The UN's Dilemma

THE United Nations is doing more than it ever has before to make and keep peace in the world, but it's not doing enough to please many of the people directly affected by conflict. This was shown by the reception given Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recently in Sarajevo and Mogadishu.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali shrugged off the jeers, curses, and rocks, saying they came with the territory. The territory, however, is much different than it used to be. UN peacekeepers in recent years have moved into areas of raging conflict. In the past, they moved in only after an armistice was in place.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, belated UN efforts at peacemaking appear to many Bosnians as attempts to validate Serb conquests. Ideally, international action should have come much earlier, after Bosnia's independence vote, when it became clear that Serbs were mounting a military response. But the UN is constrained by its members' wishes, especially those of major nations, and there has never been a consensus on Bosnia.

In Somalia, the United States forced a consensus. Operation Restore Hope is seen there as a US initiative, not a UN action. Many Somalis, in fact, associate the UN with failure. People scorned the undermanned blue-helmet corps that could do little against Mogadishu's armed gangs. The secretary-general is disliked by some Somali factions because of policies he followed as Egypt's foreign minister. Again, the UN and its chief are not viewed as impartial.

Similar arguments are made by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, which claims the UN has leaned toward the Phnom Penh government.

The effectiveness of the UN as a resolver of conflicts could erode in the face of such opposition unless members provide the resources and political backing to give the organization's missions clear credibility. The US, especially, has a stake in seeing UN peacekeeping machinery expanded and strengthened. Otherwise, Washington's choices could come down to being the world's policeman or simply looking the other way.

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