NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb military targets represent a change of approach but not a change of policy. The plan remains a division of Bosnia along ethnic lines. The reason such action was taken now rather than three years ago is the unexpected success of the legislative move within Congress to force a lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnian government. The recent market massacre, which is only the latest in a long line of Serb atrocities against the citizens of Sarajevo, was just a trigger.
The American strategy has three strands. The first is to persuade rebel Serbs in Bosnia that the Contact Group plan is the best they can hope for, and that further intransigence could provoke a lifting of the arms embargo and a UN withdrawal which could leave them to face strengthened Bosnian and Croatian forces, who would probably enjoy NATO air support for a limited period. In this respect the Contact Group has the support of Serbian President Milosevic, who will benefit from a lifting of all economic sanctions if a settlement comes about.
The second aim is to use the NATO action to postpone Clinton's moment of reckoning with Congress, which would otherwise have occurred this month.
The third is to force the Bosnian government into accepting the new Contact Group plan with its 'cleaned up' map. The Americans are offering the carrot of a mini- Marshall Plan in return for partition. The reason that most of the recent action focuses on Sarajevo is that the allies intend a partial lifting of the siege to facilitate a territorial exchange, giving the Bosnian government more territory around their capital in return for Gorazde, the last remaining enclave in otherwise 'ethnically pure' Serb-occupied eastern Bosnia.
General Mladic has faced some tough choices over the last few weeks, after seeing what the West can do when Clinton is worried about the elections. But it is the Bosnian government which, as usual, is on a knife edge. If the Bosnians reject the plan they lose American support, and with a UN withdrawal anticipated next spring might find themselves - alone - facing rebel Serb revenge for the NATO air strikes. If, however, they accept a two-way partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then they will have to explain to over a million displaced people why their right of return has been signed away. This could topple the government, who will therefore go along with the plan slowly while banking on Serb resistance over key constitutional issues.
Lee Bryant is a researcher with Media East West, who worked for two years at the Bosnia Information Centre.
What has happened in the last month, in Croatia and in Bosnia, has meant that the real war has started to impinge on the imaginary war. The Hurd position has been completely left behind. We are now somewhere like a Paddy Ashdown position on the war, but not yet at a Margaret Thatcher or Michael Foot position! It is deplorable that the British Parliament is completely unaroused. Out of 3-400 people, only three or four voices have been raised in defence of Bosnia. The British press is random in its approach to the issues. There is short-termism and little real analysis, as in Robert Fisk's recent reports.
To an extent, what the UN has been saying for the last three years is true: air raids need to be backed on the ground. The Rapid Reaction Force, constantly described as having heavy guns, actually carries field guns of the same calibre as the tanks I drove in the war. For the NATO attacks to be meaningful, they'd have to be followed up by Bosnian ground troops. Military logic should be encouraging the Bosnians - but actually they are being told in no circumstances to do what would be militarily logical.
Given the fact that Milosevic is the instigator of the war, it is incredible that he is seen as the man to negotiate with. The US has taken an interest in Kosova and put a token force in Macedonia - so what is the US negotiator Holbrooke going to be saying? Milosevic is starting out by talking very tough, asking for half of Sarajevo, and a wider corridor in the North. What is uncertain is how much steam the US are going to put behind their efforts. We can't be sure. But if negotiations drag on, the Bosnian government can delay and use its open frontier with Croatia. I believe the real war will more and more obtrude itself on the imaginary one.'
Former ambassador Sir Reginald Hibberd is the author of XXXXXXX . These words were taken from notes of his speech to the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina in September 1995.
There have been demonstrations of a few hundred or latterly a few thousand people, after four summers of systematic genocide.
There have been commemorations of VE and VJ Days and the opening of Auschwitz, while in occupied Northern Bosnia there are once more the camps, the killing groups, the slave labourers digging trenches, and (a late-twentieth century return) systematic ethnic rape.
There have been close friends who say they don't want to do anything about Bosnia because:
The list of excuses-for-not-acting above shows how thinking of nation states and national character as unchanging has sunk much deeper into the heart of the left than could be admitted. Perhaps centuries of imperial stability, of England experienced as a place which was never invaded, never saw extreme political change, have blunted and blinded the English to what is happening now. This blindness even in recognising fascism makes those of us who do not come from that experience of security fearful of what could happen here.
Western Europe is after all the exporter of genocide. Europe has the industrial capacity for holocausts many times over. The assumption of Western diplomats, of our media, of the public voices calling for British soldiers to withdraw, is that everyone belongs in an ethnic niche: peace means never having to live alongside anyone different. The belief underlying all the Contact Group plans is that naturally all people would prefer to live with their own ethnic group. The increasing impatience with the Bosnians also strikes terror into us minorities, us mongrels, us postcolonial revenants living on sufferance in Western Europe.
Partition as a peace plan means us too, next time.
It means that nationalists everywhere are calling the shots. When the BBC calls every Bosnian a Muslim, they are saying come on to Le Pen. When Hurd shook hands with Karadzic, he was of course shaking hands with Berlusconi and Fini. When the West lifts sanctions on Milosevic, the architect of this genocidal war, they will be saying welcome to ethnic cleansers from Romania to Romford. Those who tell us that the holocaust 'must never happen again' are lying.
Amanda Sebestyen is an editor of Casablanca.