IN ethnic and religious conflicts from Somalia to Yugoslavia, nations increasingly look to United Nations peacekeepers to stop the violence. The troops are seen as the UN's star performers, and the range of their tasks is growing.
Even when continued fighting keeps UN peacekeepers from entering a conflict, demands to send them keep coming. Though UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recommended last week that troops not be sent into Bosnia-Herzegovina, ministers of the "Nonaligned Movement" urged reconsideration of the decision. Bosnia-Herzegovina's foreign minister said the UN should go in to oust foreign troops from his nation's soil.
Diplomats here, and analysts who monitor UN activities, have begun to question whether the world body's members are willing to supply the resources and the commitment to underwrite growing UN involvement in continuing civil wars.
Annual UN peacekeeping costs will quadruple to $2.7 billion this year. Members still owe $665 million in back bills.
Part of the problem is the domestic nature of most current conflicts. The UN was set up to deal with battles between states rather than within them.
"Making sure there is not interstate aggression is very different from making sure that everyone behaves," notes Edward Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the USA. "There is a movement toward interventionism ... but there's a real question as to whether the UN's job now is to make sure there is no violence anywhere at any time. That is an endless task."
Mr. Luck says UN members also must recognize that the absence of the cold war is a key factor in the public's reluctance to support more UN peacekeeping efforts, a reluctance confirmed in a recent Roper Organization poll.
Gone, Luck says, are the wider implications for East and West in who wins or loses such battles. Most people want the violence stopped, he says, but many do not see the outcome as vital to global strategic interests or national pride.
Should the UN try to cut back on its involvement by setting priorities among conflicts? Most analysts say any such effort would be unwise and impossible.
"If we're talking about peace and war, and large numbers of people's lives, it's not good enough to say, 'we can't afford it,' or, 'it's all too much trouble,' " says Sir Brian Urquhart, former UN undersecretary-general in charge of peacekeeping and now a Ford Foundation scholar.
One of the strongest prospects for easing the UN's load is through closer cooperation with regional organizations which are often the first to help. But their record of success is mixed.
In a Washington speech a few days ago Mr. Boutros-Ghali noted that regional organizations tend to have less experience, less money, and a less neutral image than the UN. Yet they "must be helped to carry a larger share of the burden" in peacemaking and peacekeeping, he said.
As a case in point, the UN Security Council voted a few days ago to send its second fact-finding mission to Azerbaijan to study ways to assist peace efforts under way there by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and to look for ways to provide humanitarian aid.
In a number of conflicts the UN appears to be shifting its focus from military to humanitarian concerns. Doing so can skirt the delicate question of whether consent and cooperation of the warring parties - a prerequisite for the involvement of UN peacekeeping troops - exists. The UN Security Council May 15 asked the secretary-general to study the feasibility of deploying armed troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, to protect humanitarian programs and Sarajevo airport.
The shift toward more humanitarian missions also carries important cost implications. Such missions are funded by voluntary contributions. Peacekeeping costs, largely borne by the major powers, are assessed.
This issue is part of a current Security Council debate over how further to help Somalia. A small force of UN observers is on the scene. The secretary-general wants to provide another 500 armed UN troops as escorts for relief supplies. The US, wary of Congress's reluctance to pay more for peacekeeping, wants to see the effort funded as a humanitarian operation. Yet a US diplomat stresses that Washington is prepared to pay even on a voluntary basis. The issue, he says, is not money but getting the warring
parties in Somalia to agree.
Still, most diplomats and analysts agree that the number of UN peacekeeping operations is almost sure to grow, and that UN members can and should pay more to support them. One of the more urgent needs, they say, is to beef up the UN staff that oversees peacekeeping operations.
"Most armies have a war room where they plan and monitor operations around the clock; the UN needs a peace room ... an internal command and control apparatus," says Col. Augustus Norton, a professor of political science at the US Military Academy.
Earlier UN intervention in conflicts also is urged.
"The earlier the better," Colonel Norton says, adding that a peacekeeping or police force brought in earlier in the Yugoslavian crisis might at least have slowed that nation's dissolution.
"There's a tendency to hand things over to the UN when they become messy," a Western diplomat says. "If you hand over only the insoluble problems, the UN is going to fail and support for it will dwindle."