If Peace Is to Work, Peacekeepers Are Crucial

The NATO force in Bosnia would be the biggest test yet

THE possibility of a peace agreement in Bosnia has brought the Clinton administration to Capitol Hill to consult with lawmakers about American troops joining a 60,000-man NATO ''peace implementation force.'' Under the administration's scenario, IFOR, as it would be called, would supervise the military aspects of a peace treaty, such as a cease-fire and the separation and disarmament of troops. IFOR would also aim to provide an atmosphere of security for the return of refugees who want to rebuild their lives in the shattered state - or states - of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Republicans have been quick to condemn much of the plan, pointing to what they regard as a truism: If true peace prevails between the parties, a military force is unnecessary. Therefore, any force will be sent because there is no real peace, and its duties will quickly turn from peace implementation to peace enforcement. Peace enforcement could drag the United States into the Balkan conflict as Americans attempt to force the parties to stick to their word. Peace implementation, according to Dick Cheney, Dan Coates, and others, is a chimera.

Such criticisms suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of peace implementation and its unfairly maligned conceptual parent, peacekeeping. In traditional peacekeeping, foreign troops are deployed to monitor an armistice line between combatants, with their consent. The UN has been undertaking such missions without significant incident or loss of life for 40 years, maintaining troops in the Sinai desert, Golan Heights, Kashmir, Cyprus and elsewhere.

Why have a force, then, if the parties have agreed to a truce? Because governments or rogue elements occasionally have second thoughts, or wish to test the limits of the other side's tolerance, which can quickly lead to renewed warfare. The mission operates as a buffer to deter violations, as both sides know that breaches will be impartially reported and that restarting the war would engage other states, whose troops stand between the sides.

Peacekeeping's evolution

Peacekeeping cannot, of course, always prevent renewed war. In May 1967, when Egypt was determined to invade Israel across the UN buffer zone in the Sinai peninsula, President Gamel Abdel Nasser demanded the departure of the peacekeepers. United Nations Secretary-General U Thant saw no possibility of keeping the troops in place - though he did little to dissuade Egypt - and withdrew them hurriedly.

In most cases, however, the UN has remained on site despite occasional cease-fire violations, and that presence has clearly prevented the eruption of new fighting. The step from traditional peacekeeping to peace implementation has, in fact, already occurred. The US and other Western nations have sent troops to the Sinai since 1982 to help implement the peace between Egypt and Israel, with no hostility-related casualties. In recent years, peace implementation has come to mean more, as foreign troops and civilians supervise many aspects of comprehensive settlements. These treaties cover military issues, governmental administration, human rights, refugees, and reconstruction. The UN has undertaken peace implementation in Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, and Mozambique, with overall, though hardly unqualified, success. In each, the presence of foreign troops and civilians helped push the parties to carry out their promises. The 1993 attacks on US forces in Somalia involved neither peace implementation nor peacekeeping, as the parties had never agreed to a treaty.

When the parties tangle

But what happens in peace implementation when the parties simply refuse to keep their word? Most missions facing such challenges have neither withdrawn nor engaged in war-fighting. Instead, they have gauged the seriousness of each violation for the overall goals of the settlement. Thus, in Cambodia, when the Khmer Rouge guerrillas refused to demobilize, the UN's members attempted diplomacy. When that failed, the troops stayed, and their continued presence limited the proliferation of hostilities and, most critically, contributed to a safe environment for refugee repatriation and fair elections. In El Salvador and Namibia, the UN also kept its troops in place despite violations by both sides, which were usually resolved diplomatically. So the choice is not between switching to peace enforcement and leaving the country.

Had the United Nations packed up at the first sign of violations, these peace accords would have collapsed. Had it used massive force, it might have ended the violations, or alternatively exacerbated matters by causing the recalcitrant party to curtail its cooperation even further. Perseverance saved the key parts of the settlements even as others failed.

For Bosnia, peace implementation will prove even more daunting. A force of 60,000 is enormous for supervising a peace treaty, and the troops will not be in a danger-free zone. Cease-fire lines will be unclear in ethnically mixed areas. To avoid escalation, US commanders and troops trained in war fighting must be taught the doctrines of peace implementation that demand restraint and patience. Central to all of this is the commitment by the parties to stop fighting and carry out the complex political aspects of an accord. Without firm evidence of that pledge, IFOR should not deploy. But any peace accord will not hold without global support. NATO must have the wherewithal to stay despite violations and respond to them, assertively if needed, to keep the agreement on track. If in the end the parties cannot be persuaded to honor their agreements, then IFOR will have to leave.

Peace does not come on the cheap, nor does it miraculously materialize at the stroke of the pen in a grand ceremony. Former enemies need help to adjust to postwar arrangements. That aid is neither a superfluous commitment of troops nor a recipe for involvement in a Balkan war. It is, quite simply, the responsibility of the world's sole superpower.

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