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
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
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. …