Carnage in Rwanda

June 16, 1994|By Colin Campbell

AMERICAN officials now say "bureaucracy" is to blame for delays in helping Rwanda.

Of course, bureaucracy is everywhere; but the gray lament is a cop-out in this case. It diverts attention from the Clinton policy of avoiding a faraway case of genocide.

Consider the 50 American armored personnel carriers the United Nations asked for weeks ago. A small U.N. force needs the vehicles before it enters Rwanda, but they still aren't available. U.S. officials say U.N. and Pentagon red tape has held them up.

That's the latest reason -- after Washington dropped its opposition to dispatching a U.N. force at all -- why the U.N.'s African troops haven't yet gone to Rwanda.

Let's back up a bit. Two years ago, before Rwanda went crazy, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali urged that the United Nations earmark certain national military units so the United Nations could draft them in a small-scale emergency. There might be infantry from Ghana, a field hospital from Sweden, transport from the United States -- all voluntary.

Since the more radical idea of providing the United Nations with a permanent foreign legion of highly trained soldiers hasn't attracted much support (even after Sir Brian Urquhart's eloquent pleas for such a force), the idea of prearranged borrowings seemed a reasonable alternative.

The plan isn't perfect. Some powerful American experts feel U.N. bureaucrats aren't dependable, that Americans could get dragged into misadventures, that the U.N. force would cost too much.

But something was needed to let the United Nations act faster. Even Washington agreed with that. And so the U.N. Secretariat began earmarking military contributions.

Washington, however, refused to participate, and this fact is worth remembering as Clinton officials sigh over U.N. and Pentagon "red tape" and the lack of "mechanisms" for responding fast to international tragedies.

It's true that the Pentagon has wrapped the administration's promise of vehicles in red tape. Last Thursday's New York Times reported that the Pentagon wanted to send wheeled vehicles instead of tracked vehicles. It wanted to sell the vehicles, not lease them. It haggled over how much the United Nations should pay for the vehicles. It won't let the vehicles leave Germany until there's a signed lease.

Yet these are exactly the kinds of delays that could have been avoided if the United States had participated in the United Nation's earmarking arrangements or come up with an alternative that could cope fast with disasters. The delays aren't fundamentally bureaucratic -- they're administration policy.

The slaughter in Rwanda has continued for two months. Children have been hacked and clubbed to death for being Tutsis, Rwanda's minority. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. As many as two million are refugees.

The Clinton administration declines to call the murders "genocide" and says the figure of two million refugees is impossible to confirm and probably exaggerated.

There's a pattern here. The Clinton administration does not want to get involved. It doesn't want another U.N. force. It doesn't want to spend more money. It refuses to lead the way toward a workable alternative -- and I assume it hopes Rwanda won't become another foreign policy failure.

This behavior reminds me of Washington's handling of the war-caused famine in Sudan in 1988. That time, the Reagan administration refused to call genocide genocide. It also avoided giving the tragedy the critical attention that Reagan himself gave Ethiopia. It also said it was doing all it possibly could.

Part of the tragedy then, the Reagan crowd said, was U.N. and Sudanese "bureaucracy."

The line was rubbish then, and it's rubbish now.

Colin Campbell is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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