IT is clear that early action would have forestalled last spring's genocide in Rwanda. Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, then commander of United Nations forces in Rwanda, says that if he had been given even 400 paratroopers much of the killing could have been averted.
Rwanda is one example illustrating what happens when conflict is allowed to run its course. Hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars can be saved if we make progress in conflict prevention. While not easy, it is worth a much greater investment by the international community, especially in the following 10 areas:
1. Early warning and response. Much has been said about the need for a better early-warning capability. But sometimes, there is plenty of information. The trick is to trigger policies that head off crises earlier.
Tomes were produced by the intelligence and diplomatic communities about the potential for instability in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Still, we naively went along with German pressure to recognize Croatia, the break point in the slide toward conflict. The information we had should have been turned into a nonrecognition policy and publicly stated.
2. Prevention tools. The post-cold-war challenge is to upgrade preventive tools. Conflict resolution, negotiation and human-rights training, peace radio, and civic-action training for the military are examples of activities that must be better delivered by the UN, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
3. Early deployment of troops. The UN needs a rapid-deployment force. (Perhaps the Gurkha units being demobilized by the British should be utilized as a model.) The United States and other countries should provide airlift support where needed. Bigger jobs would require national forces, but at least we should authorize the UN to have sufficient military capacity to nip future Rwandas in the bud.
4. Emergency Relief. After the outbreak of a humanitarian emergency, quick aid can save lives. The huge exodus of Rwandans into Goma, Zaire, this summer was a good illustration. Providing emergency clean water for large groups had been a problem in several earlier emergencies, but when Goma struck preparedness had not improved. Much of the blame fell on UNICEF, allegedly the lead agency for water.
Even after the US military was belatedly engaged, it did not have the most appropriate equipment and techniques.
5. Countering violence. The UN, Interpol (the international police organization), and governments should develop ways to give counterterror capability to unstable countries. The volatile situation in Burundi, for example, is likely to explode into another round of genocide. The fuse could be any of the continuing assassinations that are not even investigated by the government.
6. The internally displaced. There is no UN agency responsible for assisting internally displaced persons, who now outnumber refugees worldwide. In Burundi, the internally displaced are scattered and without adequate food or medical aid, while refugees in the same locales are well cared for by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Clearly this is both a symptom and a source of conflict.
7. Relief-to-development. As an emergency is resolved, refugees and displaced persons need to be reintegrated into their communities. There is a so-called relief-to-development continuum for nations emerging from emergencies. But the continuum works better in theory than in practice. In Cambodia, the UN Development Program (UNDP) set up Carere, which began innovative local projects from mine-clearing to classroom construction.
However, the UNDP office - oriented to heavy infrastructure projects - soon snuffed out much of Carere. The UN needs better and more-cost-effective approaches to reintegration and development. And NGOs need stronger support to fill gaps among UN agencies.
8. UN emergency czars. The most important structural change in the way the UN handles emergencies would be to insist on a senior coordinator with full authority over all UN agencies. Without one, agencies duplicate and battle one another.
Sir Robert Jackson exemplifies what a strong coordinator can do. In the Cambodian emergency, he fused the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF into an effective joint operation. Mr. Jackson went to major capitals at the highest level and direct to the UN secretary-general in New York when he needed resources or political support. He got the job done.
That kind of leadership is needed now for the humanitarian crisis in Central Africa: Rwanda, Burundi, and beyond. The secretary-general has published a blueprint for action.
Unless a UN super-coordinator of world stature is appointed, it is unlikely that the necessary political will can be mobilized to produce the measures needed to contain this crisis, which threatens the entire region.
9. Reform at the UN. Accountability throughout the UN must be improved and performance - not caution - rewarded.
It will take a massive effort to make the UN more productive, but we either have to do it or reinvent the UN from scratch. A first step at reform would be to strengthen the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, nominally charged with coordinating UN responses to emergencies but without the real authority, budget, or staffing to effectively carry out its mandate.
10. Reform in the US. The United States does not want to undertake crisis intervention unilaterally. But it puts little emphasis on trying to improve the UN. The US is not organized to speak cohesively to the UN. Furthermore, US programs in a humanitarian emergency are diffused among the Agency for International Development, the State Department, and the Department of Defense. These functions should be integrated into one office with a Cabinet-level chief.
Although the UN is partially at fault for our inadequate response to emergencies, it is pointless to blame it in situations such as Rwanda, where fundamental limits were imposed by our own international timidity. The essential ingredient to harness in Washington and other major capitals is the political will to respond. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.