Give the UN Muscle

UNITED Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's recent statement about the troop levels needed to enforce the Vance-Owen plan to end the fighting in Bosnia raises a broader issue: the need to reinvigorate the UN's peacekeeping mechanisms.

Speaking Sunday on the ABC News show, "This Week with David Brinkley," Mr. Boutros-Ghali suggested that if all sides sign the peace agreement, UN troops sent to the region must be ready to enforce it. In the expectation of a call from New York, NATO is devising plans that involve up to 50,000 troops for use in Bosnia.

These steps mark another increment in the evolution of the UN's role. During the heyday of the cold war, the UN seemed little more than a ideological debating society for newly emerging nations. In the late '80s, as East-West tensions eased, the "good offices" of the UN became attractive to countries that wanted to extract themselves from long-standing regional conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, or the civil war in Angola. Now, the role appears to be heading for another advance to include enforcement - from peacekeeping to peacemaking. The distinction is not to be glossed over; Bosnia will be an important test.

Strengthening the UN's ability to enforce agreements, or even to intervene to enforce interim cease-fires, is no substitute for negotiations. But negotiations require parties willing to talk, and just as important, willing to implement an agreement. One or both of these conditions have been missing at various times throughout the year-long war in Bosnia - with tragic results at a level not seen since World War II.

Within any country asked to contribute troops to a peacemaking role, public opposition is understandable: Sons and daughters are being put in harm's way. Measures short of force, such as strict economic sanctions, must be the initial approach to the kind of intransigence and entrenched hatreds apparent in the Balkans.

But without the support of member nations that would allow the UN to display the will and a credible ability to enforce agreements, the greater danger lies in the potential for regional conflicts to spread.

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