IN trouble spots around the world today, military forces under the United Nations banner are being defied and humiliated. Although the men and women of such forces are showing great courage, they are being placed in impossible positions.
In Bosnia, Serb forces have turned back convoys, mocked UN officers, and killed Muslims under the eyes of peacekeepers. Canadian troops under the UN flag were sent not to defend Srebrenica, but to oversee its surrender. In Angola, UN observers have been unable to deter the UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi from renewing the civil war.
In Cambodia, implementation of a Security Council resolution to bring peace to that country is blocked by the Khmer Rouge, despite the presence of the largest number of UN forces. Since 1982, UN forces in southern Lebanon have been unable to deter frequent violence.
When the first peacekeeping forces were organized in Sinai in 1956, the world hoped that the blue helmets and blue flag of the world organization would, by commanding respect, deter to further conflict. That has not happened.
In Bosnia, not only have such forces been prevented from carrying out their tasks, but the presence of British and French forces under the UN flag has given those governments a reason to oppose other, more forceful action.
The deadlock in the Security Council that marked the cold war years has been replaced by the unwillingness of member states to undertake serious risks to their armed forces. Under the mandate negotiated in the current council, for example, UN forces in Bosnia are present primarily to protect humanitarian relief; their numbers are small and their rules of engagement provide little basis for responding to hostile acts. People are alive today in the former Yugoslavia because of the courage and determination
of the international forces. French Gen. Philippe Morillon, who made special efforts to save cities and people, went beyond his authority and has been criticized in UN headquarters.
Whatever the Security Council mandate, the world and peoples in the troubled areas see the blue helmets as military forces and expect them to prevent continued aggression. When such forces not only cannot prevent the aggression but also are taunted, global efforts to deter wars are severely weakened.
These current circumstances raise additional questions concerning the role of the international organization. Should the member nations continue to risk their forces in ineffective and humiliating operations? Do these persistent incidents of defiance diminish the capacity of the UN to be effective diplomatically?
UN forces have been successful in keeping the peace once peace has been established. The force in Cyprus is an example. But where peace does not exist, as in Bosnia, Angola, and Cambodia, the harsh reality is that ambitious leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Jonas Savimbi in Angola, and Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge will not lay down arms as long as they believe that a military victory and an accession to power without compromise is ultimately possible.
The members of the UN face the agonizing alternatives of ineffective and often humiliating participation in conflict or an impatient wait on the sidelines until either victory or exhaustion creates conditions for an international role.