U.N. uses power to promote peace Around globe, police role grows

June 13, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The American-led air assault on a pugnacious Somalian warlord bolsters a deadlier and more determined posture by United Nations forces around the world as they assume a policeman's role no single power can perform.

No longer peacekeepers in a classic sense, U.N. troops are employed increasingly as enforcers in hostile settings such as Mogadishu, where warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid sought to grab power for himself and undermine the goal of pacifying the country.

The attack before dawn yesterday in Mogadishu with three AC-130 gunships and four Cobra assault helicopters came only hours after British forces operating under the U.N. mantle in Bosnia shot to death two Croatian militiamen in the first officially confirmed killing by peacekeepers there.

Both actions reflect a widely shared belief, underscored by President Clinton in a radio address yesterday, that "if U.N. peacekeepers are to be effective agents for peace and stability in Somalia and elsewhere, they must be capable of using force when necessary to defend themselves and accomplish their goals."

Mr. Clinton said the Somalian strike, launched in retaliation for an assault last Saturday in which 23 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed, served "to strengthen the effectiveness and the credibility of U.N. peacekeeping in Somalia and around the world."

This lesson was particularly important for Mr. Clinton to drive home as the United States prepares to send 300 ground combat troops to join U.N. forces stationed in Macedonia to prevent a spread of the Balkan conflict to that former Yugoslav republic.

'Clinton doctrine'

The new president's first use of U.S. forces in combat served additionally to counter his own weak image abroad while fitting neatly into his doctrine of shared military responsibility in the post-Cold War world.

"The U.N.'s action holds an important lesson about how our nation can accomplish our own security goals in this new era," Mr. Clinton said. "The United States cannot be the world's policeman, but also cannot turn a blind eye to the world's problems, for they affect our own security, our own interests, and our own ideals.

"The U.S. must continue to play its unique role of leadership in the world. But now we can increasingly express that leadership through multilateral means, such as the United Nations, which ,, spread the costs and express the unified will of the international community. That was one of the lessons of Desert Storm. And clearly, that was one of the lessons last night in Somalia."

But the Mogadishu assault -- indeed, the whole U.N. experience in Somalia -- exposes how ill-prepared and under-equipped the world body is to carry out new global responsibilities and how much it continues to rely on U.S. power. As a result, it shows how far removed the Clinton doctrine may still be from reality.

Although the United States left behind 1,200 combat troops and 3,000 other military personnel when it pulled out in May, the gunships in the operation were dispatched only in the last few days.

Late in taking over from the Americans to begin with, the U.N. force had to further postpone its aim of collecting heavy weaponry in the hands of Somalia's warlords while it awaited additional troops.

Robert B. Oakley, the former U.S. envoy to Somalia, said the United Nations' delay in getting up to strength afforded General Aidid the chance to disrupt the process of forging a new political order and diminishing the power of the warlords.

Stretched resources

As U.N. operations continue to expand almost to the point where the sun never sets on peacekeeping operations around the globe, its resources, manpower and management are increasingly stretched. With 70,000 to 80,000 troops under the U.N. flag, it is forced to scrounge around the world for more, U.N. officials say.

Often, the troops it gets are from developing countries that lack the money to train and equip them properly. As a result, it is impossible for the United Nations anywhere to display the kind of force that alone helps to intimidate troublemakers.

In Cambodia, the biggest U.N. operation in history, peacekeepers were forced to recognize that they could not do battle successfully against the Khmer Rouge and thus switched tactics and conducted elections in areas outside Khmer Rouge control.

Nowhere is the gap between need and the ability of the United Nations to meet it greater than in the former republics of Yugoslavia, where all the major powers are determined not to become embroiled.

Although the Security Council has launched a strategy of protecting victims of aggression in "safe areas," there is wide agreement that the number and quality of troops available is inadequate to guarantee the safety of the Muslims who would live in those safe areas.

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