Constancio Pinto learned his hardest lesson in foreign affairs
long before he started graduate studies in international relations
here in the US. After Indonesian troops killed some 200 peaceful
demonstrators in his hometown of Dili, East Timor, in November 1991,
he expected the world to jump to his people's aid.
"We thought a peacekeeping force would come days after the
massacre," he recalls. "After three days, we didn't hear
anything.... People were so disappointed with the UN at that time."
Eight years later, Mr. Pinto will finally see blue helmets in
East Timor. The United Nations is drawing up plans for its troops to
replace a multinational force led by Australia, which is anxious to
leave and cut its expenses.
Both East Timor and the UN have the opportunity to extricate
themselves from a difficult period. After East Timorese
overwhelmingly voted for independence Aug. 30, pro-Indonesia
militiamen terrorized the territory, sending hundreds of thousands
of people running from their homes.
Last week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined his ambitious
proposals for the world body to take full control - of both the
civil administration and defense - on the tiny half island. The
Security Council is expected to sanction this broad mandate this
month, including a proposed 9,000-strong force that may arrive in
December, a quarter century after Indonesia invaded the territory.
Critics say that Mr. Annan naively accepted Jakarta's promises to
ensure security, despite reports alleging the Indonesian army's
complicity in violence against East Timorese during the months
leading up to the UN-run referendum. Annan contends that he had no
choice because Indonesia had sovereignty.
The debate comes in a particularly difficult year for the world
body. It is charged with promoting international peace and security.
Yet its peacekeeping force has dwindled to some 13,000 from a 1993
high of 80,000, even as the number of conflicts has grown in the
same period. And it took a back seat to NATO in Kosovo.
Now East Timor symbolizes a possible turning point. It will be
one of several new missions. Blue helmets are expected to replace
regional forces in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
as well as Ethiopia and Eritrea. The organization has already taken
over the reconstruction of a charred Kosovo, creating from scratch a
judiciary, a police force, and virtually all the trappings of a
But while NATO enforces peace in Kosovo, UN peacekeepers will
assume that responsibility in East Timor. Indeed, East Timor's
reconstruction, estimated to cost more than $500 million in the
first year, would be the world body's biggest operation since the
$1.6 billion effort in Cambodia seven years ago. It oversaw a
Vietnamese pullout, ran elections that steered Cambodia toward
democracy, sent in 16,000 troops, and created a transitional
It is not surprising that peacekeeping is on the upswing after
1994's disaster in Somalia forced a decline, says David Malone, the
president of the New York-based International Peace Academy and a
former Canadian diplomat to the UN. "Having tried to do without
them, there's been a realization that there's no alternative."
Just how long UN peacekeeping remains on an upswing may depend on
its performance in East Timor. Soldiers in blue helmets will have to
deal with militiamen who are believed to be regrouping and preparing
for another offensive.
Bernard Miyet, the peacekeeping department's chief, says many
soldiers from the multinational force will be transferred to the UN
mission. But the Australian force will be significantly reduced, and
there will be a greater proportion of Asian soldiers in order to
allay political concerns. Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove may be replaced
by an Asian chief.
Increasing the proportion of Asian troops will likely make the UN
force more averse to risk, as Asian nations have historically
objected to proactive UN military forces. …