The New York Times, August 14, 1991
Aggressors must not be allowed to profit from their conquests. That’s the principle President
Bush soundly invoked to mobilize the world against Saddam Hussein’s seizure of Kuwait. The
lesson seems to have been entirely lost on Slobodan Milosevic, the Communist leader of Serbia.
He’s out to expand Serbian frontiers, using a mix of political intimidation and crude military force.
Mr. Milosevic’s designs are now frighteningly close to realization. European governments have
tried and failed to broker a negotiated peace. Washington, which has not yet addressed the harsh
new reality, needs to take a stand.
The United States has long been reluctant to involve itself in Yugoslavia’s internal disputes.
That’s understandable. But with the collapse of Communism, Yugoslavia, a 20th-century
invention uniting disparate South Slavic peoples, has started violently tearing itself apart.
In Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, free elections last year ushered in
non-Communist, anti-centralist governments. Serbians voted for Mr. Milosevic. He had already
consolidated his position by forcibly incorporating two autonomous regions, Kosovo and
Vojvodina, into the Serbian republic. With a close ally ruling Montenegro, Mr. Milosevic had
assembled all the power he needed to block the federal Government from resisting his ambitions.
In June, Slovenia and Croatia formally seceded from Yugoslavia, bringing the crisis to a head.
Mr. Milosevic and his allies briefly sent federal troops against Slovenia, but then turned their main
fire against Croatia. There, local Serbian rebels have driven Croatian forces and villagers out of
large sections of two regions, Krajina and Slavonia. Meanwhile, Milosevic allies have been at
work in Bosnia-Herzegovina, hoping to create a corridor linking these regions with Serbia and
Montenegro to form a Greater Serbia.
That would end the present Yugoslavia. It would also raise alarming questions about external
boundaries. The peace of Europe would be doubly challenged: both by the example of successful
aggression and by revision of international frontiers. Those dangers spurred the European
Community to try to mediate. But Serbia and Croatia both refused to yield authority to anyone
else and the Community had no choice but to back off.
Now it is up to more powerful bodies — the United Nations — to act. And for that to happen,
Washington will have to take the lead. That includes finding ways to ease Soviet fears about
encouraging its own independence-minded republics. The United States may lack obvious levers
but that does not diminish the urgent need to find some.
The issue in Yugoslavia is the illegitimate use of armed force for political ends. The last time
that happened, the President said such aggression could not stand.