Published June 1, 1993
During the martial-law period in Poland in the early 1980s, Poles used to say that there were two solutions to the Polish crisis: the realistic solution and the miraculous solution. The realistic solution would be if Our Lady of Czestochowa appeared in the heavens and the Russians fled. The miraculous solution would be if the Russians simply packed up and left under their own steam.
There are no “good solutions,” miraculous or realistic, in the Balkans these days. History (and literature, like Ivo Andric’s brilliant novel) suggests that turmoil is of the essence of a region in which three civilizations abut one another. The immediate issue is not, alas, how to achieve a “just and lasting political solution,” for no such solution exists. The issue is to contain the conflict so that it does not lead to a general Balkan war, which would inevitably become a war throughout the eastern Mediterranean, with Greece and Turkey arrayed on different sides and NATO in ruins. The reiteration of a “bright line” at the border of Macedonia (with NATO troops as a tripwire), coupled with the insistence that Serb “ethnic cleansing” not extend into Kosovo, with its heavy Albanian population, is the beginning of a sensible policy in a situation where the choices are between bad and worse. Continuous (and increasing) pressure should be put on the Serbian and Croatian governments, as an incentive to their stopping the actions of their countrymen in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If a ceasefire could be made to hold in that tortured region, then the introduction of large-scale NATO (and perhaps Russian) forces as peacekeepers—with license to use aggressive means to prevent a renewal of any militia activity—might be considered.
Meanwhile, the thugs running both Serbia and Croatia are benefiting from the fact that they control the flow in information (which is to say, misinformation and disinformation) in their countries. The people of those countries, many of whom might well want to bring political pressure to bear on the war-mongers among their brethren, need the oxygen that is the truth. (Hard as it may be to imagine, a lot of people in Belgrade and Zagreb don’t know what has been going on in Sarajevo and Mostar.) Immediate start-up of round-the-clock Radio Free Europe broadcasts in Serbo-Croatian would make a lot of sense. So would identifying and financially supporting democratic forces in those countries (and in Bosnia-Herzegovina), in order to help build an “opposition” that might, someday, be able to make a real peace. Joint charitable and reconstruction activity by Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim organizations in the West might provide both needed services and an important example in the ruins of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
None of these measures is a solution to the problem. But it is not clear—or at least as clear as it should be before the trigger is pulled—that sporadic military pressure from the West would achieve any desirable end right now. Had the current Administration articulated a policy in which U.S. military intervention—even a far more massive intervention than is now being contemplated—were linked to achievable political goals, taking a chance on such intervention might have made sense. No such policy has appeared. Thus, in addition to the dangers and uncertainties attendant on any use of force, military action now would risk creating a quagmire from which we would find it extremely difficult to extricate ourselves. Such a quagmire would also ill serve the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Michael Ignatieff was right: the great lesson of the most recent Bosnian disaster is that a failure of Western will and leadership at the outset of a European security crisis does not “buy time”: it buys only misery, and it makes real problem-solving ever more difficult downstream. One would have thought that this lesson had been learned in the 1930s. If we fail to learn it now, the results in Russia may be truly devastating.
Finally: the argument above is not conservative-isolationist. In fact, there is a place elsewhere in the world where genocide is occurring right now; where the friends of the West are being slaughtered by the enemies of the West; and where Western military force could effectively impose a political solution, perhaps in the form of a trusteeship. That place is Sudan. The odds on a successful Western (and U.S.) military intervention are much better there than in the mountains of Bosnia. Alas for the Sudanese Christians, CNN isn’t paying attention. Why aren’t the rest of us?
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.