Imagining Kosovo: A Biased New Account Fans Western Confusion
When ethnic tensions in Kosovo flared into violence between Serbian police and Albanian separatists in March, the United States and the international community were quick to condemn the crackdown. But little besides rhetoric was forthcoming. Despite the lingering presence of a well-rehearsed U.N. sanctions regime in the Balkans, a large NATO-managed international peacekeeping force in Bosnia, and a well-established U.N. peacekeeping mission to Macedonia, no international intervention of any sort was seriously considered. It was as if the global community's bag of intervention tricks was actually smaller in the tragic aftermath of the Rwandas, Bosnias, and Somalias of recent times. NATO had its hands full, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe exists only on paper, and the United Nations was many times bitten and twice shy.
When the United States stood alone against the other 14 members of the U.N. Security Council in opposing a second term for Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996, it effectively killed a range of ambitious peacekeeping functions with which the United Nations has been experimenting since 1992. Granted, many of the experiments were manifest disasters, and the blue helmets' failure to halt political violence in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia was reinforced by images of peacekeepers held hostage in Bosnia, gunned down in Mogadishu, or butchered in Kigali.
These controversial operations not only failed in gaining the peace but overwhelmed the organization and pushed it deeper into debt. Between 1988 and 1993, U.N. peacekeeping grew from less than 10,000 troops in 5 classic peacekeeping missions to almost 80,000 blue helmets in 18 different operations, including large and heavily armed missions to Cambodia, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia. The annual peacekeeping budget ballooned from $230 million to $3.6 billion, exceeding the general budget and accelerating the United Nations' chronic insolvency. A U.N. senior official said in 1995 that the organization was seeking a "bear market" for future peacekeeping because of these problems. By 1997 the United Nations had tapered off its military operations to some 15,000 peacekeepers operating in more mundane environments on a budget of around $1.2 billion.
While a broad range of observers drew the same basic conclusion from this episode -- that the United Nations should not manage complex, dangerous, and ambitious military operations -- most are split on how it happened and whom to blame. Conservatives in the United States charge the United Nations itself and especially a fiendishly ambitious Boutros-Ghali, who they say openly tried to accrue more and more military legitimacy and power. One conservative wrote recently of "Boutros-Ghali's kaleidoscopic ambition" and his "expansive agenda in the peace-making arena."
Conversely, liberal internationalists blame a parochial U.S. Congress, which pulled the United States out of Somalia at the first sign of trouble and now holds America's U.N. dues hostage to its provincialism. In April Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright implicitly lumped American critics of the organization with conspiracy theorists who see black helicopters behind every U.N. biosphere program.
Both views are off-base. Those who put U.N. peacekeeping through the wringer and hung the organization and its last secretary-general out to dry were, ironically, those American internationalists most likely to promote a larger U.N. collective security role. Many in both the Bush and Clinton administrations sought a much greater role for the United Nations in international security affairs. Even Ronald Reagan climbed aboard the bandwagon in 1992, giving a speech at Oxford University in which he called for "a standing U.N. force -- an army of conscience -- that is fully equipped and prepared to carve out humanitarian sanctuaries through force if necessary."
But even though many American officials were philosophically amenable to that goal, they chose to propel the United Nations into uncharted waters more out of political expediency than as a carefully crafted approach to collective security. As the executive secretary to the secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor, has noted in the Winter 1995-96 Survival, the decisions to send the United Nations in strength to places like Bosnia sometimes "reflected not so much a policy as the absence of policy . . . respond[ing] to the need to 'do something.' "
BUILDING ON SAND
Both of these books offering ways forward for the United Nations implicitly recognize that American officials, especially in the first Clinton administration, pushed a reluctant United Nations into much greater military roles than it could hope to handle. In the former Yugoslavia, it soon became painfully obvious that despite the deployment of almost 40,000 combat troops, the United Nations was in over its head. Among American leaders, it was fashionable in both parties to bemoan the ineffectiveness of the U.N. peacekeepers -- despite the fact that the Bush and Clinton administrations were far more responsible than any other government for the U.N. effort in the former Yugoslavia. Between September 1991 and January 1996, the Security Council passed 89 resolutions relating to the Yugoslav situation, of which the United States sponsored one-third. While Russia vetoed one resolution and joined China in abstaining from many others, the United States voted for all 89, including those 20 that expanded the mandate or size of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
The United Nations was not pulling the international community into Bosnia; the West used the Security Council to push a reluctant U.N. bureaucracy even further into a series of missions and mandates it could not hope to accomplish. Boutros-Ghali warned the members of the Security Council in March 1994 that "the steady accretion of mandates from the Security Council has transformed the nature of UNPROFOR's mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina and highlighted certain implicit contradictions . . . The proliferation of resolutions and mandates has complicated the role of the Force." His under secretary-general for peacekeeping, Kofi Annan, was more blunt, in January 1995 calling attempts to further expand U.N. missions "building on sand."
The Clinton administration, which had shown unbounded enthusiasm for U.N. peacekeeping in its first months, began to sour slightly by September 1993. By then U.N. Ambassador Albright's doctrine of "assertive multilateralism" had given way to President Clinton's beseeching the General Assembly to know "when to say no." But it was the United States and its allies on the Security Council who kept saying yes for the United Nations. Even after Clinton's speech, Albright voted for all five subsequent resolutions (and sponsored two) that again expanded UNPROFOR's size or mandate.
In Somalia, the pattern was even more direct. The United States pushed an unwilling United Nations into a hugely ambitious nation-building mission. In its waning days the Bush administration assembled a U.S.-led coalition that intervened to ameliorate the man-made famine in Somalia. From the very beginning, the United States intended to turn the mission over to a U.N. peacekeeping force. Conversely, Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian well acquainted with the complexities of nation-building in Somalia, wanted no part of the mission. Robert B. Oakley, the U.S. envoy to Somalia, noted in his 1995 book coauthored with John L. Hirsch, Somalia and Operation Restore Hope, that in a meeting with the secretary-general and his assistants on December 1, 1992, "the top U.N. officials rejected the idea that the U.S. initiative should eventually become a U.N. peacekeeping operation."
The debate, with Boutros-Ghali resisting up to the last, effectively ended on March 26, 1993, when the passage of Security Council Resolution 814 established a new U.N. Operation in Somalia. The resolution authorized the use of force and greatly expanded the blue helmets' mandate well beyond that of the more muscular American force. The United States withdrew its heavily armed troops and turned the baton over to a lightly armed and still-arriving U.N. force. The transition, set for early May 1993, was so rushed that on the day the United Nations took command its headquarters staff was at only 30 percent of its intended strength. The United States further complicated the new mission by leading an aggressive campaign of disarmament capped by the deployment of a special operations task force to lead a manhunt for the Somali faction leader General Mohammed Farah Aidid. That task force, not under U.N. command, came to disaster on October 3 in the fateful street battles of Mogadishu. A U.S. military report afterward noted that the principal command problems of the mission were "imposed on the U.S. by itself."
THE MIDDLE POWER MODEL
By 1995, fingers had been badly burned in the Security Council and the U.N. Secretariat. It appeared, writes Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in the Winter 1997 Orbis, that "the assertive multilateralists of 1992-3 placed more weight upon the United Nations than it could bear, while ignoring NATO and other regional coalitions." Nonetheless, as Kosovo shows, ethnic conflicts are most likely to become more frequent, not less. What role should the United Nations now have in multilateral peace interventions, if any?
In general, the academically oriented Peacekeeping and Peacemaking splits its time between a postmortem of the New World Order's first seven years and some prescriptions built on what it calls "the middle power model . . . in which states come to the realization that their interests can most fully be realized through international cooperation and that it is to their advantage to strengthen the capacity of organizations of cooperation to be effective." This is then a plan for small but committed international leaders such as Australia, Sweden, Canada, and Norway to use the United Nations to box above their weight. Unfortunately, much of the book was completed before many observers realized just how much a few great powers can knock around "organizations of cooperation" like the United Nations and why they might do so.
While the message from editor Tom Woodhouse and some of his authors is that both the United Nations and peacekeeping need to "be reformed and strengthened," the 1995 conference that spawned this volume was convened only a few months after Boutros-Ghali virtually gave up on his ambitious ideas of 1992. In his 1995 supplement to An Agenda for Peace, the frustrated secretary-general wrote that "it would be folly to attempt" further efforts at peace enforcement when the United Nations was "hard pressed to handle the less demanding peacemaking and peacekeeping responsibilities entrusted to it." Boutros-Ghali had ridden the roller coaster of U.N.-managed collective security for three years and had run up against several immutable obstacles that might have informed the Woodhouse book to greater effect -- namely, that in order for any institution to manage complex multinational military operations, it must have practiced military institutions, organizations, procedures, and structures to do so. Except for the rare military alliance in which these means are shared by a select few (NATO for instance), states tend not to pool those vestiges of sovereignty that will allow an international organization the legitimacy needed to manage dynamic military operations.
Taking this into account, Oakley and his colleagues at the National Defense University have done a more creative job than Peacekeeping and Peacemaking. The premise is that in these missions there is much more to public security than that narrowly defined or provided for by military peacekeepers. Indeed, "the most frequent demands have come from the opposite end of the conflict spectrum, where the skills of the mediator are often more relevant and the essence of the mission is to rehabilitate, not annihilate." Refreshingly, Policing the New World Disorder is actually about policing and, despite the threat of its title, is not another tiresome volume detailing various creative schemes for collective security in the post-Cold War world.
Oakley and most of his authors are experienced practitioners and know full well the limits of the military, even a specifically trained peacekeeping force, in humanitarian interventions. As they write, "The military is a blunt instrument when used alone in this context. It is capable only of imposing a most basic, rigid form of order. An intervening military force can attempt to deter and limit loss of life and destruction of property, but that is about all." However, as the authors also note, many from personal experience, "Any intervention force that removes or replaces local authority will find itself responsible for maintaining public security." This large "how-to" book aims to put forth plans for quickly and competently using the law enforcement resources and expertise of the international community to help restore the basic institutions of public security -- "policemen, judges, and jailers" -- in disintegrating states.
The book shows that using a hastily assembled international military force for too many different missions can be inflexible and self-defeating. To be sure, almost all U.N. missions have had significant nonmilitary components, especially in the post-Cold War era. But the focus of the scores of recent volumes dedicated to "fixing" the United Nations and its capacity for leading humanitarian intervention is, as in much of the Woodhouse book, solidly on the military aspect. This puts just one large arrow and a few small darts in the intervention quiver. Worse, the arrow is a much studied but still maddeningly problematic one at that. Even so, mobilizing and deploying civilian police is a relatively new role for the United Nations and other international organizations (there were 35 U.N.-deployed civilian police in 1988 and over 3,600 in 1997). The Oakley book is a comprehensive attempt to codify some standard procedures for this most important task.
By making this their focus, the contributors to the Oakley volume work within the natural constraints of the United Nations insofar as military operations are concerned. By contrast, some of the authors in the Woodhouse book continue to bemoan the congenital frailties of the United Nations when it comes to mobilizing real political legitimacy and military authority. Despite the pessimistic way in which the Bosnia and Somalia case studies are presented in his book, some of Woodhouse's other authors collectively cry out, "Try harder!" They seem at times unwilling to recognize that, as the political scientist and former diplomat Saadia Touval wrote in the September/October 1994 Foreign Affairs, the United Nations' political-military "limitations are ingrained. They are embedded in the very nature of intergovernmental organizations and no amount of upgrading, expansion or revamping of U.N. powers can correct those flaws."
The better parts of Peacekeeping and Peacemaking recognize, as does Policing the New World Disorder, that the United Nations can progress on fronts other than the military one, as seen in recent U.N. successes in Namibia, Mozambique, and El Salvador. The civil components of complex humanitarian relief efforts are not only more relevant to many of the problems the United Nations might undertake today but are less subject to the restrictive emotional imperatives surrounding military issues. Moreover, an unchanging bottom line of sorts limits the United Nations' competent management of serious multinational military missions. The powers of sovereignty that the U.N. Charter concedes to member states are necessary for creating the institutions, structures, and procedures needed to manage dynamic military operations. As former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Giandomenico Picco wrote in these pages in September 1994, "The institution does not carry with it those basic tools of states . . . The more the institution tries to resemble a state, the more it will fade away and, most seriously perhaps, the United Nations will become no more than the sum of its members."
But the United Nations is not that. Nor is it a state. And those simple facts have helped it usefully insert itself into security situations where no state could. It is no accident that the United Nations, an organization with purposefully limited military legitimacy, became involved with the quasi-military practice of traditional peacekeeping. The technique suited the institution and the institution the technique. Likewise, it should not cause so much wailing and gnashing of teeth that several difficult peace enforcement missions simultaneously run by the United Nations proved too much for an organization uniquely unsuited to the military management of such tasks. Rather, constructive observers will recognize that, new Security Council consensus or not, the international security system has some natural currents that do not easily change. Working within these currents is eminently more productive than bucking them, failing, blaming those least responsible, and gearing up to try again.