THE WORLD FROM...Washington

To US foreign-policy community, disintegration gains upper hand in Armenia, Yugoslavia, and Peru

TODAY'S new world often seems a strange struggle between things that push nations together (trade blocs, Big Macs, CNN) and forces that pull them apart (nationalism, ethnic hatred, used AK-47s). And from Washington at least it looks like this spring the forces of disintegration have the upper hand.

It's true that in some places - Moscow, for one - predictions of unrest have gone unfulfilled.

But in many places around the globe fractiousness now seems out of control.

Yugoslavia in particular has become what Washington considers an appalling situation.

Serbian aggression there appears medieval in its brutality and pointlessness, in the way Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic appears to be willfully propelling his people backward through history. And worried European neighbors and United Nations peacekeeping forces don't have the political mandate and muscle to enforce peace.

The standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus Mountains is only a spark or two away from similar battles. Violence spawned by movements for self-determination "is one of the things we're going to have to continue to deal with," says a senior administration official. "It's going to get worse before it gets better. We've got to deal with and manage the change that's going to take place."

Increasing calls for self-determination, violent or otherwise, will simply be a fact of life now that the removal of Soviet control has started history ticking again in Europe. That can be seen even in civilized Western Europe, where in a way the umbrella identity of the European Community seems to have encouraged the agitation of minorities.

"Look what's happening in Scotland, in Flanders, in Catalonia, with the Basques. I don't think anyone has focused yet on the risks of the continued disintegration in Europe," says the senior official.

Meanwhile, the situation in Peru has shattered the illusion that Latin America was undergoing a steady march to freedom similar to that of Eastern Europe.

That Peruvian President Fujimori would dismiss his legislature and seize power was bad enough.

But realization of the intransigent problems underlying Fujimori's actions - economic decay, a growing threat from insurgency - also greatly undercut a comfortable Washington feeling that things were going fine south of the border.

US officials have walked a delicate line, condemning Fujimori's actions while emphasizing that they understand he has problems.

The Shining Path guerrilla movement, in particular, was long dismissed in the US as bizarre, almost on the level of a cult. Now it's seen for the serious threat to Peru that it is.

Some analysts go so far as to say that it's entirely possible the Shining Path will seize power.

The insurgency is so entrenched that getting rid of it "may now be impossible in Peru, with or without US military assistance," says RAND analyst Gordon McCormick in a study on the Shining Path's campaign.

The coup has simply played into the Path's hands, according to Mr. McCormick.

The guerrillas are gradually developing the power to cut off and isolate the capital city of Lima. "The regime would not, in these circumstances, be pushed from power; it would collapse under its own weight," says the study.

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