UN Peacekeepers Face Tough, New Challenges


SO popular are United Nations peacekeepers these days that the world body can hardly keep pace with the demand.

All those troops, police, and civilians now heading for Cambodia and Yugoslavia will bring the global ranks of UN peacekeepers to an all-time high of about 50,000, a fourfold jump since the start of the year. Somalia and Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh could be next.

The scope of peacekeeping in the newly energized United Nations is also broadening. The soldier wearing the UN blue beret is no longer just a monitor of a cease-fire. The peacekeeping operation in Cambodia will attempt the broadest array of tasks ever - from administering the country and organizing 1993 elections to helping repatriate refugees and promote human rights.

Peacekeeping is nowhere to be found in the UN charter. Undersecretary-General Marrack Goulding says that omission gives peacekeeping a rare flexibility. The only limits to the concept, he says, are what the parties to a conflict are ready to accept, what the Security Council will authorize, and what the General Assembly will finance.

The geographical spread of those supplying troops, police, civilian workers, and equipment to UN peacekeeping missions is also growing. Though most troops still come from a handful of countries long viewed as neutral, about one-third of the UN's membership, 58 nations, now make some materiel contribution. Since the end of the cold war, the permanent five members of the Security Council, often involved as brokers in past conflicts, have been encouraged to contribute, too. French and Russian troops are par t of the UN Yugoslavian mission.

"Ideally, every member state should participate so that it feels a part of this high-profile activity," insists Mr. Goulding, the UN's top peacekeeping official.

Yet some governments are more willing to take part in such operations and to applaud their goals and gains than to actually pay for them. At the start of 1992 the UN was still owed $375 million in peacekeeping dues - about half of the operations' annual bill.

The Yugoslav and Cambodian ventures are expected to push the yearly cost to more than $3 billion. A number of US lawmakers say the 30 percent US share of dues is too high. The permanent five - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - are assessed 57 percent of total peacekeeping costs. Many say Germany and Japan, barred constitutionally from contributing troops, should pay more than they do. Japan will pay more than its 12.5 percent share of the UN Cambodian mission's costs.

Members of UN peacekeeping battalions remain in national units and wear their own uniforms, but work together under one UN commander. Guns, not carried at all on observer missions, are to be used only in self-defense.

Though the UN supplies training guidelines, all troops are trained nationally. The Nordic nations for years have had a strong cooperative arrangement with national specializations such as Denmark's training of all military police. "We realized that we are small countries and had to organize our efforts; it's worked very well," says Col. Sigurd Friis, a military adviser with Norway's mission to the UN. Other regions have been urged by UN officials to emulate the pattern.

Each morning at the UN headquarters in New York, Undersecretary Goulding and his small military staff confer on daily situation reports from each of the UN's 11 peacekeeping operations. Frequent on-site visits provide guidance and support to commanders, who often have no previous experience with the UN.

Goulding made several trips to Yugoslavia this year to help pave the way for peacekeepers there. Shortly after Israel bulldozed a roadblock last month put up by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and crossfire developed in which seven UN troops were wounded and one killed, Goulding made a quick trip to southern Lebanon and toured several sites during a blizzard. He cautioned both sides against further action. More recently, while visiting the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador, he spent 35 hours ta lking with government and guerrilla leaders to clear impediments on land and disarmament aspects of the recent cease-fire.

Though peacekeeping is not war, the job obviously can be dangerous. Over the years, some 784 UN peacekeepers have been killed. The tiny island nation of Fiji, long one of the most stalwart contributors of UN troops, has lost 25 soldiers just in UNIFIL operations, long considered the UN's most controversial and dangerous peacekeeping mission. Still, Isikia Rabici Savua, commander in charge of peacekeeping at Fiji's UN Mission, says, "We have never run out of volunteers who want to go."

To get a peacekeeping team up and going and paid for, however, is usually a long, slow process requiring numerous approvals. Several nations have earmarked standby troops, a practice encouraged by the UN, so they are ready when a UN call for help comes. The UN is also trying to speed action by surveying each UN mission in advance on the kind of equipment and personnel it could supply.

Goulding says one of the major remaining problems is in the UN headquarters itself. "When I say that the management capacity ... is strained to the breaking point, I'm not criticizing my colleagues, who work incredibly long hours. But the resources of the Secretariat are finite.... We are very stretched."

Most of the 24 UN peacekeeping operations launched since 1948 have been disbanded. Many, such as the operation monitoring the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, are viewed as successful. But a number of others, particularly in the Middle East and Cyprus, have dragged on for years with no political settlement.

Some argue that such operations even inhibit solutions by removing a sense of urgency.

Marrack Goulding doesn't see it that way. "If you withdraw the forces in Cyprus, you might have a very nasty little war very quickly," he says. "Keeping the two sides apart is valuable. There are cases where keeping a peacekeeping operation in place for a long time may be the least bad option available."

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