DURING the cold war the world was more dangerous than it is today. But in a sense, it was also simpler. One huge nuclear superpower faced another. The threat of extinction was a powerful deterrent to major warfare. Washington and Moscow knew where the lines were drawn.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the indictment of communism as a miserable failure, the world is less dangerous but more complicated. The United States, the sole remaining superpower, is confronted by an array of regional aggressors of different kinds, requiring different responses. The nuclear response is no longer valid. Instead the options range from the use of multilateral or unilateral conventional force, to diplomacy and leverage through the manipulation of world opinion and economic pres sure.
It is a new world looming for either President Bush or President Clinton, and we have not heard too much about how they will handle it once the election is decided and one or other of them is installed in the White House. Governor Clinton doesn't know too much about foreign policy. President Bush's advisers think the American people believe Bush concentrates too much on foreign policy, and so he's not doing much talking about it during the campaign.
But there are tyrants out there, some of them literally getting away with murder as the US and the world community have yet to come to grips with how to deal with them in the post-cold-war age.
Three taunt not only the US, but also the United Nations.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein plays a cat-and-mouse game with UN inspectors looking for his chemical and nuclear weapon stocks and laboratories.
In Cambodia, Pol Pot and his infamous Khmer Rouge are grabbing new territory, blocking UN officials from inspecting the territory they hold, and refusing to surrender their weapons as a UN agreement requires them to do.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic toys with UN "peacekeepers" as he continues his campaign to obliterate the non-Serbian presence.
In each instance, these leaders have violated compacts with the UN in order to further their own, often murderous, ends.
Clearly, humanity would have been better served had Saddam Hussein been removed from the political scene at the time of Desert Storm. But the UN should not compound that mistake by thinking he now will deal with them in good faith.
In Cambodia, UN officials still are handling the Khmer Rouge with kid gloves, even though it has proved duplicitous and untrustworthy.
Meanwhile, the response of the world community to the crisis in the Balkans has been belated and confused.
After years of irrelevance, the UN has an opportunity to become an effective crisis-solver in such areas. But it will need to be tougher and show more mettle.
After the two terrible ordeals of our times - World War II and the cold war - we should have learned that appeasement is no answer to tyranny. The British tried placating Hitler. But the Nazi leader led them down the garden path as he continued plundering Europe. It was not until Winston Churchill assumed power, with a clear vision of what had to be done to stop the aggression, that the tide began to turn.
Then in the cold war there were some voices raised in favor of accommodation and conciliation with the assorted dictators in Moscow who prolonged the misery of their own people at home and exported belligerency abroad.
When the Soviet Union was discovered deploying a new breed of nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe, there were protests and marches from those who opposed matching that force with corresponding Western strength. Fortunately, the "peace" protesters lost the day, the West responded with forcefulness, and that resolve played a role in persuading a new breed of Soviet leaders to end the cold war.
With lesser aggressors, as well as those who could have plunged the world into nuclear war, diplomacy must be backed with the will to use righteous force. Appeasement has not proved an effective antidote to international barbarism.