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UN Is Forced to Rethink Peacekeeping Missions

Operations are hampered by lack of support from member nations

By Lucia MouatSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 18, 1994



UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.

UNITED Nations peacekeeping efforts are entering a period of retrenchment. The UN is facing a serious shortage of troops, equipment, and monetary support.

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The UN Security Council is expected to take up a prime example of the new problem this week when members discuss what to do next in Somalia. The United States, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, and Turkey plan to withdraw more than 10,000 troops by the end of March.

In place of the 30,000 troop-level currently authorized for Somalia, UN Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali will ask the Security Council to approve only 16,000 troops. In a Jan. 6 report to the Council he says that despite numerous appeals to members for troops, ``not a single positive response has been received.''

Mr. Boutros-Ghali also expresses doubt that the option he backs can really finish the job the UN began. Under his proposal, UN troops would focus chiefly on protecting ports, aid convoys, and refugees. Somalis would be expected to voluntarily disarm. Yet clan rearmament and banditry are reportedly on the rise.

The UN peacekeeping operation in the former Yugoslavia faces similar new constraints. Some troop contributors warn that they might pull back their forces by spring if no peace agreement is reached. Also, the UN has been unable to recruit the full 7,600 extra troops authorized by the Security Council last spring to protect six designated Muslim ``safe areas'' in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Boutros-Ghali said last week that, though he has repeatedly appealed for more help, he has received no response other than 1,000 French reinforcement troops. Some UN officials say that as many as 10,000 more troops have been pledged but that the offers hinge on equipment conditions the UN has been unable to meet.

The estimates made by NATO last spring of troop strength required to implement any peace agreement reached in Bosnia are being reexamined and scaled back. Some UN officials now privately say that instead of the 70,000 forces once thought minimal, the job might be done with the existing authorized troop level of 28,000 in the former Yugoslavia. Diplomats say much will depend on the unity and determination of each party to abide by any accord. If rogue military elements object, more UN troops may be required.

The UN Security Council has been in no mood in recent months to authorize new peacekeeping ventures, other than very small ones, or to expand existing operations. As civil conflicts have spread and peacekeeping duties have become more risky, many nations face growing domestic pressure to keep troops at home.

UN setbacks in Bosnia and Somalia as well as confusion over UN mandates and command structure add to the new sense of caution. So does the slow pace of UN reimbursement to peacekeeping contributors. UN members still owe the world body more than $1 billion in peacekeeping bills.

Many senior UN officials, long used to talking about choosing among eager troop contributors, still are reluctant to admit that a problem exists.

The new member reticence on peacekeeping involvement is likely to lead to a cutback in operations and a return to more traditional peacekeeping chores such as monitoring cease-fires, says William Lewis, a defense expert with George Washington University in Washington. He says he expects to see a dramatic decline in nation-building and similarly in ambitious peacekeeping tasks.

Boutros-Ghali insists that the UN is in a period of transition. Members are deciding, he says, whether or not they really want a strong UN.

The current pause is essential for an adjustment between the Council and UN field operations, says John Ruggie, dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. ``It's clear that the euphoria ... of being able to pass resolutions in the Security Council far outstripped anybody's willingness or ability to implement them,'' he says. ``At some point one had to catch up with the other. It's better to adjust in a rational manner than to have a really severe backlash that drives everybody back into some form of isolationism.''

Yet he cautions that would-be aggressors could interpret the shift the wrong way. ``Are you sending the signal that this is a learning curve or that this is a retreat?'' asks Dean Ruggie.

Depth of member commitment over resolving any conflict needs to be more carefully considered right from the start, analysts say. Boutros-Ghali suggests that if the UN is not prepared to stay the course, its members should have the courage not to get involved in the first place.