The U.N. under Fire

June 08, 1993

The peace-keeping operation in Somalia breaks new ground for the United Nations. Instead of merely policing an agreement, it authorizes troops to do whatever is necessary to maintain peace, disarm combatants and protect relief workers. It provides readier rules of engagement than any previous operation, based on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter authorizing force when international peace and security are threatened.

That this would be challenged by one Somali warlord or another was always likely. The U.N. has changed the rules of their playground.

Saturday's firefight, when Pakistani troops raiding an arms cache were attacked by the thugs of Mohamad Farah Aidid, saw 23 Pakistani troops killed, three American soldiers wounded and scores of Somalis killed. It was the bloodiest involvement of U.N. peace-keepers since 44 Ghanaian soldiers were slain in the Congo in 1961.

But this attack on the Pakistanis cannot have been a surprise. The U.N. command should always have been ready to respond.

With renewed attacks by General Aidid's followers and swoops by U.S. gunships yesterday, open action against the Aidid faction seemed likely. On Sunday, the U.N. Security Council demanded action by its troops to arrest and try those responsible for Saturday's attack, presumably including General Aidid. The U.N. is the closest thing to an interim government that the poor people of Somalia have, and it must rise to the challenge of the authority that it claims to have.

How successful the Somalia operation will be in the long run is anyone's guess. But this contingent of nearly 17,000 troops, 4,000 of them American, with a Turkish commander, is a precedent for bolder U.N. operations that have been proposed for Bosnia and may be suggested elsewhere. As a humanitarian operation, the U.S.-initiated action is already a success. The starvation of the people by the armed thugs has ended.

Somalia is easy compared to Bosnia. There is every reason for the U.N. to pursue this operation with its unprecedented peace-making aspects to a logical conclusion. Then it will be time for the nations to decide if any other such action should be undertaken.

Meanwhile, the U.N. should continue pressing to establish a civilian regime for Somalia that its people would find legitimate. That would be a complex affair representing all clans and not a monopoly of power for any warlord. General Aidid appears determined to succeed the deposed dictator Mohamad Siad Barre, the most hated man in Somali history. It would be more beneficial to the Somali people if he were to be disarmed and put on trial instead.

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