THE end of the cold war rekindled high hopes for the United Nations. An intoxicating optimism permeated diplomatic and public circles. Peacekeepers were awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize, and since then more than a dozen major operations have been deployed. In 1992, UN soldiers increased from 10,000 to 60,000. The peacekeeping budget grew to $3 billion, three times the regular budget.
However, concerns are growing that the UN is missing its second chance. Today's headlines demonstrate that each new operation has run into trouble.
The problem is the UN's inability to adapt its peace machinery to a set of tasks so fundamentally different from those of the past that they constitute a new generation of operations. Previously, UN troops were authorized only when parties to a conflict agreed to stop fighting; as such they bore light arms that were used rarely and only in self-defense. Effectiveness reflected more the moral weight of the international community than any professional military competence.
Yet, benign techniques are inadequate for such hazardous duties as protecting humanitarian assistance and maintaining law and order.
The most acute problem is the refusal of parties to comply with agreed terms of peace accords. The reluctance of UN headquarters to respond firmly to violations has led to disaffection among peacekeepers in the field and embarrassing resignations.
In Somalia, the UN's hapless performance drew criticism from many quarters. Special Envoy Mohamed Sahnoun resigned, complaining of lethargy in New York and a lack of military assistance on the ground, a sentiment echoed by Africa Watch and private aid agencies. A symbolic 500-man infantry battalion from Pakistan approved in August failed to deploy. An additional 3,500 soldiers were approved, but intransigence among belligerents and lack of resources prevented their use. Finally, in December, US troops ca me to the rescue in Operation Restore Hope. The UN will be unable to provide adequate security or establish a viable Somali administration after the US withdrawal.
The Western Sahara, where the entire UN peace process has faltered, is not even mentioned by most commentators. Special Representative Johannes Manz resigned at the beginning of last year because UN headquarters would not react to Moroccan violations of the ceasefire. Polisario guerrillas have lost faith in the UN and are considering resorting to arms as their only remaining option.
IN Angola, UN soldiers and diplomacy were crucial in brokering peace accords, which included UN observation of elections. The losers in UNITA have returned to arms. Widespread violence has returned to Luanda and the countryside, with some estimates of as many as 15,000 deaths in the last month. The UN's token presence is useless in the face of all-out civil war. UN soldiers have already abandoned two-thirds of their bases. And the secretary-general has just proposed pulling out all but 60 observers, a fr ank admission of failure and the first time that the UN would abandon an operation in the post-cold-war era.
In El Salvador, guerrillas refused from time to time to disarm according to schedule, and President Alfredo Cristiani reneged on his commitment to remove 100 alleged torturers and murderers from senior army ranks. The symbolic 1,000 UN personnel will be inadequate if the much-heralded accords unravel.
While the numbers are far greater in Cambodia, the picture is bleak. Some 20,000 personnel have assumed control of the civilian administration and security. But the Khmer Rouge, whose reputation for grisly behavior is well known, are refusing to respect key elements of agreements and have taken UN soldiers and officials hostage. The French deputy force commander resigned in July complaining of New York's appeasement policies. Prince Norodom Sihanouk's recalcitrance has upset his relations with UN officia ls, who propose holding elections with or without the Khmer Rouge. The incidence of violence is increasing and UN troops are ill-equipped to halt it. Security Council sanctions for Khmer Rouge noncompliance are inevitably ineffective.
In the former Yugoslavia obscene forms of violence prevail. Last week the year-old cease-fire in Croatia broke down, putting UN positions under attack. The UN's initial involvement in Croatia with 14,000 peacekeepers did not prevent ethnic cleansing or detention camps and carnage in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 6,500 Western European soldiers deployed under UN auspices to help protect humanitarian convoys did not prevent massacres or annexations by Croatia and Serbia. In spite of peace agreements and seemingly endless negotiations, war crimes continue and the powerless UN remains sidelined.
These UN operations reflect intergovernmental decisions out of touch with real military requirements. Best-case scenarios were used when the situation on the ground hardly justified such optimism. The UN Secretariat is overwhelmed, applying the same principles devised for the paradoxically simpler military deployments of the cold war.
Maintaining UN credibility requires a firmer hand in New York and the authorization for peacekeepers to ensure that belligerents comply with signed agreements. The professionalism of political negotiations must be matched by a military equivalent.
In the meantime, the ice under UN skaters remains perilously thin.