Boutros-Ghali: wise or merely wily?

April 01, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

TO MUCH of the world, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is a mysterious sphinx relocated suddenly to the East River. What is this oddly empowered man -- whom some see as a kind of U.N. emperor -- really thinking about his unprecedented role? Is the secretary-general wise -- or merely wily?

In a revealing luncheon interview in his exquisite Sutton Place townhouse on the eve of the U.S. pullout from Somalia, the seasoned Egyptian diplomat presented a very different portrait of himself and his motives from that generally seen. His is the portrait of a man not seeking power for himself but of one fighting against the lack of will of most of the world.

But first, as he sees it, the lessons of the Somali mission? "The lessons?" Mr. Boutros-Ghali began. "First, that we must not all have different agendas -- the U.S., Europe, the U.N. all had different agendas in Somalia. That was the first mistake.

"Second, we have come to the realization that the U.N. does not have the capacity to carry through huge operations. A mission involving 30,000 troops is already too much for us. An operation that costs $500 million is OK; $1 billion is too much. We do not have the infrastructure to do that. For big operations, we need the assistance of other organizations -- like NATO in Yugoslavia.

"Once you have that assistance, then the whole operation is not directed by you -- and there are more captains. Take Mozambique: We have 6,000 soldiers there, and it is a 100 percent U.N. operation. There is no great power. El Salvador was the same. Those are successful. But once an operation needs huge amounts of power and a huge infrastructure -- the $1 billion ones -- then the machinery doesn't exist for it. We don't have the capacity for it, and it will distort the operation."

If he had to involve the U.N. in Yugoslavia again? The secretary-general leaned forward and gave a surprising answer. "I would say we cannot do it," he answered clearly. "We can send observers -- a small number of peacekeepers -- but to do more? To do air strikes? We don't have the infrastructure."

What about the Serbian attacks recently on French and Danish peacekeepers, when the United Nations refused to give orders to shoot back? The secretary-general was unrepentant here. "The final decision [on retaliation] has to be taken by the political authority, not the military one," he insisted. "This is too important to be left to the military, because we have to take into consideration all of our humanitarian workers on the ground. And the negotiations -- you may be about to conclude a negotiation, and an air strike can halt it."

Then Mr. Boutros-Ghali depicted himself as a man in many ways cornered by the world's unwillingness to act. "Remember," he said, "each step in the mandates is given me by the Security Council. Another problem is that many resolutions are adopted there, and members know that they cannot be implemented. Often, for political reasons, members need a scapegoat, and that's the U.N.

"The U.N. is a kind of forum used by member states, an instrument for public action which members can use for their own public relations and their own public opinion. They can use it in a positive way or use it to say, 'See, that was not our fault, it was the U.N. bureaucracy.' "

The United Nations -- and the new "United Nations mentality" that the world has been reacting to in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, where the direct use of force was eschewed, at great cost -- is totally opposed to the use of force, Mr. Boutros-Ghali believes. "Our whole philosophy is based on talk -- negotiate -- and then talk again," he went on. "To use force is an expression of failure. Our job is diplomacy, the peaceful resolution of problems. The possibility of using force is only as a dissuasion. If you read the U.N. charter . . . the whole philosophy of the charter is to avoid military force . . ."

But then the secretary-general expressed his own feelings in passionate terms. "Not only is the philosophy to avoid using force, but more importantly the member states are not ready to use force," he went on. "Because the member states are not ready to use force and because the protagonists know they are not ready, the element of dissuasion does not exist.

"For instance, the peace-enforcing mandate was ultimately given NATO. But to bomb [in Bosnia], you need the agreement of the council of NATO. They weren't giving it. So I said, 'Come on, stop the gimmicks -- give me the mandate so I could give the command.'

"In Somalia, I constantly invited in representatives of the Arab League, the Muslim Conference, the European Union. I said, 'Please help us.' In Haiti, I welcomed the Organization of American States to do something about the problem. This is decentralization. But something new is happening in the world that they do not want to do it -- or they don't believe in regional or subregional arrangements. I've even created regional groups, like Friends of Haiti.

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