The Failure of Collective Security

November 30, 1993|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

Washington. -- The case for collective security is compelling in the abstract. In principle, collective security institutionalizes a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. It promises a united front against an aggressor. It commits those who sign on to share the burdens of enforcing peace against aggression. It promises a potential aggressor that he will not be permitted to succeed or to enjoy the fruits of conquest.

This is the theory. Reality is very different, as we have seen in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Events of the past two years in these countries constitute a fair test of collective security through the United Nations.

Why has it failed so utterly?

First, and most basic is the failure of the U.N. Security Council to call aggression what it is, and to name the aggressor. The fact that the Security Council accepted the secretary general's recommendation on this and many other aspects of the U.N. response to Serbia does not basically affect the situation. The U.N. Charter vests these responsibilities in the Security Council. They are not shared with the secretary general.

In the former Yugoslavia, there is no question about who is the aggressor and who the victim in this war. There is no question about who has laid siege to whom; who is trying to starve whom; who seeks to block the delivery of food and medicines to whom.

Yet, in spite of the clear record, the Security Council has spoken and has permitted the U.N. secretary general, U.N. mediators and spokesman for U.N. forces to speak as if the two sides were equally at fault, and to offer peace plans that would protect Serbian conquest.

A second requirement of collective security is a willingness to use the force necessary to turn back aggression. This, of course, has also been missing in Bosnia.

While Serbian forces have used maximum force and personal violence in their campaign of ethnic cleansing, U.N. forces have operated in this war zone under rules of engagement that were devised for and are appropriate to a situation in which peace prevails. Adequate force is not lacking in the region. This torture-murder of a people has taken place in the heart of Europe with the ample forces of the Western European Union, NATO and their member-states nearby.

Collective security that neither deters nor repels aggression is no security at all. Providing security against aggression requires realism, will, the necessary force and the military professionalism required to succeed. None of these has been present in Bosnia or Croatia.

So, the first lesson of this sad experience is that collective security does not exist in Europe. There are other more specific lessons as well: That U.N. membership cannot be regarded as a reliable guarantor of European security; that global institutions cannot necessarily provide solutions to regional problems; that diplomacy may not be able to discourage aggression -- whether or not that diplomacy is directed from the U.N.; that ''peacekeeping'' is not an adequate response to the determined use of military force; that the ''peacekeeping'' rules of engagement may make ''peacekeepers'' hostage without deterring the aggressors or assisting the victims, and that force is often necessary to repel force.

It is not clear that the actions of the United Nations have even helped. The arms embargo is quite simply shameful. It has denied Croatia and Bosnia the right of self-defense -- clearly recognized in the U.N. Charter. Its implementation breeds cynicism and helps Serbia.

As if all this were not bad enough, a new line is being put forth from unidentified U.N. spokesmen. It is being suggested that humanitarian assistance is ''only prolonging the war.'' Lord Owen said last week, ''Let us not forget we are feeding the warriors, we are interfering with the dynamics of war.'' A front-page story in the Washington Post headlined ''U.N. Aid Could Extend Bosnian War'' and based on comments of high-level, mainly anonymous, U.N. officials, asserts: ''If the U.N. operation continues to sustain an estimated 2 million people in need of food and aid this winter, it is bound to prolong a war that has left tens of thousands people dead or missing and sent more than one million fleeing from their homes.''

Therefore, an anonymous senior official opines, ''We basically shouldn't be here.''

Of course, it is true that the war would end sooner if no food reached Bosnians under siege, if they were left wholly at the mercy of Serbian forces. That was true in Kuwait. It was true in the Battle of Britain.

''Bosnia,'' as Albert Wohlstetter has insisted, ''is not history.'' It is now.

In Bosnia today it is winter. Food, medicine, shelter, fuel and every conceivable human need is in desperately short supply in Sarajevo, in Mostar, Tuzla and other Bosnian towns. Hunger is everywhere. Ethnic cleansing continues. Serbian forces are being reinforced and resupplied. Everyone knows it.

Overhead, Americans in NATO jets buzz Serbian gunners as they shell Sarajevo. No one in the city expects much from the Americans anymore. President Clinton has complained that critics ''who wanted us to do more acted as if there were something I could do to force the British and French to change their positions.''

Not necessarily. But Mr. Clinton could force the Serbs to change their position. American pilots know all about precision bombing, and airlifts.

If President Clinton could muster the will, he already has the forces. He could inform the Security Council that he was acting under Article 51 to save Bosnia. He could, in fact, save Bosnians and, in the process, salvage something of the principles of collective security.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

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