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BOSNIA DEBACLE BRINGS TO MIND SHAME OF ‘30S `APPEASEMENTS’

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THOSE OF US WHO grew up in the 1930s and were later told about the lessons of Munich believed that the appeasement of aggression would not be repeated. We were wrong.

The way the so-called international community has dealt with Bosnia reproduces the League of Nations' handling of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and 1936 and, in a somewhat different respect, the British-French treatment of the Czech crisis of 1938.When Italy invaded Ethiopia, the League imposed economic sanctions on the aggressor, but at the same time the British and French tried to negotiate a settlement with Mussolini. The sanctions, limited to certain products, were too mild to hurt Italy.

The international community made the mistake of simultaneously pursuing two incompatible policies - collective security against aggression and a negotiated compromise between parties that were treated as morally equivalent. Aggression prevailed.

The same thing has happened in Bosnia. The United Nations' resort to international mediation has resulted in a succession of plans, each leaving more and more of Bosnia to the Serbs without satisfying them.

Negotiations backed by no credible threat of armed force have turned into appeasement. And symbolic collective security that did not even allow Bosnia to exercise its "inherent right of self-defense" by lifting the arms embargo on it has turned into a fiasco.

The only new thing the United Nations has added to the Ethiopian precedent is an international force with a humanitarian mission - which has been trapped in Bosnia. The force has become a hostage to the Serbs. For the British and French, its safety has become more important than Bosnia's and a convenient pretext against any resort to more effective military measures.

The proper policy would have been to press the Serbs, by force if necessary, to stop using war and ethnic cleansing and to negotiate a fair settlement with their Muslim adversaries after a lasting cease-fire had been imposed.

The Clinton administration began by condemning the Vance-Owen plan of early 1993 as a sellout of Bosnia. Now it seems ready to concede to the Bosnian Serbs both the right to confederate with Serbia - to form what would be the Greater Serbia of President Slobodan Milosevic's dreams - and the right to remain in control of all the territory they have seized by force until they obtain satisfactory constitutional arrangements from the Bosnian government.

All of this - offered behind the backs of the Bosnian authorities - would be conceded in exchange for the Serbs' willingness to stop using force.

Britain and France have remained faithful to the sellout spirit of Munich. And the United States has preferred finally to join its obstinately appeasing allies rather than act alone and take risks to help a victim of aggression - as if appeasement entailed no risks of its own.

As at the time of Munich, the great powers have chosen "peace" at the expense of honor. They have not even obtained peace yet and may get more war. The dishonor they have already earned.