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UN and NATO bicker over who will fill global peacekeeping void

NATO troops marched in Poland this week in the name of peacekeeping. British Scots Guards with bagpipes and Italians shouting colorful battle cries, led by an American general, mixed with ex-Soviet Bloc units they once faced as adversaries across the Iron Curtain.

The occasion was Cooperative Bridge '94, week-long joint peacekeeping maneuvers intended as a symbol of new East-West cooperation.

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``Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of NATO and of Europe,'' said United States Gen. George Joulwan, supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, at the Sept. 12 opening ceremony.

Cross-national amity aside, the exercise may also mark a burgeoning power struggle between NATO and the United Nations. The stakes: the soul of international peacekeeping efforts.

With the end of the cold war, the Atlantic alliance is increasingly invoking the need to stomp out regional conflicts as one of the reasons for its existence. NATO's approach to this sort of activity, however, differs greatly from the more traditional blue-helmet peacekeeping missions of the UN.

Take Bosnia-Herzegovina, where NATO and the UN are working side-by-side. NATO commanders and UN counterparts have engaged in a number of bitter disputes over the use of force against Bosnian Serbs. NATO thinks of the UN as weak-kneed; the UN sees some NATO attitudes as trigger-happy.

There are also direct conflicts between the two organizations over such details as command and control structures, and the sharing of intelligence operations.

``These are not subtle differences,'' says Natalie Goldring, a senior analyst at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a private trans-Atlantic think tank based in Washington and London.

A new BASIC report decries what it sees as the ``militarization'' of peacekeeping by NATO. If the alliance increasingly positions itself as an on-call police force, the result could be a further drain of UN peacekeeping resources.

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The problem, of course, is that a power vacuum exists in world peacekeeping whether NATO fills it or not. The hard-pressed UN has so far been unable to fulfill the wide peacekeeping role some envisioned for it in the wake of the cold war.

While there have been real successes and tens of thousands of UN blue helmets are currently deployed around the world, there is also a consensus among many experts that the UN has been too ambitious -

as evidenced by the failure of nation-building in Somalia and the continued fighting in Bosnia.

In a coming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, Harvard University international affairs expert Saadia Touval argues that no amount of tinkering with UN peacekeeping will overcome the clumsiness of a broadly based international bureaucracy.

Peace will be better served around the world, according to Mr. Touval, if the UN passes on peacekeeping tasks it can't solve.

``It is urgent instead to devise a mechanism whereby the United Nations can encourage individual states, under their own flags,'' he writes, ``to assume the risky and thankless task of mediating conflicts that they have the best chance of resolving.''

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