Making a choice on genocide

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What should we do in case of another Kosovo or, worse, another Rwanda? In Kosovo, the Milosevic regime's mass deportations, massacres, burnings, and rapes approached genocide.

In Rwanda, where the outside world did little to stop full-scale genocide in 1994, half a million perished.

Although NATO finally put an end to the atrocities in Kosovo, it will not chase genocidal perpetrators outside of Europe. This is properly a job for the world community. Yet, the United Nations' shortcomings were all too evident in the Kosovo conflict. Any of the five permanent members of the Security Council can block action. But, even if there is unanimity among the permanent five, the UN possesses no power to enforce its decisions or existing international law.

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If diplomacy and economic pressure fail to stop future attempts at genocide, could regional alliances other than NATO mount a military response? No doubt feeling guilty about US failure to move against genocide in Rwanda, President Clinton has fostered a multinational, standby military force in Africa. The United States is providing equipment and training through the African Crisis Response Initiative.

Existing regional organizations in Latin America and Southeast Asia are not military alliances. The only one capable of providing a rapid armed response under unified command is in Europe.

As a last resort, the US could go it alone. But if a 19-nation coalition effort in Kosovo encountered a divided American public, it is unlikely that many citizens would support a humanitarian war, with casualties, fought without allies.

That brings us back to the UN. Common sense suggests that the UN should have a standby, rapidly deployable armed force that could be used to halt genocide, before the ovens are built or the villages destroyed. Then, if there were unanimity among the permanent five, the Security Council could move swiftly against a future Milosevic.

In 1993, UN planners were mandated to develop standby forces that could be deployed "anywhere in the world within an agreed response time" for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Within the UN system, Austria, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Sweden have established the structure for a standby brigade headquartered in Copenhagen. It is called the Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade.

The brigade of some 1,000 troops, to which cooperating governments would commit specific military units, will not be designed for combat. Nor does it represent the nucleus of a UN standing army since all units would remain at their home bases until their respective governments agreed to participate in a peacekeeping mission. Nonetheless, this multinational brigade could become a model for a rapid reaction force in the future.

The UN is still a long way from such a capability. It has no operational headquarters for contingency planning, much less members' commitment of robust standby forces.

One of the reasons for UN deficiencies is the wobbly support from its most important member nation, the US. When UN circles merely discussed establishment of a headquarters for a rapidly deployable force, the House of Representatives voted to prevent US armed forces from participating.

Furthermore, in recent years the US has been the UN's biggest debtor. Much of the back dues are owed indirectly to other countries that have contributed troops to UN peacekeeping missions. Before the recent Senate compromise over dues payment, seven former secretaries of state told Congress in a newspaper ad: "We urge you to honor our international commitments and pay America's debt to the United Nations. Great nations pay their bills."

Great nations are also measured by how they respond to organized savagery. Where genocide is concerned, we have yet to make the choices.

* Sanford Gottlieb is the author of 'Defense Addiction: Can America Kick the Habit?' (Westview Press, 1997).

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