By Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
CONSIDER them efforts to prevent another Bosnia. Since March, United Nations diplomats and staff members have made 30 mostly unpublicized trips to try to cool down tensions between countries.
All these trips fall under a new formal category of activity at the UN: preventive diplomacy.
The concept was publicly embraced by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his June report, "Agenda for Peace."
One of the UN's aims, said Mr. Boutros-Ghali, is "To seek to identify at the earliest possible stage situations that could produce conflict, and to try through diplomacy to remove the sources of danger before violence results...." He calls preventive diplomacy "most desirable and efficient." Vladimir Petrovsky, the UN's undersecretary general for political affairs, predicts that preventive diplomacy will become "one of the major activities" at the UN.
In March, the UN started to develop a capacity for monitoring potential conflicts by setting up a new department of political affairs in the Secretariat, the UN's administrative arm. The department, divided into geographic divisions, watches for emerging disputes, collects and analyzes information regarding the disputes, and develops possible alternatives for peaceful dispute resolution.
UN officials say the missions have already scored some successes. In July, the UN sent a fact-finding mission to Moldova, which was just beginning an armed conflict with Russia. After the UN team arrived, the two sides began negotiating. Mr. Petrovsky says the mission prevented the dispute from becoming a full-scale war. "I am sure of it," states Petrovsky, who was a high official in the former Soviet Union.
Sometimes, the missions are more informal, simply listed as "goodwill visits." Petrovsky says the UN sent a goodwill team to the Solomon Islands on Oct. 16 at the request of the Solomon Islands government. The aim of the mission is to discuss deteriorating relations between the Solomons and Papua New Guinea over the rebellion on Bougainville Island.
For the UN, the appeal of preventive diplomacy is relatively simple: It is much cheaper to resolve a dispute early than to send in thousands of troops later. The estimated cost of the Cambodia peacekeeping forces for 15 months, for example, is $1.7 billion out of a total peacekeeping budget of $2.6 billion.
"If preventive diplomacy is effective 10 percent of the time, it is still going to be more cost effective in terms of picking up the pieces afterwards and the huge devastation that occurs in armed conflict," says Connie Peck, who is a consultant to the Australian government, one of the nations supporting the UN's new effort.
An example of how the UN is trying to do that today is the attempt by UN officials, including those of the US, to keep the Angola civil war from flaring up again. UN officials, including US Ambassador to the UN Edward Perkins, flew to Angola in mid-October to try to reduce tensions after the elections.
"Typically, the Security Council has waited until after a dispute has boiled over to be involved and what we are suggesting is it would be good to devote more resources to prevention when disputes are still disputes," says Dr. Peck, a senior research fellow at La Trobe University Institute for Peace Research in Melbourne, Australia.
In a way, the UN has done this in the past, although it has not made it part of a strategic blueprint, as it is now doing. "The UN has done it when the parties felt they had climbed out on a limb too far and wanted help getting down," says Enid Schoettle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
THE most famous case of "quiet diplomacy" may have been UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's eventual success at getting back 11 US servicemen shot down over the People's Republic of China on Jan. …