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United Nations' credibility falls victim to violence.

NEW YORK - When a Serbian irregular soldier shot Bosnia-Herzegovina's deputy prime minister inside a U.N. armored vehicle Jan. 8, he may have killed more than an eminent and respected Bosnian politician.

The United Nations' credibility as a neutral broker between contending sides to a conflict and effective agent of post-Cold War peacemaking efforts may also have received possibly mortal wounds.

Recent challenges to the credibility of the United Nations and its Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali have generated an unexpected crisis of confidence that - in a period of growing U.S. domestic preoccupation despite its dominance of the United Nations - bodes ill for early resolution. Indeed, it is likely to have been a factor in Saddam Hussein's newfound willingness to confront the United Nations recently.

For many months, the Bosnian government and most citizens have been deeply angered by what they feel is U.N. acquiescence in Serbian aggression. In recent days, confirmation of accounts of deliberate mass rapes of Bosnian Muslim women by Serbian forces - as part of their "ethnic cleansing" campaigns - has elicited deep revulsion around the globe. In this situation, the U.N. policy of maintaining an arms embargo on Bosnia (thus limiting its capacity for self-defense) in an effort to prevent escalating violence has been challenged as ineffective, unfair and in effect serving Serbian aggression.

What seems striking is the extent to which the United Nations, which only months ago many hoped would be able to act to reduce levels of conflict, has seen its credibility eroded.

Its claims to neutrality came under unexpected attack in both Somalia and Ethiopia in early January. Somalis angry at past U.N. neglect of their deteriorating security problems demonstrated against Boutros-Ghali in Mogadishu even as U.S. troops, there under ostensibly U.N. auspices, were warmly praised. While the protests were orchestrated in part by a major Somali warlord, they also reflected the fact that Boutros-Ghali himself - an Egyptian whose country has sometimes meddled in internal Somali politics - is not seen as neutral or free of a hidden political agenda by many Somalis.

Only days later, Ethiopian students used Boutros-Ghali's presence at peace talks between warring Somali factions in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to demonstrate against the U.N. role in facilitating elections on independence in Eritrea, long-ruled as an Ethiopian province.

Their protests were put down by government troops. But they reflected not only Ethiopian fears over what they see as dismemberment of their country but also similar distrust of Boutros-Ghali's neutrality given past Egyptian involvement in Ethiopian politics.

In Cambodia as well, the United Nations has seen both Khmer Rouge leaders and, most recently, Prince Sihanouk himself suspend cooperation with the U.N. peacemaking mission, both alleging the United Nations' lack of neutrality.

Thus barely a year after Western leaders - at a special U.N. Security Council summit meeting - called for a stronger U.N. peacemaking role and advanced proposals to set up a permanent U.N. rapid deployment force, the United Nations' planned expansion of its peacekeeping mandate seems almost in shambles.

Boutros-Ghali, hailed as a compromise candidate when he took office a year ago, has now himself become a bone of political contention.

And at the very moment when our first truly post-Cold War president hoped to focus intensively on urgent domestic economic imperatives, the United Nations' faltering role is generating pressures for the United States to become the military guarantor of peace in multiple conflicts around the globe. The much anticipated |peace dividend' seems to be disappearing into the sands of the |new world disorder.'

Most significantly, the calls for increased use of the U.S. military - notably in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia - are posing new political and ethical dilemmas for America's traditional peace movement and supporters of multilateral over bilateral military responses.

As an activist employed by an international development group working in the Horn of Africa told church groups in Washington, D.C., last week, "I never thought I would live to hear myself support U.S. military intervention, but I now feel it would be disastrous for the U.S. to withdraw prematurely from Somalia. The United Nations does not have the credibility at present to take over the task."

Many peace activists criticized the United Nations new interventionism as a fig leaf for continued U.S. military meddling in the affairs of weaker powers. And indeed there may be strong strategic interests as well as soon-to-be-ex-President Bush's wish to go out in a blaze of glory that motivated U.S. intervention in Somalia.

But as a staff member from a major religious agency told NCR, what began as an ego trip for Bush may have become one of the more altruistic humanitarian interventions in U.S. history.

But can the United States politically or economically sustain such an expanded security role given its domestic and financial crises? This will be a major challenge to the Clinton administration come January 20th.
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Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 22, 1993
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