A UN Hat for NATO

The war in the former Yugoslavia, a "low-intensity conflict" according to many experts, has finally reached a deadlock and is near its natural end. Despite this and the present truce, one can count on neither a complete cessation of military operations nor, more importantly, on a determined willingness from all sides to establish a lasting peace. The current situation there could well be described as "neither peace nor war." The future development of the conflict depends largely on the time of year -- military activity practically comes to a halt during the winter -- on upsurges of nationalism, and on the personal political ambitions of the leaders involved.

Peacekeeping operations were an invention of the Cold War. Not surprisingly, during the Chinese foreign minister's recent visit to Moscow, the media raised the question of whether Russia would ever cooperate again with China to oppose the West in the Security Council -- particularly on the Bosnia question. NATO air strikes in Bosnia were described as exceeding the authority of the mandate of the Security Council, without Russia's agreement.

The well-defined legal procedures set forth in the UN Charter not only gave Moscow the right to make claims against the proposed NATO action, but also forced the West to pay attention to these claims: The transfer of proxy peacekeepers of a regional organization such as NATO requires a Security Council decision, including the agreement of Russia. It was not only the threats of the Russian president but also the necessity of following the norms of international law that brought the West to the point of seeking the possibility of a joint Russian-NATO peacekeeping operation in Bosnia.

What conclusions can we draw from this? First, the Security Council of the United Nations is now the only effective, civilized way that Russia can act as a great power and influence the international decision-making process. Russia does not foresee the possibility of unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement. This would hardly keep the United States from carrying out its decisions, although it would make Russia an international pariah. This is why Moscow insists on a joint peacekeeping operation, if not under its own direct control, at least under the authority of the UN.

According to the UN Charter, an agreement allowing contingents to participate in peace enforcement must be ratified by the participants' national legislatures. Forcing the current Republican-led U.S. Congress to vote on sending American peacekeepers to the former Yugoslavia will be rather difficult. Moreover, if the operation has a purely regional NATO character, the American participation, as in the past, will be reduced to a separate operation, where the risk of casualties is minimal. During the coming election campaign in the United States, not one of the presidential candidates will want to take responsibility for the death of U.S. soldiers in the distant Balkans. But at the same time, had there been no need to demonstrate a foreign policy success before the elections, it is possible that the United States would have continued its somewhat inactive policy, and we might not have seen the breakthrough in the Bosnia conflict that occurred this fall. Of all the active political figures in the United States, President Bill Clinton is perhaps most in favor of the participation of American troops in the Balkans.

Similarly, in Russia, the coming elections to the State Duma and next year's scheduled presidential election make it vital for its leaders to compensate in part for the numerous errors and compromises in past foreign policy, for which they are now severely criticized. Besides, unlike the United States, many in Russia tend to view the Balkans as a traditional zone of active Russian foreign policy.

The president decides on establishing the personnel for peacekeeping operations. According to Russian federal law, if an agreement requires an additional allotment from the budget or the provision of military forces to take part in compulsory international actions outside the Russian Federation, this agreement must be ratified by the parliament. There is talk of sending up to 8,000 Russian peacekeepers. In an interview in Krasnaya Zvezda, Deputy Chief of Staff Vladimir Zhurbenko mentioned a total figure of 60,000 troops, of which 20,000 would come from the United States, 15,000 from Great Britain, 12,500 from France, and 5,000 from Germany.

There is no provision in the UN Charter for the financing of an operation by a regional organization such as NATO. This is hard to understand. Russia is in no position to finance an operation from its miliary budget, and the creation of an international fund, as General Zhurbenko has proposed, is wishful thinking. The Duma would undoubtedly be more likely to approve financing the operation if it were carried out under the UN.

The other option is to define this mission as one that maintains peace, which, according to the law, would only require the president to inform the Duma, not seek its consent.

Russia does not have many options in Bosnia. The determination of the West to carry out the peace mission to the end can be shaken only by the U.S. Congress. For Russia, though, real partnership with the West is possible. This can be accomplished through the UN by joining together in opposing local conflicts that pose new threats to global security, thus creating an effective model of cooperation, which from a military point of view would be difficult, but possible.

Irina Kobrinskaya is a senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Academy of Sciences's Institute for the United States and Canada. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.