatened air strikes

The apparent success of the latest peace initiative has shown two things: that a deadline for withdrawal backed up by a visible threat of force can be successful, and that it takes a tragic and widely publicized loss of innocent lives to sway western foreign policy.

NATO imposed the deadline on Feb. 11, giving the Serbs exactly 10 days to remove their heavy artillery from around Sarajevo and abide by a cease-fire. Unlike previous demands and requests, the NATO ultimatum was forceful, had a specific deadline, and was backed up by threats of strong retribution. American and other NATO forces prepared for fighting while the major western leaders spoke strongly about enforcing the deadline. NATO jets overflew Sarajevo, and military officials talked about preparations for bombing, sending a very clear message to the Serbs that at least this time, compliance was necessary.

By acting tough and promising strong, swift retribution for non-compliance with the ultimatum, the nations of NATO were able to save countless lives and set a precedent for stopping the conflict in Bosnia, a precedent that can and must be extended to Mostar, Srebenica, and elsewhere. Now that Sarajevo is temporarily safe, care should be taken to ensure the security of other regions in the war-torn country, especially with reports of the Serbs redeploying the guns that used to surround Sarajevo to other besieged areas.

The recent events also show that the worries of President Clinton and others about American troops getting bogged down in an unpopular conflict were unfounded. Even if NATO had gone to war against the Serbs, it would have been with "surgical" air strikes, not with a costly ground war. Fortunately, by making a visible display of force, NATO was able to avoid actually effectuating their threats.

It is disturbing, however, that the recent threats by NATO and the United Nations were obviously prompted by the gruesome (and widely publicized) massacre of over 60 Sarajevans when a Serb shell destroyed a busy marketplace just over two weeks ago.

The marketplace massacre represented no great change in the war in Sarajevo -- shells had fallen before that day, and shells continued to fall afterwards. Snipers still shot at people walking in the city. But what the massacre did change was the perception of the western public, which in turn swayed and influenced the opinions of western leaders.

The marketplace massacre, carefully and sensationally packaged by the news media, brought the conflict close to home again, showing in a very graphic and wrenching manner the daily reality of a war that has gone on for almost two years with little or no western intervention. It is unfortunate that 60 people had to die to provide the catalyst (and the excuse) for a major change in American and NATO policy. In the last two weeks, western leaders have continued to talk tough about Bosnia, but for once, they seem to be enforcing their words with real action.

President Clinton has said that "NATO won't look the other way any more" and that the cease-fire and exclusion zone in Sarajevo will be enforced. "Never again" has been promised before, but those have been empty, unfulfilled promises that have only worsened the situation in the war-torn country. Now, however, Clinton and other leaders have done more than talk tough -- they have acted tough. They have demonstrated an interest in forceful imposition of ultimatums, a policy that needs to be continued and extended to other areas of Bosnia. It is unfortunate that images such as the Feb. 14 Newsweek cover showing a Bosnian woman's bleeding face had to prompt the change in policy, but the policy has been changed, and must be continually reinforced to avoid prolonging the suffering of the Bosnians and end the war.