Death of Peacekeeping?

Recent events in the former Yugoslavia speak clearly about the important, even vital function of international peacekeeping operations in the overall process of maintaining global peace. In the decades since the first UN peacekeeping mission in 1948, these operations have become extremely widespread. In most of them, in addition to the direct motivations of each particular conflict, one of the important -- although not always declared -- goals has been limiting or localizing the conflict.

In the days of nuclear confrontation and the East-West standoff of the Cold War, an escalating conflict always bore the threat of instantaneously aggravating the broader international situation. In part, this potential threat stood behind the so-called Domino Theory and other ideas of this sort. As is now becoming clear, this threat is why there were, objectively speaking, fewer conflicts then. We had fear instead.

During this time, a definite modus vivendi was at work in the UN Security Council, a rather stable and predictable balance of forces. The very term peacekeeping operation and the ways of conducting them were fruits of the era of confrontation, products of a compromise between ideological enemies.

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "peacekeeping operations." There is no mention of them in the UN Charter, which refers in Chapter 7 only to "peace-enforcement" operations that do not require the consent of the conflicting parties and which are to be carried out by the forces of UN member states under a Security Council mandate and only after the national legislatures of the participating countries have ratified the decision. Fulfilling all these conditions -- most importantly the passing of a Security Council resolution and the joint participation of U.S. and Soviet forces in military action -- was unthinkable during the Cold War.

The only real exception was the 1950 UN resolution on Korea, which was passed when the Soviet representative was absent. After that, the next exception was Operation Desert Shield, to which the Soviet Union consented. For this reason, the Persian Gulf conflict can be considered something of a landmark in a new period of international relations. To be precise, these two peace-enforcement operations were not international, but "transnational." They were carried out by the UN "through" a member state (the United States) by means of a delegation of authority.

Over the last few weeks, in connection with the taking of UN peacekeepers hostage in Bosnia and the idea of creating a rapid-reaction force there, an entirely new situation has arisen which could be seen as a classically pure peace-enforcement operation in accord with Chapter 7, to be carried by the forces of member states (that is, it is an international operation). Theoretically, Russian forces could participate on an equal footing with those of Britain, France and Holland.

An excessively hardline (or, in other words, anti-NATO, since NATO is the most active punitive agent in the former Yugoslavia) position on Russia's part could well lead to the end of the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. And this is a real possibility -- one that has been much discussed both in Russia and in the West

State Duma deputy Boris Fyodorov has written along these lines recently in Izvestia. In the West, there is growing support for the idea of dropping sanctions against Yugoslavia and lifting the arms embargo. Robin Harris, a political advisor to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has written that "it is the arms embargo itself which created the circumstances that have left Bosnian enclaves helpless." U.S. Senate Republican leader Robert Dole also favors the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers and lifting the arms embargo.

Many pundits feel that if the situation in the former Yugoslavia has not changed by fall, the chances for success for the UN mission there are minimal. It is not difficult to imagine that if the mutual obligations of the UN are not enough to unite the leading NATO nations, then the smoldering disagreements between them are bound to flare up. In this case, there would be nothing to restrain Russia from providing military support to the Serbs. The conflict would no longer be localized.

One of the consequences of such a development could be heightened tensions between the NATO powers, the reduction of the U.S. military presence in Europe and -- there can be no vacuum in international affairs -- a heightened role for Germany. All this would occur against the background of an escalating war in Yugoslavia.

Does such a scenario correspond with Russia's national interests? Hardly. At present, few responsible people in Russia would disagree that a strong NATO which is able to contain conflicts among its members is a stabilizing factor that increases security in Europe and around the world. In fact, one of the arguments raised in Russia against expansion has been that such a move would make NATO less effective and controllable.

The withdrawal of the peacekeeping forces would also have a very negative effect on confidence in the UN, whose prestige as a force for resolving conflicts -- especially among the post-socialist states of Eastern and Central Europe -- is currently quite high. Moreover, the UN is the only organization in which Russia continues to play the role that it was granted as a global superpower.

The way out of this extremely complex emerging situation is relatively obvious: Russia -- like other UN nations, especially the United States and its NATO partners -- cannot stop supporting peace efforts in Yugoslavia without creating a very serious threat to the preservation of peace in Europe. It is clear that peacekeeping in Bosnia is the same as keeping the peace in Europe.

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