Peacekeeping Hampered by UN Members
"Why UN Quit as Fireman to the World's Hot Spots" (April 29) has the 'what' right but not the 'why.' The UN is in the firehouse, not eager to answer 911. Member states, most notably the US, refuse to provide adequate firetrucks and firefighters while calling upon the UN to douse more fires in a shorter period than the entire history of peacekeeping.
In Bosnia, UN military commanders were given about half the troops requested of or authorized by the Security Council. In the "safe areas," the situation was far worse. Members provided 7,000 troops when 34,000 were deemed necessary to defend hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Consider how many missions the UN was handed in one two-month period in 1992: With a budget under $2 billion, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations undertook missions in Somalia, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.
UN Peacekeeping Operations reformed its headquarters in response to criticism of its professionalism. In the past five years, it opened a 24-hour communications center and created a database of potentially available troops and equipment with 62 nations, a training unit, a rapidly deployable headquarters, and an analysis unit to look at past operations to guide improvement.
Yes, the UN is retreating into an empty firehouse. But if member states don't want to make provisions to put out the world's raging fires, it does not have a choice.
Beth C. DeGrasse
Council for a Livable World Education Fund
UN difficulties in Bosnia and Rwanda are just a symptom of the larger problem of member-nation unwillingness to financially support the UN. The US, whose leadership is needed for peacekeeping to succeed, is the largest debtor nation, owing approximately $1.5 billion of the $2.8 billion due to the UN. Of that, $915 million is for peacekeeping.
Do members want the UN to return to "classic peacekeeping" as the article argues? If left to the US, peacekeeping would hardly exist. The US has a history of establishing its own rules defining what incurred expenses are considered in support of peacekeeping.
Recently Congress introduced a resolution prohibiting payment of any assessed contributions unless the UN properly credits the US for peacekeeping contributions. What will prevent other countries from taking such actions? If every country has its own rules for payment, it will cripple UN peacekeeping.
Development in Russian Far East
In the opinion-page article, "Russia's Far East Bonanza" (April 28) the author is naive in his analysis that joint Russian and Western development of Sakhalin's oil and gas reserves encourages future cooperation.
Environmental conditions for oil and gas production near Sakhalin are harsher than in Alaska. A Friends of the Earth-Japan report charges that Western companies in Sakhalin "are threatening pristine ecosystems in one of the world's richest seas, fragile marshland, tundra, and coastal habitats."
Western oil and gas development also threatens Sakhalin's primary economy: Fishing makes up one third of the economic activity and employs more than 50,000 people.
The author wrote from Neftegorsk, a town destroyed by an earthquake two years ago when 1,500 were killed and an estimated 6,000 tons of oil leaked into marshlands. How would an earthquake affect the seas if it destroys an oil platform? How would a huge spill affect fisheries in the Sea of Okhotsk?
The US government, through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has jumped into the project with insurance and financing. Will OPIC or Western companies take responsibility in a catastrophe? Many Russian scientists, officials, and environmental groups are justifiably skeptical.
Joint Russian-Western development of Sakhalin's oil and gas may lead to poorer relations in the region, rather than better.
Pacific Environment and Resources Center
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