Blessed are the peacekeepers
Seldom in recent years has there been a more gross distortion of a noble activity than the reported depiction of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the ABC television series ``Amerika.'' According to advance reviews, UN troops in this series are used to impose a communist regime on the United States. Were this not injury enough, those offended by some of the votes in the UN General Assembly question even the right of the international organization to defend its integrity and to protest this perverted use of its logo.
An editorial in he Washington Post on Jan. 31, for example, accuses the UN of ``borrowing techniques of politicization and intimidation.'' Referring to the ``organized censorship'' of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and the General Assembly vote on ``Zionism is racism,'' the editorial questions this ``odd expense of anger and energy'' by an institution ``that has had so much trouble addressing the travesties and conflicts that have a true claim on its moral attention.''
The United Nations is an imperfect organization of nation-states. Although we in the United States strongly encouraged its formation, we began to be disillusioned about its value when, with the expansion of membership, we lost the control we had exercised in earlier years.
Third-world nations, through their extreme rhetoric and what we considered irresponsible demands, isolated us on two issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict and South Africa. Budget excesses and threats in UNESCO to freedom of the press caused further alienation in the Reagan administration and Congress.
This swing of negativism has created a symbolic image of the United Nations that ignores the strengths of the organization and its value, on many occasions, for the interests of the United States. The focus on the offensive votes in the General Assembly neglects the value of the Security Council, where the US has the veto and where it is still possible for nations to try to work out serious differences. The concentration on UNESCO fails to note the valuable work of other specialized UN agencies in development, in disaster relief, and in health programs.
One of the most valuable of the UN activities - to us as well as others - has been that which is so cruelly depicted in the ``Amerika'' series, the peacekeeping forces. In many circumstances where such forces might have been used, their deployment has been blocked by contesting parties. Nevertheless, in Korea, in Cyprus, in Lebanon, and in Kashmir, men of several nations wearing the blue UN helmets have risked their lives to maintain peace.
That they have not been more successful is because of the intransigence of UN members, not because of the shortcomings of the UN organization. To depict such forces as instruments of communist aggression is to do a severe disservice to such men as the recently retired UN undersecretary, Brian Urquhart, as well as the staffs and soldiers of these peacekeeping forces.
A combination of pressures from the Reagan administration and Congress and of growing recognition among member states of past excesses is leading to proposals for serious budgetary and organizational reforms in the United Nations. Budget problems in the United States already make it difficult for it to respond to positive efforts in New York. The impact on the public of such portrayals of the UN's peacekeeping work as those apparently in ``Amerika'' will make such responses even more difficult.
This travesty of a valuable international instrument cannot be lightly dismissed. Those who recognize the value of this world organization have every right to be seriously concerned and to try to minimize the damage at a critical point in the history of the UN.
David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.