World Dumps Its Problems at the U.N.


July 28, 1992|By TRUDY RUBIN

PHILADELPHIA. — Philadelphia -- While the West is figuring out how to keep order in the post-Cold War world, the United Nations has become the dumping grounds for problems no one knows how to solve.

That would be fine if United Nations members had given the world body the funding and manpower to deal with a growing list of crises. But they haven't. And that dangerous imbalance is seriously undermining the U.N.'s credibility, just when it is most needed.

The classic example of the problem is the U.N. peace-keeping operation in Yugoslavia. This is exactly the kind of operation that in the old Cold War days, the United Nations would have avoided like the plague.

In the old days, U.N. peace-keepers were mostly sent into situations where all sides had already agreed to stop the fighting. U.N. forces then would monitor the cease-fire or maintain calm on the front lines while the opposing sides negotiated a settlement.

But U.N. officials were anxious to avoid situations like the one they got themselves into in southern Lebanon, where combatants ignored the very lightly armed U.N. peace-keepers and kept firing around (or through) them.

With the end of the Cold War all the old rules changed. All sorts of regional and local conflicts sprang up, for which there were no adequate international structures to stop the violence.

In the unique case of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Western allies decided to fight and the United Nations provided an international cover. But in Yugoslavia, more typical of the new kind of violence emerging in Europe, none of the allies know what to do.

They didn't want to send their own boys to separate Serbs, Croats and Muslims, and Yugoslavia was outside of NATO's bounds. So the European Community and the United States turned to the United Nations to separate the parties, while the European Community negotiated a political settlement. But they never gave the United Nations what it needed to do the job.

For the Yugoslav case crossed the boundary between peace-keeping -- where all sides agree to stop fighting -- and peace enforcement, where the shooting goes on. The allies still don't want to provide the United Nations with a well-armed, standing offensive army. And U.N. officials worried from the first that sending peace-keepers into Yugoslavia where fighting was raging was bound to boomerang.

The U.N. breaking point came two weeks ago when EC mediators worked out a supposed cease-fire with the three warring sides in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Without consulting the U.N. secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the EC committed more than 1,000 U.N. monitors to travel to Bosnia to monitor all sides' heavy weapons. This was supposed to take place within two weeks.

Never mind that the Bosnian ceasefire broke down in 90 minutes. Or that the warring sides have still to provide a list of their heavy weapons. Or that trained U.N. monitors are in short supply, and the United Nations is having trouble getting members to volunteer enough peace-keeping troops to fill allotments already committed to the former Yugoslavia in Croatia, and at Sarajevo airport. Or that U.N. officials believe it would have taken two to three months to get the monitors in


Or that the United Nations is running short of funds already for Yugoslavia and for massive peace-keeping operations like that in Cambodia, even as members assign it new tasks. And that members aren't rushing to provide new funds, or to pay up hundreds of millions in arrears for peacekeeping, and regular dues.

But Mr. Boutros-Ghali did mind. In an extraordinary and most undiplomatic public explosion of pique he criticized the EC for failing to consult him over the Bosnia plan and the U.N. Security Council for endorsing it.

The whole U.N. peace-keeping operation ''is already stretched to the breaking point'' he charged, and pointed out that ''only a handful'' of countries have offered to keep military personnel in reserve for U.N. missions. Both the United States and Great Britain have said repeatedly that they wouldn't provide ground forces for U.N. operations in the Balkans, perhaps mindful of how often U.N. troops in Sarajevo have been targeted by combatants.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali's explosion is a wake-up call to Security Council members. They cannot keep shunting violent problems the U.N.'s way without providing new resources.

The secretary general himself suggested several ways of coping earlier this year. He called for a revolving capital fund to be established to finance start-up costs of peace-keeping operations. That would avoid the necessity of the U.N.'s going begging every time a new project was started.

He also suggested that as soon as the Security Council decided to set up a new operation the member states would have to fork up one third of the first-year costs. And that they would pay these assessments, along with their regular dues, on time.

Clearly, if U.N. peace-keeping duties are to expand constantly, member countries should begin to keep units on standby, and the United Nations should have a reserve stock of basic equipment in hand. Mr. Boutros-Ghali believes that countries that benefit from U.N. intervention, like EC countries in the Yugoslav case, should provide troops and funds for the operation.

None of those suggestions begins to address the more tricky question of whether the United Nations should move from peace-keeping to peace enforcement on a grand scale, which would take much more resources. But, if carried out, these suggestions would force members to think twice before they shunted a problem onto the U.N. agenda. And it would enable the United Nations to do its job when asked.

Trudy Rubin is a member of the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board.

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