The Impact on the United Nations of Security Developments in Europe

Article excerpt

The security relationship between the United Nations and Europe has become more entwined than ever before in the decade since the end of the cold war. What is new in Europe is the emergence of a variety of actual and potential conflict situations that require limited response, as opposed to defense against a massive military threat.

Today's international force in Kosovo and the NATO-led (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) force in Bosnia and Herzegovina operate under UN mandate. The civilian United Nations Mission in Kosovo is led by a French official, appointed by and responsible to the Secretary-General. Earlier, the United Nations conducted, in a veritable combat zone, a humanitarian relief operation in Bosnia, under the protection of a UN-mandated force of 15,000 troops. In addition, a sizeable UN force was deployed as a preventive measure in Macedonia. Such UN operations were unheard of in the days of the cold war when European security was governed by the NATO-Warsaw Pact stand-off.

On-the-ground involvement of the United Nations in a continent which boasts the most sophisticated security alliance in history might seem redundant. Yet, this decade has taught us that security can be jeopardized in many ways short of military attack, and preserving it requires more than military capabilities. The United Nations offers tools and experience in conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building that can be adapted to European needs today. At the same time, many of Europe's well-developed security institutions may provide lessons or "best practices" for the United Nations itself and for other regions. To make possible such mutual benefit however, it is urgent to develop effective communication and information exchange among the several European security institutions and between them and the United Nations.

Despite the frictions and unseemly polemics which have sometimes characterized early cooperative efforts with the United Nations, considerable progress has been made in Bosnia. Post-conflict operations in Kosovo may also benefit from a clear commitment to work together among the several institutions involved.

Among European security institutions, NATO is clearly the foundation, the chief forum for discussions about developing crises and for military planning and operations to deal with them. However, a number of other organizations also have important roles to play, especially in preventing or defusing crises and in the repair or renewal of civil society after a conflict has ended. Across a spectrum, from military through political to economic focus, they include the Western European Union (WEU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each has its own founding history, purpose and membership, although there is overlap among them. Many countries in and outside Europe belong to or are affiliated with two or more of these institutions. All have undergone considerable change in facing the challenges that have pressed Europe since the end of the cold war.

NATO has admitted three new members from central and eastern Europe and has developed partnership relations with a number of countries of the former Soviet bloc. It has also adapted from a defensive mode to one capable of mounting limited peacemaking operations. Earlier in the decade, NATO could hardly conceive of such engagement to the point where a NATO spokesman admitted privately that involvement in Bosnia would be "the end of NATO".

The EU has now begun to think of itself as an instrument to promote security in a broad sense. It has already admitted three new members from northern and central Europe, is negotiating with six more aspirants and will likely expand that list soon. The mere possibility of EU membership has inspired several States in Europe to resolve potential disputes. …