Leading Article: Rwanda: a failure of international will

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The Independent Online
FRENCH military intervention in Rwanda conjures up forgotten imperial images from a bygone age of colonial power. But in reality it illustrates a truth that is all too up to date. That is the inability of the United Nations to muster the political willpower and military muscle to enforce a credible international order - except where the interests of its most prominent members are directly threatened.

Consider the following sequence of events. After a prolonged yet fruitless mediation effort by the UN Secretary-General, the ethnic war in Rwanda develops its own brutal military momentum. The small UN peacekeeping force is withdrawn after Belgian soldiers are murdered in cold blood, having been instructed by their superiors not to offer resistance (it could well be understood if Belgium refused ever to place its fighting men under UN authority again).

Next the public conscience of France is pricked by evidence of mass killings in a country where French diplomacy has long exercised influence. This coincides with the planning for Francois Mitterrand's visit to the new South Africa, thereby providing a classic opportunity for the Quai D'Orsay to cloak the pursuit of national interest in lofty humanitarian garb.

The UN Security Council, meanwhile, takes its time about resolving to send a better-armed force of about 2,000 men. Some of the African nations approached, such as Ghana and Zimbabwe, possess a serious military tradition, but all of them raise demands for equipment, air transport and cash. None of these negotiations appears to be infected by a spirit of urgency.

President Mitterrand decides to act, and French troops are deployed, very laudably, to protect civilians in western Rwanda. But their mission arouses controversy and may provoke a conflict with the victorious Rwandan faction. So the French hastily turn back to the UN, yesterday emphasising the need to deploy the promised multinational African force.

Rwanda, like Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, seems likely to go down as another grim example of tribal bloodshed worsened by international dithering. The war to free Kuwait showed that the big powers can act in concert when their own vital interests are at stake. In Rwanda, France perceived a matter of concern to her policy in Africa and acted unilaterally.

Paris has illustrated the contradictions of a UN which seeks to keep the peace but is dependent on the efforts of a few member states. The sooner the Security Council seriously addresses the need for preventive diplomacy and a rapid intervention force, the better.