Diplomacy Can Help Somalia

The recent tragic turn of events in Somalia holds an important lesson for us: Genuine peace cannot be imposed on a people by force, unilaterally or multilaterally.

Applying force can subjugate evildoers for the sake of their innocent victims. But only peacemaking, based on winning the consent of the parties in conflict, can achieve genuine peace. This tedious process often fails, since not every conflict can be peacefully resolved.

Nevertheless, traditional multilateral peacemaking has had remarkable success over the past half-century - most recently in Namibia and El Salvador, perhaps soon in Haiti. Indeed, UN peacekeepers earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

Sadly, Somalia has for its sins become a testing ground for the more muscular "peace enforcement" approach, and the results should be a serious warning. The experiment has brought humanitarian relief to a standstill. Mogadishu's neighborhoods are again ruled by gunmen. Hopes for reopening schools, reequipping hospitals, and reviving the economy have all but evaporated.

By applying military enforcement tactics to peacemaking in Somalia, the United Nations coalition has made the mistake of allowing itself to become party to armed conflict. Not surprisingly, coalition members are now falling out among themselves.

We should call a halt to the "peace enforcement" test in Somalia. Ironically, the first step should aim at securing a truce between United Nations peacekeepers and their Somali adversaries. A truly neutral mediator should be asked to interview leaders from the contending sides and render a report.

At a minimum, such a neutral peacemaking mission would permit governments to review the real-world results of "peace enforcement" testing in Somalia before we buy into it as the answer to our frustrations in Bosnia and elsewhere. T. Frank Crigler, Arlington, Va. US ambassador to Somalia, 1987-1990

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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