Whatever success the Western air and artillery attacks in Bosnia-Herzegovina may have in moving the stubborn war there toward the negotiating table, they had an immediate political impact in Europe, restoring the unity and credibility of the Atlantic Alliance after months of serious internal strains over the Balkan crisis.
Among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 16 member nations, backing for the attacks was strong--especially among key countries that have differed openly and sometimes sharply over tactics.
“A proper step,” declared British Prime Minister John Major, echoing similar comments from other European capitals and from President Clinton.
Tensions within NATO have been driven largely by U.S. frustration over the inability of its European allies to resolve the first major post-Cold War conflict in their own back yard. Europeans have been equally dismayed by what they see as the Clinton Administration’s lack of leadership and its dizzying policy zigzags.
Congressional calls for a unilateral U.S. lifting of the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations against Bosnia--a move Europeans believe would dramatically diminish chances for peace--added to transatlantic differences over the Balkans.
The large-scale, sustained air strikes also will help restore NATO’s rather tarnished image as a potent military force.
“Morale is very, very high,” an alliance official said during an interview at NATO headquarters here. “The feeling is that we were asked to do something in Bosnia a year and a half ago and we’re finally starting to do it.”
In February, 1994, after 68 people died in an artillery attack on a Sarajevo marketplace, NATO first agreed to help protect and enforce a 12 1/2-mile zone around the capital, banning heavy weapons, such as artillery, from the zone. But for months the United Nations refused to permit the use of NATO’s military might to enforce the zone.
On a purely political level, the action Wednesday appeared certain to lift the morale and confidence of Western leaders and their electorates, whose feelings of humiliation and impotence in the face of Bosnia’s agony had grown even greater as they watched television reports of the mortar attack Monday that killed 37 Sarajevans.
To Europeans, NATO’s action provided a catharsis in reasserting Europe’s authority and power and demonstrating its willingness to exercise them.