Disorder between war and peace

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The Independent Online
'YOU cannot make peace and war at the same time.' That was the verdict last week of one who should know: General Bob Gaudreau, the deputy force commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia. Yet the United Nations and the United States, in Bosnia and in Somalia this week, have ignored General Gaudreau's warning and continued with their misguided efforts to make peace and war at the same time by using armed force for the distribution of humanitarian aid. The UN Secretary-General has just announced a decision to send another 7,500 troops to Bosnia and said that he would send many more if he could find them.

It is becoming increasingly clear that those who send in such troops as are prepared to go have no distinct notion of what the troops are supposed to achieve. The death of the Vance-Owen plan, the European Community's design for a future Bosnia, was announced in this newspaper yesterday. The plan is dead all right, but I don't know that the reality of its demise has yet been accepted by the indefatigable Lord Owen or by the EC.

However that may be, it remains dead. Its death is not to be mourned. On the contrary; what it represented was a dangerous illusion. It was hyped, especially by Lord Owen, as a way of avoiding military intervention. But if it had been taken seriously and an attempt made to 'police' it - as required by the plan itself - that would have involved the large-scale military intervention that the plan was supposedly designed to avoid.

Yet the West is left without any policy at all for former Bosnia, as we must now call it, except to throw more troops at it and hope for the best. Sorry, there is a policy: the provision of safe areas for Muslims. Unfortunately some of the safe areas provided by the UN are among the most unsafe areas on earth. Meanwhile the Muslims, the objects of much Western compassion, have been creating real safe areas for themselves, by annexing and ethnically cleansing extensive areas formerly held by Croats.

If the arms embargo is to be lifted for the benefit of the Muslims, a project still cherished by President Bill Clinton, we may expect further Muslim triumphs of the same kind. In this way we would be encouraging the very type of atrocities we have been trying to stop when perpetrated by Serbs. In reality, there is nothing to choose between the armed factions of the three ethnic groups. They all behave the same way, given a chance.

The innocent victims are the civilians - women, children and old people - in all three ethnic groups. Foreign military intervention can bring temporary relief to civilians in some places. But the general tendency of intervention of that kind is to complicate, extend and intensify the civil wars, thus increasing the level of human misery. It would be better to leave the armed factions to partition former Bosnia between them as best they can, and in as short order. This is a civil war: not a 'problem' that the West, or the UN, can solve.

I have written sometimes of 'the West', sometimes of 'the UN'. There is no longer any substantial distinction between the two. Since the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union, the Security Council, by and large, decrees whatever the three Western permanent members require of it. What happens following any particular decree depends on how seriously the Western countries intend the decree to be taken.

Where Western vital interests are seen to be involved - as over Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait - the apparent consequences of a Security Council decree can be so awe-inspiring as to induce the illusion of a New World Order. But where the vital interests of the West are not seen to be involved - as over Bosnia, Cambodia or Somalia - the authority of the UN looks less impressive, because Western enforcers are not available. But the ghost of the New World Order still haunts the international scene, impelling the West and the UN into partial and half-hearted military involvement in various local conflicts to no good purpose.

Bosnia is bad, but Somalia is even worse. There the endeavour to make peace and war at the same time is having grisly consequences, in an Orwellian framework. To use soldiers for humanitarian purposes is to use them for purposes contrary to those for which they are trained, and all kinds of confusion result. For example, concentration of force is a basic military principle, but the distribution of humanitarian aid requires the dispersion of forces, which become vulnerable to attack from local armed bands, whose attacks then invite retaliation.

This has all been happening in Somalia. First, a party of 80 Pakistani soldiers in a factory became a tempting target for General Mohamed Farah Aideed's men, who attacked, killing more than 20 Pakistanis. Then a Pakistani unit, understandably in a vengeful mood, opened fire on Somali demonstrators, killing about the same number of them, including some women and children.

United Nations' spokesmen originally suggested that members of the crowd fired on the Pakistanis. Later that story was dropped, and a spokesman claimed that armed men were 'among' the demonstrators, using women and children as a human screen. It was clearly implied that it is legitimate for UN forces in such cases to shoot women and children in order to get at the villains who are using them as a screen.

The great humanitarian enterprise is taking a peculiar turn. President Clinton had been itching for air strikes, somewhere, to win back some of his lost popularity. The European allies denied him that satisfaction in Bosnia, but General Aideed - hurriedly replacing Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia as top baddie - has provided him with the necessary pretext. So the West is now helping the Somalis by bombing the hell out of them.

What is most depressing and alarming about these episodes is the level of ineptness, and worse, which they reveal in the leadership of the West. True, the European leaders shine, relatively speaking, in comparison with the Americans. But the European Community also bears a heavy responsibility. By premature recognition of successor states in former Yugoslavia, it raised a local civil war to the stature of an international conflict, thus making matters far worse. To think of these people running a New World Order would be laughable if it were not frightening. As we say in Ireland, they're not fit to mind mice at a crossroads.