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U.N. double standard means double trouble for hot spots.

A quarter century after the Vietnam War entered our living rooms nightly on the TV news, two other wars' insanities and violence are again haunting our airwaves. What have the international community's actions and inactions in the face of these wars accomplished? And what do they say about us, the people who make up that community?

Two and a half decades ago, we had to steel ourselves to news clips of small children screaming as they ran down dusty roads as napalm bit into their flesh. Now we turn on the nightly news to scenes of funerals under bombardment, hospital operations without anesthesia and the hollow-eyed stares of those in besieged cities of a Bosnia ravaged by reciprocal "ethnic cleansings." Or to the sight of thin, wiry Somalis cowering - or angrily protesting - in front of U.N. tanks and troops.

These images indicate that life is cheap these days around the world. The real tragedy is that the international community - despite its U.N. peacemaking and peacekeeping initiatives in these distant places - has helped to make it so. U.N. action and inaction have combined to make it more, rather than less likely that Bosnians and Somalis will die from violence. Newly mandated to intervene for humanitarian purposes, the United Nations has deployed neither its armed forces nor its capacity to exert economic and other pressures very effectively to save lives.

The United Nations has applied a contradictory double standard in deciding when and how to use force to carry out its peacemaking or peacekeeping mandates, a double standard that makes diminishing sense and indeed almost a mockery of its intent. In Africa, it has taken on the task of disarming Somali Muslim warlords wielding considerable high-tech firepower. But in Europe, it has consistently refused to do the same to ethnic militias that are the main engines of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Even more contradictory is the U.N. policy of refraining from using force to defend Bosnians civilians, yet continuing to deny Bosnians access to arms they could use to defend themselves, as the U.N. Charter gives them a right to. It amounts to sacrificing Bosnian lives to maintaining "peace" for ourselves.

Still another double standard is reflected in the U.N. policy of using force only to defend its own soldiers and humanitarian relief columns, not the lives of civilians they are there ostensibly to help. Being willing to use force to defend oneself, but not those whom one is charged with helping is obscene in light of the horrors involved.

Such policies are turning the United Nations into little more than "official observers" of an unfolding ethnic holocaust. Should U.N. "safe havens" for Bosnian civilians actually be created, they will be little more than U.N.-patrolled Bantustans, ethnic prisons maintained by U.N. funds that will do little more than relieve their Serbian and Croatian creators of the cost of caring for their Bosnian victims.

Nor is the United Nation's willingness to act in Somalia without serious flaws. It has insisted on dealing with warlords armed to the teeth, rather than with other community leaders, as the key political forces to be reckoned with. This has reinforced the likelihood that a future government will remain an arena for competition among the militarized forces in Somali society.

And the United Nation's latest armed actions following deadly ambushes of ill-armed U.N. soldiers from Pakistan have, in the memorable words of a Somali interviewed by The New York Times, turned the United Nations into just another clan faction fighting for supremacy.

The United Nation's double standards reflect our own. The Clinton administration was willing to use massive firepower to "take out" the headquarters of Iraq's intelligence services, weeks after the alleged Iraqi assassination attempt on the life of George Bush during his visit to Kuwait City, although there was no immediate threat to American security. But it has stubbornly refused - as have our European allies - to take out Serbia's heavy artillery, military airports and arsenals that help sustain ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Most tragically, both the United Nations and United States have dithered in exerting effective economic pressures on the major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The lesson of recent developments in Haiti, where U.N. willingness to impose effective rather than minimal economic sanctions forced the Haitian military to move toward stepping down, may be that the dollar speaks louder than the gun.

Whatever the case, the world has written off the Balkans before. It helped both the Hapsburg and the Ottoman empires to come a cropper and pitched the rest of us into World War I.
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Title Annotation:Bosnia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 16, 1993
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