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The U.N.'s New Mission : Nation-Building : With Bosnia and Somalia, the United Nations is now in the business of setting up governments. But isn't that the people's choice?

June 27, 1993|JONATHAN MOORE | Jonathan Moore, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

WASHINGTON — The post-Cold War world is forcing the United Nations to dramatically enlarge its peacekeeping role. Its chief--and best-known--mission of providing emergency assistance and resolving conflicts still comes first. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that unless that undertak ing is reinforced by restoration and reconstruction programs--nation-building--failure will surely come, either now or later. If a country cannot be helped--and guided--in its transition from chaos to a sustainable government and economy, it will revert to violence and deprivation, and the peacekeepers and humanitarian workers will have to return. Peacekeeping and nation-building are inseparable.

In Somalia, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Mozambique, for example, the United Nations is not simply keeping the peace. It is struggling to combine its efforts to stop war and feed people with its efforts to promote--indeed, sponsor--political, social and economic rehabilitation. This is a long-term and high-cost undertaking. It is a much more difficult, much more complicated and much less understood mission. Is the United Nations getting too ambitious?

It has no choice but to try.

There are several manifestations of the U.N.'s changing role. The wrestling and wrangling evident in the Security Council's early Somalia deliberations on whether relief required security, or security required relief, was resolved by the startling discovery that each was dependent on the other. Similarly, the success of security and relief will not be sustained without political and economic rebuilding. For example, the warlords in Somalia must be replaced or combined with clan elders and other representative leadership to form a government, and jobs must be created, crops harvested and social services reinstituted. Lack of progress at any stage will grease the slide back into chaos.

The truth of this interconnectedness of peace-keeping and nation-building is both mind-boggling and purse-threatening. We resist its inherent complexity and the implicit commitment it demands of us.

The United States was mistaken in its plan to get the Marines in and out of Somalia fast, then turn over mop-up responsibilities to the United Nations. The Marines did a good job. The fighting was stopped. The starving were fed. But the security and stability the Marines created were incomplete and superficial. The United Nations was neither prepared nor equipped to take on the far-tougher countrywide assignment. Now, the U.S. military is active again in Somalia, with relief and rehabilitation programs effectively suspended, because the country's violent factions were not disarmed and a political restoration had not effectively begun.

Bosnia is, in many ways, a different case, where war is rampant--security and relief efforts are far more daunting and fragile--and the state of economic, social and political development is much more advanced to begin with. To the extent that the United Nations is engaged in nation-building there, it is in the form of activities--political and map negotiations--preliminary to it.

The United Nations recognizes that it is not enough to alleviate the terrible symptoms of a collapsing country. The underlying causes also have to be redressed. There is simply no way to abbreviate the process if dependence is to be shed and self-sufficiency is to be built. This must be done collectively, and can't happen quickly or without the cooperation of the indigenous population.

But the member states who authorize the United Nations to undertake comprehensive action in Somalia and elsewhere have demonstrated neither the will nor the capacity to back up their Security Council resolutions with the political, financial and institutional power necessary to give the efforts they endorse a decent chance at success. So the United Nations' intensified peacekeeping and simultaneous nation-building proceed on a lick and a prayer--with little margin for error, hoping for a miracle, but expecting plenty of blame in the event of failure. "Overstretched" as a description of the U.N. presence in Somalia, and in several other countries with similar problems, is a naive understatement.

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