In the decade since communism crumbled, the world has needed a trouble-shooter with a quick draw to cool off global hot spots.
That military task usually went to the United States - in Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo - often with a little help from its friends, and often with a stamp of approval from the United Nations Security Council.
But on July 15, in a little-noticed event, the UN's own blue-helmeted forces displayed unusual courage and savvy in a surprise raid on a rebel camp in Sierra Leone.
Bravo for the UN! Let's hope this is the start of more truly global efforts - rather than temporary multinational coalitions led by the US - that will intervene to stop wars.
To be sure, the UN was acting more in self-defense than in selflessness. A UN team of Indian, Nigerian, and Ghanaian troops, supported by British and Indian helicopters, rescued 233 UN peacekeepers and observers who were held captive for over two months. One Indian soldier died.
Still, the size of the operation, the effective leadership, and the discipline of its troops showed the UN is quite capable of effective ground fighting.
Probably not since the UN fought in the Congo civil war in the early 1960s, has it been so aggressive in peace enforcement. That previous experience, however, showed UN capability is only as good as the consensus among the Security Council's big powers, the independence given to the secretary-general, and the skill of its forces.
The UN has been reluctant to venture beyond impartial peacekeeping to aggressive peace enforcement. Even NATO, under UN authority, failed to stop the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in 1995 at a UN "safe area" in the town of Srebrenica.
Becoming party to a conflict, rather than just containing it, would be a leap for the UN. But it cannot be a moral cipher when, for instance, genocide is at stake, as it was in Rwanda in 1994.
The US should not always carry the burden of peacemaking. With resources and a mandate, the UN can become a peace enforcer. The US, above all, should welcome and support this development.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society