Leading Article: Compare and contrast

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The Independent Online
THE spectacle of American special forces sneaking up the beaches of Somalia into the full glare of television lights should not obscure the seriousness of the enterprise and the issues it raises. This is a large, risky and unprecedented operation that will have a profound effect on how - and even whether - American power is deployed in the post-

Communist world. Success will generate confidence to repeat the experiment. Failure will encourage already strong pressures towards isolationism. The Somalia experience could set the pattern for the next decade.

The moral case for the operation is overwhelming. There is no need to look for motives much beyond pressure from the American people, who could not face tucking into Christmas dinners while watching Somali children starving to death on television. Their support (66 per cent, according to polls) shows the American character at its best - generous, brave and imaginative. During the Cold War these qualities were too often frustrated or contaminated by power politics. Now they can be liberated.

But what are the chances of success? The tactics are as typically American as the motivation: deploy overwhelming power, fix the problem and get out quick. The size of the force is out of all proportion to the actual task of protecting aid convoys but it makes sense in so far as it is calculated to render opposition unthinkable and thereby reduce casualties. Its initial effect has been to send the armed bands running for cover. The more serious problems will come when it starts to withdraw. Ideally, it will leave behind a functioning Somali government. More probably, substantial forces will be needed for some time. At that point the burden will have to be shared more equitably with other members of the United Nations if Somalia is not to be dropped back into anarchy.

For the moment, the contrast with Bosnia could scarcely be starker. It is not hard to imagine the thoughts of the Muslims there, freezing, starving and dying, as they hear of the massive forces deployed to save Somalia. Why are they not entitled to the same help? Why is the United Nations cruising around their roads in its white vehicles without protecting them?

The short answer is feasibility. The Americans judge Somalia to present a simpler problem. Militarily and politically, it offers the chance of a quick fix. Bosnia is a quagmire. But the question cannot be disposed of so easily. The Western alliance has more at stake in Bosnia than in Somalia: its credibility is in jeopardy and the danger of a Balkan war is growing. Yet the scale of effort has become inverted. The forces deployed in Bosnia would be nearly sufficient to bring food to Somalia, while the quantities landing in Somalia could overwhelm the Serbs.

Without suggesting close parallels, the discrepancy of effort is worrying. In Bosnia, Western forces suffer daily humiliation because they have been dragged in piecemeal without receiving the authority or fire power to prevail. If the Americans were to enter the conflict on the same scale as in Somalia, primarily from the air, the Serbs would probably behave much as the armed bands in Somalia. Although the long-term outcome would be as difficult to guarantee, the risks are coming to seem less than those of continuing the present level of ineffectual intervention.