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Politics of last resort must be replaced by prevention.

As the world agonizes over what to do about the horrendous situation in Bosnia, it becomes clearer every day that a major global overhaul is imperative if such conflicts are ever going to be prevented or effectively checked. The obvious agent of this change, diplomatically and, as a last resort, militarily, is the United Nations.

In a Worldwatch Institute paper published this month, Critical Juncture: The Future of Peacekeeping, Michael Renner asserts that, when it comes to maintaining or restoring peace, the world can no longer afford to let each nation fend for itself. An international mechanism that would transform the United Nations into a peacemaker of the first recourse, rather than the last resort, has to be created.

According to Renner, this peacemaking mechanism might include an early-warning office to monitor world trouble spots, permanent conflict resolution committees established on a regional basis, a noncombat U.N. peace force backed by a specially trained army of national troop contingents and regional training programs to teach conflict resolution techniques, among other measures.

It is clear, at least with hindsight, that both the Persian Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict, for example, might have been headed off if such a peacemaking mechanism had been in place. Yugoslavs were talking about the growing danger of civil war as far back as 1987. No one was listening.

Reading about the 25th anniversary of the Catonsville Nine antiwar protest (page 3) is, astonishingly, like hearing an echo from another age. Somehow, in the wake of the Cold War, the parameters of both peace and violent conflict have shifted, perhaps in ways that we have yet to understand. But Worldwatch is right: The juncture is critical. The time for a global reassessment and realignment is now.

Many of those who protested the Vietnam War and other conflicts in the past generation are also having to make that reassessment. The notion of some sort of global peace corps, preferably under U.N. auspices, has taken root and is flowering among them.

Some believe such an international peace force should be assembled for Bosnia as an option for further military intervention. Probably it is too late for that, but, as one longtime Catholic pacifist told us recently, "when people are dying the way they are in Bosnia, it is time for pacifists to put their own bodies on the line."

Whatever the answer, the call is clearly there, resounding from the rush of recent events. In two years the United Nations will mark its 50th anniversary. What a celebration that would be if, by then, a revolutionary peacemaking mechanism were heralding a truly new world order.

As Worldwatch points out, "just because war is a social institution does not mean it is inevitable: Created by us, it can also be abolished by us."
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Title Annotation:international relations
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 21, 1993
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