LETTER: Too early to write off the UN

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From Mr Malcolm Harper

Sir: Your Diplomatic Editor, Michael Sheridan, reports ("Humiliation for UN as it ends Bosnia peace-keeping role", 19 September) that the United Nations will hand over to a Nato-dominated multilateral force in Bosnia- Herzegovina, in what he describes as "both an admission of failure and a political humiliation".

Ever since the troubles erupted in the Balkan region, many of us have asked why the UN had to become directly involved there. Surely, we argued, Europe (especially when the UN description of Europe, which includes Canada and the US, is used) has the capacity to resource and implement a regional response to a crisis within its borders?

Very sadly, Europe proved incapable of doing so. The one body, recognised under Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter and designed for such crises - the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - had never been properly resourced or structured. Had it been so, all the interested parties, including the Russians, would have been involved as equal partners. So instead, we looked to the European Union and to Nato to assist the UN's essential work in providing peace mediators, human rights monitors and air support. The Russians have never been at all happy with this.

Despite many frustrations (caused largely by the member states seriously under-resourcing it), the UN has reduced the level of violence in Bosnia- Herzegovina. It has brought much-needed humanitarian assistance to many victims of the war. It has provided a legitimacy and a framework for attempts to broker a negotiated settlement and it has established a war crimes tribunal.

Failure and humiliation? Do these not belong rather to the member states of the OSCE? Of course, Nato can only assume this new role if the UN Security council (including the Russians) authorises it to do so. And who will spearhead a comprehensive reconciliation and reconstruction programme as and when the fighting stops? Nato? The EU? We will surely make that demand of the UN.

Yours sincerely,

Malcolm Harper

Director, UN Association of

Great Britain and

Northern Ireland

London, SW1