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UN Adopts Preventive Diplomacy

Organization formalizes efforts to intervene before violence breaks out in world hot spots

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THE most famous case of "quiet diplomacy" may have been UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's eventual success at getting back 11 US servicemen shot down over the People's Republic of China on Jan. 12, 1953. In his own memoirs, President Eisenhower does not mention the UN services. Ms. Schoettle says the UN may often be involved but is not given credit.

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Although many diplomats embrace the concept of preventive diplomacy, as they would motherhood or apple pie, actually getting it to work is another matter. Countries involved in quarrels with other countries sometimes don't want third-party intervention.

"One has to be realistic," Schoettle says. "There is not a huge line of governments at early stages in their quarrels asking the UN for help."

As part of the plan, the UN is now trying to raise money to train its staff in negotiation and other aspects of preventive diplomacy and peacemaking.

"Those who want to keep up-to-date in this highly complex and dynamic field are largely left to their own devices and provided with little institutional support," says a training program proposal issued by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

So far, Australia is the only country to announce financial support for the plan, providing the sum of $50,000. However, Marcel Boisard, acting executive director, says he is confident that they will raise the money. "When the programs are good, we can find the funding," Mr. Boisard says.

UNITAR, based in Geneva and New York, is also planning to build an institutional memory as part of the fellowship program that could help future diplomats. As one UNITAR document notes, the UN has no body of documented case histories on how it successfully or unsuccessfully resolved disputes. "Each situation is unique, but there are lessons to be learned," says Peck.

As part of the preventive diplomacy program, Peck wants UN staff members to make regular trips through their regions, "meeting with leaders and the actors in the capital cities and the hot spots in the region to get an in-depth understanding of what the issues are in the disputes and to offer "quiet diplomacy." Peck notes that disputes are most easily solved before parties become trapped in their own positions, before blood starts flowing and retribution begins.

Australia's Minister for Foreign Relations and Trade Gareth Evans says he believes preventive diplomacy could possibly have prevented two of the world's deadliest conflicts from exploding recently. In a speech in early October before the General Assembly, Mr. Evans argued, "Indeed, if we examine the worst conflicts over the last 12 months - in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Afghanistan - we could plausibly argue that, at least in the first two cases, more attention to preventive diplomacy may have a voided the catastrophes that befell those nations and peoples."

For its part, the United States is generally supportive of certain parts of preventive diplomacy. On Oct. 9, Ambassador Alexander Watson, deputy US permanent representative to the UN, told the General Assembly that the US particularly endorsed the Secretary-General's call for increased use of "confidence-building measures, and closer coordination with regional organizations and parties to potential disputes."

Confidence-building measures include regional risk-reduction centers, the monitoring of arms agreements, and the exchange of military missions.

Petrovsky says a new confidence-building technique the UN plans to use is the establishment of demilitarized zones prior to bloodshed. "We propose to make it part of the solution," he says.