WILTON, CONN. — Talk at the United Nations in New York is about the size and deployment of peacekeeping forces and the missions they are given. Fair enough; tens of thousands of troops cost billions of dollars for sometimes mind-boggling jobs as in Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor, and Sierra Leone. Barely mentioned are the civilian police who must translate military security into everyday law and order.
Undermanned and underfunded, the UN Civilian Police (CIVPOL) are the stepchildren of peacekeeping. Like their military big brothers, they are plunged into often chaotic situations with inadequate training. The UN does not have a standing army or police force and never will. Both units are provided voluntarily by UN member states with their own standards and terms, and on their own time.
Ideally, both soldiers and CIVPOL should go into the field with a clear mandate. In war that's simple: to win. In today's internal conflicts, it is to create a climate that fosters civic healing. But the question of where this is meant to lead too often remains fuzzy, whether troops are supplied by NATO - as in Kosovo or Bosnia - or through the UN.
The United States is a large contributor to the first two operations and is enormously important in providing the credibility without which they would be little more than tokens. Leave aside for the moment that Washington is not paying its share. Neither are many others. UN peacekeeping is now $2.5 billion in the red.
The most serious deficiency in Kosovo is the absence of a clear goal. Legally, it remains a province of Serbia inside the communist federation of Yugoslavia. This condition is unlikely to win over the large ethnic-Albanian majority, which wants independence. One consequence is ceaseless ethnic violence that the American military, at least, is actually forbidden to stop. In both Bosnia and Kosovo, US troops, who are trained poorly if at all for their unprecedented responsibility, are under categorical Pentagon orders to risk no casualties. The American GI, one of our best ambassadors of goodwill since World War II, is thereby isolated from the people.
The civilian police, also provided by governments, are supposed to have at least five years of experience. Once source sighed that some must have acquired it guarding airport parking lots. Missing entirely is the rest of what is meant to be a "rule of law" team: forensic experts, credible judges, and penal personnel capable of holding suspects and convicts. The man whose 13 Serb prisoners fled his lockup in Mitrovica recently was a competent American who had not been trained for this contingency. The US alone has a commercial firm recruit its CIVPOL, who then get one week's training here and another week in Kosovo before facing the Albanian and Serb gangsters, even Russian mafia, who abound. The pay is good, but 10 percent choose to come home before their year is up.
The Europeans gingerly approach the problem of nation-building. The US explicitly will have none of it. Which makes it even more difficult to assemble other civilian experts who must begin to knit the connective tissue of a renewed society, such as employment, elections, and communications.
Peacekeeping in all its elaborations is no longer a makeshift to cope with occasional crises. It is now recognized as a core function of the UN, and one likely to grow. President Clinton, addressing the UN General Assembly this month, declared: "Whether it is diplomacy, sanctions, or collective force, we must find ways to protect people as well as borders."
If brave words were money, the UN would be rich. This organization, like any other, is no better than its members. It is high time they cut back their speeches and acted to stabilize their world.
Richard C. Hottelet, a longtime foreign correspondent for CBS, writes on world affairs.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society