THE Clinton administration has sent forth its highest emissaries to spread a new conventional wisdom on Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia that seeks to deflect blame for the current imbroglios. The new message has two components: First, the Bush administration bequeathed each nightmare to and left all the difficult decisions for President Clinton; second, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has dragged us into conflicts unrelated to our national interests, and the United States will now resist his heavy hand. These defenses come from an administration reluctant to admit that it is only now beginning to understand UN peacekeeping.
To be successful, peacekeeping requires the consent of the rival parties to the UN's presence. That premise rings as true for the military operations that monitor truces in Cyprus, Kashmir, and the Golan Heights as it does for those implementing peace accords in Cambodia or El Salvador - and perhaps soon in Haiti. Consent hinges upon a political deal among all the relevant adversaries, whether they be mass murderers or military thugs.
Peace enforcement, on the other hand, does not depend on consent; the world community sends in a force notwithstanding local wishes, in order, for example, to defeat an aggressor and impose peace. It should be reserved for egregious breaches of global security or human rights of concern to many nations where direct confrontation will rectify the situation. President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III properly saw Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as such a case.
The paradox of peacekeeping is that it relies upon the consent and cooperation of the parties, but it is most needed in places where the adversaries prove reluctant to allow it.
Some favor a way out of the paradox by imposing a solution, switching from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. But for the many conflicts not of first-order importance to the US, recent history affirms the continued need for negotiations, coupled in some cases with the stick of economic sanctions. The UN must achieve the requisite degree of local support before deploying its military and civilian personnel, and negotiations must continue after the UN arrives. Today's complex UN missions require more-active diplomacy than those that simply observe armies along cease-fire lines.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker recognized Somalia, Bosnia, and other hot spots as situations impervious to quick-fix military solutions. In Somalia, the US sent troops to provide humanitarian relief only, while encouraging negotiations among Somali leaders. In Bosnia, it reluctantly but realistically supported the Vance-Owen plan, which would have left Bosnia as one state, Muslims with more land and power than they now have, and the UN to oversee a peace treaty.
The importance of consent and negotiation for UN operations seems, however, to have been averse to the liberal sensibilities of the Clinton administration, ready to impose its conceptions of American justice around the globe. When the Bush administration was negotiating with Western and Asian states on a peace plan for Cambodia that gave a small role to the murderous Khmer Rouge guerrillas, Madeleine Albright, then leading a think tank in Washington, opposed the plan. With other Democrats, she favored acceptance of the incumbent regime detested by Cambodians and a military defeat of the Khmer Rouge, who drew their very support from anti-government sentiment. Those who understood Cambodia prevailed; diplomatic and economic pressure pushed the factions to compromise on a peace accord, and the UN dispatched a huge operation to foster an environment for elections.
When the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm last year, the chorus of ``I told you so's'' echoed in Democratic circles. Fortunately, the US and UN rejected a military confrontation, focusing on the elections, in which the Cambodian people ousted the incumbents in free polling. The violence-free election may have represented a lucky break for the UN; but peace enforcement would not have helped matters. Thus, that UN operation, derided a year ago as a failure of the world community to stand up to modern-day Nazis, is today seen as a success.
In Bosnia, Mr. Clinton entered office questioning the Vance-Owen plan and held out hope to the Muslims that it would rescue them by bombing Serb positions. The UN did not push the US in this direction; the US invented the idea, only to find domestic and international support lacking, and was unwilling to build any itself. It blames its predecessors when, in fact, its own illusions about a military answer contributed to the current mess.
In Somalia, the UN's decision to challenge Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and hunt him down after the attack on Pakistani peacekeepers in June came only with US support. Ironically, the administration was attempting to bolster the UN's credibility by supporting stiff penalties for those who killed the Pakistanis. But in the end, after the deaths of US soldiers, the US admitted that negotiations would work better. Burned twice, the administration is now wisely using diplomacy and sanctions to secure the Haitian government's consent to a UN operation.
Negotiations are painful to watch; they plod along and may leave many issues unresolved. But the future of UN peacekeeping turns on active diplomacy and nonmilitary sanctions if needed. The UN operates best when it is invited; rolling out the welcome mat can take extraordinary effort and patience. The Clinton administration is only now appreciating the costs of breaking down the door.