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More Assets to Avert a UN Peacekeeping Disaster

SINCE the cold war's end, the United Nations has taken on much tougher assignments to keep peace. The fundamental problems of organizing and funding international military forces can no longer be swept under the rug.

Past operations were mounted less frequently and only after warring parties agreed to stop fighting. UN forces were a token military presence, limited in size and weaponry and too small to do more than hope that negotiated agreements remained intact. But token forces can be easily thrust aside, as demonstrated by the Israeli Defense Forces, which periodically drive through the UN barriers to hunt down Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

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UNTAC, the large new UN effort in Cambodia's killing fields, has been described by its top official, Yasushi Akashi, as the "most dramatic instance of what the international community can do in the post-cold war age." The 15,900-strong military force, along with an additional 3,600 police and civilian administrators, will cost almost $2 billion. The resettlement of some half a million refugees and internally displaced persons may cost $1 billion more.

UNTAC must simultaneously disarm 200,000 troops and an equal number of militants from four belligerent factions, regroup them into cantonments, and assist the clearance of one of the most dangerously mined regions in the world. In the longer-term, it will monitor an already controversial election process at the same time maintaining law and order.

This undertaking alone would stretch the secretariat and the pocketbooks of donors. But the UN has also begun airlifting 400 soldiers a day to Yugoslavia in what by April will be a 14,000-member peacekeeping force. Another new UN force will be spread thinly among militant partisans who have inflicted 10,000 civilian casualties, displaced 1 million persons, and made shambles of the economy. The bill will be $634 million for the first year.

Resources will be stretched to new limits should the Security Council decide to help elsewhere, for instance in Somalia, where some 30,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in recent inter-clan conflict and artillery fire prevents ships flying UN flags from delivering food to the starving in Mogadishu. There are also prospects of further increments in the Western Sahara to monitor a plebiscite, the possibility of a mission to Angola, and down the line Nagorno-Karabakh, where the last units of the for mer Soviet Army have withdrawn amidst a massacre of civilians.

Continued partisan violence in Croatia, mounting ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the wounding of the Australian contingent commander flying over Khmer Rouge territory illustrate that UN plans for Yugoslavia and Cambodia do not necessarily enjoy universal support.

And yet funding constraints of the Security Council's permanent members permit the deployment of sufficient military elements only for best-case scenarios. The major powers have accepted that international peacekeeping is better than civil strife, but continue to skimp on support.

The folly of assuming a best-case scenario was demonstrated in 1989 in Namibia. The entire UN operation almost came unraveled after the first day when its soldiers were not in a position to thwart or monitor the incursion by SWAPO's fighters. The independence process was only restored after South African troops had killed 350 Namibians.

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The UN has proved useful to the major powers, evidenced by increased demand and more dangerous assignments. It still needs requisite finances and more professional military management.

History is unlikely to repeat itself on the cheap in Cambodia and Yugoslavia. Lofty praise should not obscure the fact that the world organization is still owed about $1 billion. The two new operations will quadruple the peacekeeping budget overnight, and they are qualitatively different in terms of threats to personnel.

Picking up the pieces in today's regional conflicts requires a second generation of multinational soldiers. Otherwise, disaster looms large for UN peacekeepers in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere.

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