Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can the UN Perform?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can the UN Perform?

Article excerpt

The photograph is striking: it shows 180 world leaders massed together during the United Nations' recent Millennium Summit. The leaders had all signed a statement favoring peace, democracy, and the welfare of children. Do we think, therefore, that we now have an effective model for dealing with hot spots on our often turbulent globe?

Unfortunately, no, as the facts bear out. The UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone is still being torn apart by internal disagreements and recriminations. A specialist who recently resigned from the UN mission in East Timor published a scathing critique of the mission's high-handed, antidemocratic approach there. And have you visited the home page of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently? At, you can always see what is happening - despite UN presence - to many of the world's most marginalized and vulnerable peoples.

There are many reasons for the distressing performance of many UN missions. The lack of true commitment to the UN's goals by the world's "sole superpower" here in America is part of that story. But there are other reasons, too, as evidenced in the analysis of the UN's Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), published recently by former UNTAET official, Jarat Chopra.

The UN has not adapted itself well to the post-cold-war era. Back in the old days, the UN would only send peacekeepers into places where there was an existing peace to keep, as committed to by the responsible political authorities on both sides. But over the past decade, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been sent into places where there is little peace to keep. Such "fuzzy" operations cry out for a high degree of political smarts by the missions' leaders.

That much has been crystal clear since the debacles in Somalia in the early 1990s. But inside the relevant UN bodies, there is still a disturbing rift between people of military background (who accuse most diplomats of being lousy administrators) and political specialists (who accuse generals of being deaf to political considerations).

According to Mr. Chopra, writing in the London journal Survival, that rift continues inside the UN mission in East Timor. …

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