U.N. should take a global approach

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

There is a growing resentment in the United Nations and in the international community toward the United States. If the U.S. projects itself as the ``indispensable state,'' it cannot then arbitrarily refuse to send peacekeeping troops to troubled areas.

U.S. policymakers do not realize the frustration in the nations of the South (which some refer to as the Third World) when the sole global superpower proclaims that it will intervene only when its ``national interests'' are at stake. This is interpreted as the United States seeking privileges of leadership without the responsibilities, dominance without the risks.

For example, after implementation of a flawed agreement to share power between the elected government of Sierra Leone and rebel leader Foday Sankoh, the U.N. peacekeeping mission to that country has collapsed. The international community is faced with its moment of truth. After a series of humiliating post-Cold War crises for the United Nations, this latest travesty highlights the fact that the agency must no longer be held hostage to the indecision of its key members.

The United Nations has reached a critical crossroad. Either it must be empowered to act, or it will drift into further marginality. Empowerment requires the United Nations' key members to ``put their money where their mouths are.'' They must commit to providing the human and financial resources necessary for successful peacekeeping efforts. There must be a mechanism of preventive diplomacy and a well-devised early-warning capability. This will ensure that studied and deliberate intervention takes place when needed and will replace the current off-the-cuff undertakings that have rendered ``peacekeeping'' dysfunctional and counterproductive. Sierra Leone is only the latest manifestation of peacekeeping vulnerabilities in a record strewn with failures, retreats and unmet goals. The breakdown in Sierra Leone portends future failures if the United States and other key U.N. members do not expedite the empowerment process of the U.N. system and institutional structures.

The world, especially the South, will no longer sanction the United States hiding behind the pretext that ``public opinion'' will not tolerate the potential loss of life associated with humanitarian efforts. Resentment rises when the United States and other Western powers choose only the safe activities, acting strictly as a transport service to deliver and remove troops.

The selective use of the U.N. Security Council by the United States and its Western allies to legitimize furtherance of its own objectives (as in Iraq), to bypass its role (as in Kosovo) or to prevent U.N. intervention (as in Rwanda) is profoundly objectionable. This creates the impression that intermittent usage of the Security Council is the exclusive prerogative of the United States and its allies.

The irritation is not confined to the countries of the developing world. There are growing signs that significant sectors of European opinion share similar attitudes. These attitudes, however, should not derail the crucial effort to rectify the damaging impact of a polarized United Nations.

Parties in the dialogue on the United Nations' future should be aware that there is no alternative to the organization. In view of the nature and complexity of the problems that arise, the United Nations must have a far better understanding of a country's players. The peace agreements in Sierra Leone, as well as other areas, exemplify the paucity of core knowledge that impacts the peace-making process.

Member states must be ready to provide quality personnel to enhance the activities of the secretariat, as well as resources to enable the United Nations to quickly adjust to ever-changing situations. In recent years, the world witnessed with horror the victimization of helpless civilian populations due to the time lapse between Security Council approval for a peacekeeping force and actual deployment of troops.

In order to avoid future tragic losses, a U.N. rapid-deployment standing force must complement and reinforce the recommended mechanisms of prevention and early warning. If these measures are not taken soon, and the United Nations remains in its state of near paralysis, the East-West tensions that existed during the Cold War will pale in comparison to those that will most certainly erupt between the North and South.

Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, is director of the Center for the Global South at American University in Washington, D.C. Ellen Goodman, the Empire's usual Tuesday columnist, is on vacation.

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