In Global Peacekeeping, Might May Prove to Be More Effective Than Right

By Grier, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 1994 | Go to article overview
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In Global Peacekeeping, Might May Prove to Be More Effective Than Right


Grier, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


IF you see two boys pummeling each other in the street, the proper way to make peace is to step in and impartially pull them apart. Adults seldom take the side of one child and help finish the other off.

Both the United States and the United Nations typically begin from a similar principle when they approach peacekeeping operations. It's a policy that sounds like common sense: Intervention in wars and civil conflicts should be impartial and should involve only a limited use of force.

But fighting factions are not children, nor international peacekeepers analogous to adults. The temptation to be prudent, even-handed, and restrained in peacekeeping situations such as Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina should be resisted, according to Prof. Richard Betts of Columbia University in New York.

Impartiality makes sense when the UN or some big power sends peacekeepers simply to bless a cease-fire that combatants have already accepted. But it doesn't work in today's messy situations where order has broken down and fighting continues, argues Mr. Betts in an upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

"The attempt to be both impartial and limited in intervention is a mistake," says Betts.

War, he says, is about who rules when the smoke clears.

Many diplomats in the West may forget this, or ignore it, and believe that by even-handedly enforcing a halt in bitter fighting, both sides will realize that to take up the gun was a grievous error.

Such a peacekeeping attitude can in fact hurt the innocent bystanders it is meant to help, according to Betts.

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