Leading Article: What role for the UN in Bosnia?

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The Independent Online
ADEBATE, perhaps a row, is in the making over the extent of influence the United Nations should exert in the peace-keeping operation over which it should now soon be presiding in Bosnia. The word from the UN's headquarters in New York is that its Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, would have been very happy to divest the organisation of all responsibility for a conflict within Europe and hand it over to Nato. But numerous UN member states, including France, Russia and Pakistan, made it clear they would feel able to take part only if the UN were more than notionally involved: meaning that they would not be happy for the operation to be delegated, like Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait, to United States command, with the UN supplying only authorisation through Security Council resolutions.

The US, for its part, has traditionally been reluctant to commit substantial numbers of troops to any operation in which they would not answer to a US commander. The UN has, it seems, no quibble with such an arrangement in this instance. The question is how UN representation can be injected into the operation in a manner that answers the demands of participating member states, and also justifies financing the operation through the contributions of all UN members (an aspect of UN participation to which the budget-strapped Clinton administration will certainly have no objection).

In New York, a draft Security Council resolution is being drawn up, welcoming the Bosnian Serb acceptance of the Vance-Owen peace plan and calling on the Secretary-General to produce a paper on how the UN can help to implement it. A consultative paper has been drafted and circulated, covering such matters as the peace-keeping force's mandate, the basic premises of the operation and the need for a unified command. The document suggests that a special representative of the Secretary-General, Thorvald Stoltenberg (the former Norwegian foreign minister shortly to succeed Cyrus Vance as negotiator), should have power to co-ordinate the operation on behalf of the Secretary-General and the Security Council.

It is the word 'co-ordinate' that seems to have rung alarm bells in the Pentagon and in which the seeds of a row lie - even if, as expected, a US general or admiral is in overall charge, with a British general directing operations in Bosnia itself within a Nato command structure. To what extent does it imply an element of control? Whatever compromise is reached in further defining the word will have to give the UN enough say to satisfy those pressing for UN involvement, but not enough to make it difficult for Congress - and American public opinion - to back the dispatch of perhaps 20,000 US troops.

That the Bosnian Serbs have at last, albeit conditionally, accepted the Vance- Owen plan is due not just to pressure from the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and from the Greek and Russian governments, but also to well-timed US threats to use force in Bosnia. The task of troops charged with implementing the Vance-Owen plan will be one of unprecedented complexity and sensitivity. There can be little optimism about the chances of persuading either the Serbs or the Croats to surrender to Muslim control territory that they have fought to gain. But those chances will be greatly improved if the three warring factions know that the Americans are involved - and that world opinion, in the form of the UN, is fully behind the operation. It should not be beyond the bounds of either American or UN diplomacy to reach an agreement that leaves no doubt on either score.