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NATO's First Peacekeeping Mission

NATO's new but untried mission to keep the peace in a turbulent Eastern Europe could meet its first real test, not in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but in the oldest conflict of them all: Cyprus. For better or worse, the United Nations will probably continue to lead on any peacekeeping operation or humanitarian intervention in Bosnia. NATO members are participating, but not under NATO's banner.

UN talks on Cyprus are in their most precarious stage in New York, guided by a set of now-or-never ideas advanced by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and recently endorsed by the Security Council. The aim is to unify the country into a federation of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot "communities" and manage the removal of all but a small contingent of the 40,000-strong Turkish Army.

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The Cypriot standoff has faded from our memory, but it offers a laboratory for the new Europe, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the new NATO, and the new world order. The Greek, Turkish, and Cypriot governments remain locked in a seemingly intractable ethnic dispute. But Cyprus can still be saved and provide a model for the future - before Europe's bloody civil wars offer a precedent for Cyprus.

Any real settlement of Cyprus requires a strong peacekeeping presence during the transition. UN peacekeeping soldiers (UNFICYP) have been deployed in Cyprus since 1964 to defuse ethnic tensions. Numbering over 2,000, peacekeepers patrol a "green line" dividing majority Greek Cypriots from Turkish Cypriots, tens of thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey, and the Turkish Army that has occupied northern Cyprus since its invasion 18 years ago.

Mr. Ghali warned that UNFICYP's days may be numbered due to new UN peacekeeping missions and the financial burden of debt-ridden UNFICYP. Some fear the force's presence as a buffer between the two sides has encouraged procrastination.

Speculating about UNFICYP's future may be a negotiating tactic, but its implications are grave. Cyprus could become the next Bosnia if it were to lose the international military presence that defuses tensions every day. The world witnessed the consequences of such a withdrawal in 1967 when the UN peacekeeping force was pulled out of the Sinai only to be followed by the Six Day War. It is no coincidence that Greek Cypriot officials recently shopped for cheap arms in Moscow.

If UNFICYP funds aren't raised and the Security Council decides to withdraw it from Cyprus, the United States and NATO allies must be ready to step in with a NATO peacekeeping force to man the green line and help work a transition.

With CSCE, NATO needs double peacekeeping missions where fighting has stopped before it gets overly committed to combat that generates high casualties and whose outcome is uncertain.

A Cyprus mission for NATO - first proposed three decades ago - would give the alliance new experience at fulfilling the many sensitive security and administrative tasks that lie ahead, not only in Cyprus but elsewhere in a turbulent Europe.

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The job is daunting. NATO must guarantee the security of Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Turkish settlers. Peacekeepers must help with civil administrative duties, including resettlement of Greek Cypriot refugees, resolution of disputes, and repatriation to Turkey of an agreed number of Turkish settlers.

Greece and Turkey are NATO and CSCE members with special responsibilities to cooperate, now more than ever. The time is gone when unilateral interventions can stand indefinitely. Such exercise of power is old world flotsam. The new world demands more of law-abiding nations.

A NATO force in Cyprus could be financed in part by reallocating some of the cold-war US military assistance programs for Greece and Turkey. US soldiers should be part of the NATO Cyprus forces. The US plays an influential role in the Cyprus problem and a US military presence should help ameliorate Turkish concerns about the safety of minorities on the island.

Cyprus is old, unfinished business. But it may offer NATO, working with CSCE, an opportunity to resolve a lingering conflict while learning how to handle new ones.

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