E. Thomas Rowe
The involvement of the United Nations (UN) in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia was not one of the happier chapters in the life of the organization. It was expected to undertake enormous, varied and often conflicting responsibilities, without adequate authority, personnel, financing or other resources necessary to carry out its tasks. It operated in a context of intense ethnic hostility where an impartial observer could absolve none of the parties to the conflict of some responsibility for terrible violence and violations of human rights. It also faced a situation where major countries -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and others -- often had differing policies and interests and limited abilities to reach sufficient agreement to give clear direction or strong support to UN operations. Those countries also often held the UN responsible, particularly before the public, for failures attributable to their own policies or over which the UN had little control.
Despite all of the above and the clear inability of the UN to have as positive an impact as it sought, the final assessment of the UN role is likely to be mixed -- failure to accomplish much of what it sought to do but a modest level of successful achievements nonetheless. The UN and its agencies provided more emergency relief, saved more lives and played a larger role in preventing the spread of the violence to other areas than any other governmental or non- governmental organizations involved. It also established precedents that may prove institutionally significant in future conflicts and situations involving massive violations of human rights. It is also true, of course, that UN