Needed: a New Plan For Policing the World

America is leading the way in international peace enforcement; but how does this affect the ability of the UN and others to act independently?

ALLIED air strikes in Iraq and United States Marines shooting in Somalia are the sound of today's and, likely, tomorrow's world - the sound of peace enforcement. It is not a peace that descends gently on humankind. It is an armed peace, pursuing wildfires that flare up erratically near and far.

Some call for a new US doctrine to cope with the strange new dangers. President Bush seemed to be outlining one in his farewell speech at West Point. He was, however, simply stating some wise, cautionary principles. Right without might is impotence. On the other hand, the US, now the only superpower, is not strong enough to deal with every threat, and the conscience of America will not sanction the use of force except as a last resort. Furthermore, the "decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind" expresse d in the Declaration of Independence now informs a strong inclination to act in concert with others against common danger. In point of fact, there is no doctrinal road map through today's wild unpredictabilities and their inevitable unintended consequences. For instance, the US and others made Iraq a regional superpower in order to defeat Iran which they hated with a largely justifiable passion. Only later did they see that they had created a monster who might have turned the course of history against them.

It took Desert Storm to stop that.

Even so, there was in the alliance a mental reservation against dismembering Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein's regime - or even demanding free elections. Saddam thus retained the legal status of legitimate ruler. His Iraq remains a sovereign member of the Untied Nations and, like a cornered rat, he uses every trick and provocation to confuse and divide the alliance and the Arab nations. The Gulf war is not over.

The former Yugoslavia is a negative example. The world community's reluctance, in this thicket of hypocrisies, to use even the minimum force to get the attention and respect of Serbia, the arch-offender, has led directly to a human tragedy that further stains the story of the 20th Century.

The US bears its own unintended consequence of single superpower status. It may still decide when to send troops in but, it has lost its freedom to pull them out. Power is now coupled with compelling obligation: puissance oblige, the French might say. Take Somalia. The US went in because no one else could; and it was morally unacceptable, in the face of all that television testimony, to stay out. The mission, it was said, would be simple and quick: to deliver food to a starving people but not to disarm t he tinhorn war lords whose heavily armed gangs had been looting the foreign relief agencies' food and supplies. Little wonder, then, that the war lords welcomed the Americans, who would be leaving after restocking the victims, and reviled the UN, which would follow to build real peace.

Washington's plan was cockeyed from the start. Not disarming the gangs would set the stage for a return to violence as usual. Now, US forces have begun seizing weapons. Only in this way can they satisfy the UN mandate to create "a secure environment" which leads to reconciliation and reconstruction in Somalia and, thereby, enables American troops to withdraw.

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has said he will not start the second peacekeeping phase under the UN flag until there is security. It is unthinkable that American troops would pull out in such a way as to ensure collapse. They are, therefore, likely to remain for some time.

Much must still be done. Northern Somalia has hardly been touched. No TV cameras record the continuing suffering there, but it must be dealt with if the whole operation is not to be a mockery. When the UN takes over, none but the Americans can handle the immense logistics. These troops must be safe, their communications secure. An American fire brigade for emergency intervention is almost certainly to be maintained on and offshore. Which raises a central dilemma. The UN's big enforcement expeditions, fro m Korea to Somalia, have all been US-led, with mainly American muscle.

It seems unlikely that any other nation or group could mount such massive, swift, and effective response. Except for World War I, American combat troops have never been placed under foreign command.

Will Washington and the American people insist on having command and control of major peace enforcement? But, can an American-led operation, however benevolent, realistically claim universal acceptance as an act of the UN?

The US will not be the global policeman but, as it wants a secure and stable world, it must be part of the police force.

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