U.N.: Many Duties, Few Decisions


January 19, 1993|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

It is commonly said that the League of Nations faile becausethe United States did not join and that the United Nations proved disappointing because it was paralyzed by the divisions and Security Council vetoes of the Cold War. Once the Cold War ended, it was therefore widely expected that -- at last! -- the United Nations would fulfill its global role.

But now, after having assumed responsibilities literally all over the world, U.N. operations are developing many problems that flow from the very nature of the organization.

Evidence of these problems abounds. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein has mocked the United Nations (and the U.S.) with his repeated violation of the armistice agreements. His open defiance of Security Council ultimatums has threatened to negate the world organization's (and the Bush administration's) most notable success in using collective security to oppose aggression.

In Africa, jeers and catcalls, rocks and garbage accompanied Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali during his trips to Somalia and Ethiopia. Shouts and signs and appeals for a U.S. rather than a U.N. presence made it abundantly clear that local populations were not worried about a foreign presence, and were not concerned about Yankee imperialism. They were denouncing the United Nations.

In Bosnia, U.N. troops are condemned for callous indifference to the suffering for failing to protect and help those whom they are there to protect. U.N. negotiators are reproached for pursuing a policy of appeasement. Bosnian Muslims frequently charge U.N. representatives with bias in favor of the Serbs.

News that four residents of a home for the aged had frozen to death in a single night a block away from the U.N. headquarters in Sarajevo did not help the U.N.'s reputation for humanitarian concern. Nor did word of Cyrus Vance's personal efforts to prevent U.S. officials from meeting with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic while he was in Washington last weekend help Mr. Vance's reputation as an even-handed, humane mediator.

But the most appalling U.N. failure in Bosnia came 10 days ago when Bosnia's deputy prime minister, Hakija Turajlic, was murdered while under U.N. protection. Riding with French troops in an armored personnel carrier, the deputy prime minister died as many of his fellow Bosnians have died -- an unarmed civilian target of heavy Serbian fire, murdered in full view of U.N. peacekeepers who watched the bloody events without even threatening to use force.

''Returning fire,'' a U.N. soldier explained, ''is not permitted under U.N. rules of engagement except to save your own life.''

How, the French newspaper Le Monde asked, could Bosnians be expected to disarm -- as the Europeans have requested -- and put their confidence in a U.N. so powerless that it could not prevent the murder of a single man under its protection?

Indeed, confidence in the U.N.-sponsored peace negotiations in Geneva is so low, and experience with Serbia's delaying tactics so extensive, that there was no relief when word came that the Bosnian Serbs' president had accepted the Vance-Owen proposal -- providing that it was also acceptable to the Bosnian Serb parliament -- something which would require several days to determine.

By now, many Bosnians, Croatians, Africans and Cambodians have begun to see the United Nations as part of their problem, rather than as its solution.

When Saddam Hussein violated the no-fly zone, activated anti-aircraft missiles, attacked an American fighter jet, blocked the delivery of humanitarian assistance, prevented a U.N. inspection team from completing destruction of poison gas and nuclear weapons, sent troops across the border into Kuwait, and other wise violated armistice agreements, the U.N. Security Council equivocated.

Baghdad proposed ''a constructive dialogue'' to ''resolve outstanding differences'' and the Japanese president of the Security Council expressed his desire to avoid recourse to force. Outside the Security Council, the United States and a few of its principal allies decided it was time for action.

As in his response to Mr. Hussein's initial invasion or to starvation in Somalia, George Bush's leadership proved crucial. There has been no U.S. leadership on Bosnia, and no effective action.

In the absence of leadership, the U.N. is barely capable of acting. The clash of national goals and strategies brings potential action to a standstill.

The U.S. government has more than once created an impression that the British, and especially the French, have blocked a forceful action on Bosnia. But last week, the French promised to act, unilaterally and with force if necessary, to bring relief to Bosnian Muslims in concentration camps. It was the Americans and the secretary general who dragged their feet.

The result was a retreat. France agreed that action should be in the framework of the United Nations. As in confronting Somalia's famine, urgency evaporated, but misery continues.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.