(Mrs. Kirkpatrick, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan administration)
Even before he met with new U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher earlier this week, Lord David Owen, European Community negotiator for the Balkans, had charged that it was probably the fault of the United States that war still rages in Bosnia.
The Clinton administration, he said, was giving hope to beleaguered Bosniaks. That hope encouraged them to resist the “peace plan” developed by Owen and his co-chairman, Cyrus Vance, who serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in the matter of the Balkans.
It is easy to see why Bosnia’s Muslim would resist. The Vance/Owen plan divides Bosnia into 10 ethnically distinct, autonomous provinces: Three would be dominated by Croats (who make up 17 percent of the population), three by Bosniaks (who constituted 43 percent of the population before Serbian “ethnic cleansing” drove them from their homes), three by Serbians, and Sarajevo, the capital, would be jointly administered. The elected government of Bosnia (now headed by President Alija Izetbegovic) would be replaced on the signing of a cease-fire by a nine-person interim commission whose members would be equally drawn from each of the ethnic groups.
Only the Croats accepted the plan. Bosnian Serbs have been on again, off again about the plan since it was first presented. They want a corridor connecting Serbian enclaves to Serbia.
Obviously, Bosniaks, who are the principal victims of Serbia’s war, are also the big losers in this proposed peace settlement — in spite of Owen’s declaration to the London Financial Times that “what has happened in the former Yugoslavia must be reversed… we are not going to have the Muslims treated like the Jews once were in Europe.“
The Vance/Owen plan rewards “ethnic cleansing” by legitimizing Serb control of land from which Bosniaks have been driven. It also rewards Croats who are just now moving militarily to consolidate control over lands assigned to them under the Vance/Owen plan — on grounds that ‘Muslim extremists and fundamentalists’ threaten the national identity of the Croatian community in Bosnia. At the same time Croats are seeking to reclaim by force Serbian enclaves in Croatia set up in the cease-fire negotiated under U.N. auspices.
“We will liberate the last inch of Croatia from Serbian Chetniks occupation,” said Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.
Events in Croatia have not caused Vance and Owen to doubt that their peace plan for Bosnia can end the fighting — if it is imposed by the U.N. Security Council. President Clinton, said Owen, “should stop all of this loose talk about using force, make it clear to Izetbegovic that he’s got no real alternative to these negotiations… then provide American troops as part of a NATO force.”
“Please don’t do it,” pleads Bosnia’s president.
The plan is drawn on the principle that might makes right. Serbs are awarded most of the areas from which Bosniaks have been driven. Serbs are given political representation far beyond their numbers. The legitimate Bosnian government is dismantled. The democratically adopted constitution is scrapped.
To deal with such resistance, Vance and Owen have informally proposed to press for sanctions against any group blocking the accord. To impose the plan and enforce its implementation, action by the Security Council, including the five permanent members, will be required. The British and French governments have signed on. But so far the Clinton administration has disappointed Vance and Owen. Secretary of State Christopher Warren is reported to have described the Vance/Owen plan as “legitimizing the ill-gotten gains from ethnic cleansing.” But he promised to study the plan.
“It is going to impede us if they don’t get going soon,” Owen commented.
The Clinton administration is not the only impediment to the acceptance of the Vance/Owen proposal. The Conference of Islamic States supports lifting the embargo on arms for Bosnia: The French government is not enthusiastic. Le Monde reports that French officials are discussing with the United States a proposal for joint military action to enforce the no-fly zone, silence the heavy artillery bombarding Sarajevo and put Sarajevo under international protection. In fact, it is not certain that a majority of votes in the Security Council could be mustered to support the Vance/Owen plan and even less likely that the plan could be enforced if it were endorsed by the Security Council.
The boundaries of the proposed ethnically distinct cantons are arbitrary and unacceptable to all parties. This agreement would last only as long as the balance of power among the three ethnic groups lasts. That may not be long. The arms embargo, which has never prevented the supply of weapons to Serbia, is leaking at the other end. As the Croats’ success shows, Serbia’s absolute military advantage in weapons is diminishing.
The European reported this week that Croatia is now acquiring arms from Hungary, Italy, Turkey and other Eastern European states, and that Iran is now supplying a significant amount of arms to Bosnia. By sea, by air and by truck, weapons are hauled through Croatia (where the Croats take a percentage) and into Bosnia — in spite of fear of the growing influence of Iran in Europe and of the growing radicalization of Bosnia’s Muslims.
Sometimes, as Winston Churchill remarked, one’s best is not good enough. Vance and Owen have labored long, but this plan is not good enough. It is not practical, enforceable or fair. The United States should not become party to an effort to impose it.