Professors Assess U.S. Role in Bosnia

As the Clinton administration continues to delay in formulating a decisive policy in Bosnia, Harvard professors are also divided on the role the U.S. should take in the civil war that has killed as many as 100,000 people in the last 13 months.

Most professors interviewed yesterday say they support some form of U.S. intervention in Bosnia, but that it is difficult to determine just how strong an action the Clinton administration should take.

Emphasizing the gravity of the Bosnian crisis, professors in the Faculty and at the Kennedy School of Government say the U.S. faces a complicated situation, but will have to make a decision soon after this weekend's referendum, when Bosnian Serbs will choose whether to accept a peace settlement.

"I'm straddling the fence the same way the U.S. administration is," says Russian Research Center Director Timothy J. Colton. "On human rights grounds, we have a legitimate reason to be involved and concerned...but considering the costs and benefits, it's not a situation that is inviting."

"It [the Clinton delay] looks like a tactical maneuver," Colton said. "But it shows how prickly the nettle is...I don't blame the U.S. or other governments for being reluctant."


"I think it's one of those really difficult foreign policy issues," says Stanfield Professor of International Peace Robert O. Keohane. "It's an agonizing situation where every time it looks like we should do something, there seems to be a very strong reason not to do it."

One of the greatest problems, professors say, is that any intervention, in the form of either a military air-strike or land warfare, will necessarily kill many people as well as have political repercussions.

With the airstrikes, "you'll have U.N. peace-keeping forces as hostages [and] innocent people will be killed by the bombing," Keohane says.

Keohane adds that strategically, the airstrikes can only be completely successful if the Bosnian Serbs believe the U.S. is willing to follow with land troops. "Yet it seems as if the American public and the government are not willing," he says.

Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France and Mellon Professor of the Social Sciences Stanley H. Hoffmann says the possibility of a clean victory with an airstrike is a "fantasy."

"An attack by air is likely to kill as many people on the good side as on the bad side, assuming there is a good side and a bad one," Hoffmann says.

And Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School Philip D. Zelikow says that an air strike, followed with ground troops, is not a viable solution.

Zelikow instead advocates lifting the U.N. arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and providing them with the military capacity to defeat their Serbian neighbors.

"We should be prepared for some American intervention in the conflict," Zelikow says. "The Bosnian Muslims are politically, legally and morally entitled to this aid."

Another important problem, professors say, is that the Clinton administration and the European governments have not delineated clear objectives for any military action and political solutions that would have to follow.

"There's no consensus on what a solution should be," Hoffmann says. "If you intervene, you have to have a political plan in mind."