Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Intervention In Bosnia: The Risk

By rejecting the Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian Serb parliament has brought the world within a single step of internationalizing the conflict - and bringing into effect the nightmare scenario that has hung over this tragic Balkan war since it began two years ago.


Only over the past few months has a military solution to the war imposed from the outside been considered a real option. The killing has gone on so long and in such horrific circumstances that formerly reluctant Western powers are now ready to commit aircraft and troops to stop it.


Russia has said that if the Bosnian Serbs do not ultimately accept the Vance-Owen plan, which they could still do by referendum, it is ready to consider any option, including military intervention to force an end to the conflict. This would put Russian troops on the ground in former Yugoslavia side by side with forces from the United States and other NATO countries.


But the extraordinary prospect of former Soviet troops and NATO forces working together in a major, hostile operation of this kind should give pause for thought.


Even the threat of intervention has been possible only with the agreement of President Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev. At some domestic political cost, they have turned Moscow's foreign policy around virtually 180 degrees from confrontation with the West to dose cooperation - even if this involves opposing the interests of Serbia, a traditional Russian ally.


This has been applauded by liberals in the West and also by some in Russia. But perhaps not enough thought has been given to the long-term implications of intervention, which is now at least a possibility if the reluctance of some of America's European allies can be overcome.


Yeltsin's position at home is not stable, as he tacitly acknowledged by forcing the United Nations to delay tougher sanctions on Serbia until the April 25 referendum on confidence in his rule. He was understandably afraid that nationalist opponents would use the Bosnian issue against him. What happens if one or two months or years into intervention, Yeltsin and Kozyrev are no longer in power, replaced by a more conservative leadership?


If nobody can predict what will happen in Russia or in Bosnia, then it is playing with fire to internationalize the conflict there - a region that once before, in 1914, provided the spark for world war. The bloodshed that is being inflicted by Bosnian Serbs on the Muslim population cries out for action, but intervention would bring with it the risk of spreading the war beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia.