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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Threats: More Emotion Than Policy

LONDON -- When the world's most powerful military alliance threatens to drop bombs on one combatant in a three-sided civil war, you would hope that the decision to issue that threat would be motivated by something more than a knee-jerk reaction to television pictures. Alas, it is not so.

When NATO warned the Bosnian Serbs last week that it would launch air strikes if they did not withdraw their heavy weapons from positions around Sarajevo, Western government ministers let it be known that the decisive factor in their thinking had been the shelling of a marketplace in the Bosnian capital that killed 68 people.

That atrocious incident, broadcast in all its gory detail around the world, is said to have tipped the balance of public opinion in Western countries, forcing governments into more drastic action than they had previously contemplated.

I am not sure how governments measure public opinion in such matters. Do they believe the opinion polls that are commissioned as soon as pictures of dead and maimed people appear on television screens? These are the same governments which tell us, when they are 20 points behind the opposition in the ratings, that opinion polls are not to be trusted. Do governments take newspaper headlines as evidence of the popular will? These are the same governments that constantly lecture the press on its irresponsibility. Or do governments simply respond to whoever shouts the loudest?

No, it is none of these things. The West's leaders issued their ultimatum because, like all politicians, they are vain men. They believe they are in office because they know the best action to take on all questions of public interest.

No matter that none of these leaders had visited Bosnia before the war. No matter that they knew next to nothing about the region's history. No matter that, 22 months into the conflict, they still cannot manage to pronounce correctly the names of the leading political and military figures in the war.

And no matter that every decision they have taken on the former Yugoslavia since the fighting broke out in summer 1991 has turned out to be an exercise in futility and miscalculation. These leaders still cling to the illusion that they know best.

As a result, Western countries are on the brink of entering a war without a clue about what outcome they wish to see. Officially, the West is committed to a peace process in Geneva that envisages the de facto partition of Bosnia into three national regions, one each for the Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The Serbs would get about half of the republic, and everyone knows, but will not publicly admit, that the next step would be the unification of that region with Serbia proper.

In certain circumstances, it is right to threaten the use of force and then to carry out that threat. The 1991 war against Iraq was a case in point. The West had a well-defined objective: to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

But in Bosnia, the West has no policy. How will bombing Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo help end the Muslim-Croat war in central and southern Bosnia? How will it relieve Serbian pressure on the Muslim enclaves of eastern Bosnia? If air attacks are Act One in this war, what are Acts Two, Three, Four and Five? The politicians mesmerized by television do not know, and that is a recipe for disaster.