Tribune leader, 26 June 1992

The left is, justifiably, generally op­posed to military interventions by big powers in other people’s wars. However they are dressed up for public consumption, they are usually at­tempts by the big powers to extend or defend their influence. Far from bring­ing about peace, they usually cause esca­lation and prolongation of wan look at south-east Asia, Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa, Chad, Angola.
But there are times when big-power military intervention in a small war is the only way of preventing something worse. It is becoming increasingly clear that Bosnia today is a case in point.
It is difficult to see how anything short of military intervention from outside will dislodge the Serbian nationalist ir­regular forces, backed by the Govern­ment of Slobodan Milosevic and former Yugoslav federal troops, which are cur­rently laying siege to Sarajevo and ter­rorising the civilian population with random mortar fire. Unless they are dis­lodged, the future for Sarajevo, Bosnia and the rest of what used to be Yu­goslavia is bleak indeed.
A ceasefire alone (if it could be made to hold, which seems unlikely) is not enough. It would simply allow the Ser­bian militias, currently in a psychotic, expansionist mood, to consolidate their current stranglehold on Sarajevo and to get on unmolested with the grisly busi­ness of “ethnic cleansing” in the areas of Bosnia they control, as a prelude to incorporating them into a Greater Serbia. Encouraged by their success, the mili­tias would then turn their attentions to the Albanians in Kosovo and then to the Macedonians.
Everything that the international com­munity has done so for to restrain Ser­bian expansionism has failed. The agree­ment on Croatia brokered by the United Nations special envoy, Cyrus Vance, in January allowed the Serbs to consoli­date their territorial gains there.
The EC’s plans for “cantonisation” of Bosnia on ethnic lines, put for­ward in March, only encouraged Serb ambitions to annex large areas of that country: if the EC sticks to this approach, it is almost certain that the Croats will join in the carve-up, effec­tively wiping Bosnia from the map. The sanctions imposed on Serbia and Mon­tenegro by the EC and the United Na­tions last month have had no apprecia­ble effect on the Serbian agression.
A limited military intervention to re­open and secure Sarajevo’s airport – its only transport link with the outside world – and to force the Serbian artillery units to retreat from their positions overlooking the city is logistically feasi­ble. It now appears to be the only way that tie world can show the Serbs that it is serious about not tolerating, unpro­voked aggression.
Obviously, there are political a military problems with such a course of action. Any intervention would have to have the backing of the UN, but it would be very difficult for any operation to save Sarajevo actually to be conducted by UN Blue Helmet troops, whose role is traditionally limited to peace-keeping. Intervention is also outside the remit of Nato, the purpose of which is to defend its own members from attack, yet Nato forces would have to be used. Unless the Western European Union were brought in, some sort of ad hoc coalition would need to be set up to do the job. This would take time and might be somewhat chaotic. There is also the possibility that what started as a limited intervention would become an endless commitment.
But none of this constitutes a convinc­ing case against intervention. The or­ganisational difficulties can be over­come if the political will is there, and there is no reason that any military action should not be strictly limited in scope and duration. In any case, there is no alternative on offer and time is gettting short. It is time to grasp the nettle.
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