Issue 2 - Article 3

Boutros-Ghali Accepts UN’s Limitations

September 1, 1994
Richard Dowden

Just as this Newsletter was being prepared for despatch to our printers, the following article appeared in the UK newspaper The Independent on 27th October 1994. Because of its significance and interest to RRN members we decided to include it in the Newsletter. Our thanks to Richard Dowden and The Independent for permission to reproduce it.

“The United Nations cannot use more force in Bosnia because states contributing troops to the UN Protection Force in Bosnia will withdraw their personnel, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General said in London this week. But he added that a fall-back position has been prepared if they are forced to withdraw. `The problem is the member states are not ready to do peace enforcement’ said Mr Boutros-Ghali in an interview with the Independent.

`The 36 members who are participating in the operation have done so on the basis of a peace-keeping operation. They have not the necessary equipment to do peace enforcement. So how can we do peace enforcement? NATO air strikes will not solve the problem and our troops will be in danger.’

The UN Secretary General had an even tougher response to US pressure to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia. `It’s very simple. The message I receive from Great Britain, from France, Spain, Canada and Russia that if the embargo is lifted they will withdraw their troops. So if I want to keep troops on the ground for humanitarian reasons, for political reasons, for protecting the Muslims. I have to take this into account.’ But he added: `I have already done a study a few months ago at a meeting with [UN commander in Bosnia] General Rose to discuss our fall-back position and that position is now prepared.’

Mr Boutros-Ghali, who once dreamed of a UN army ready to quell local disputes, anywhere in the world, now accepts that most UN operations are under-funded and under-equipped.

`You have to accept second-best and if not second-best you have to accept third-best’ in peace-keeping operations, he said. Since the optimism of his first year in office, Mr Boutros-Ghali said he had learnt to accept failures and admitted that the UN had made mistakes. We have to accept the setbacks’ he dais. Our impression was that once the UN intervenes there must be success and this was wrong.’

The second problem the UN had was under-funding, especially for peace-keeping operations. Describing himself as a super-beggar who must borrow what he can from member states, he said `You ask for US$130 million and you get US$30 million … I have no power in this. I just borrow the power from the member states.’

The UN still has a deficit of US$1.3 billion (£733 million), he said, and many poorer countries could not afford to offer troops unless they were paid immediately. He was critical of richer countries who have become less willing to provide money, troops and equipment but would not directly criticise Washington’s decision to subject every request from the UN to intense scrutiny.

Mr Boutros-Ghali welcomed the British-backed initiative on preventative diplomacy which aims to identify problems before they break out in military conflict and send teams of experienced diplomats to attempt negotiation. `It will cost 10 times less than what you will pay in case of a disaster.’

He was also critical of discrepancy in the UN’s treatment of different countries, pointing out that there were thousands of UN troops in former Yugoslavia but none in Georgia where President Eduard Shevardnadze had appealed for help. He also said that, even with all the media exposure of Rwanda, there were still only 4,000 UN troops, 1,500 short of the number agreed in the Security Council Resolution.

`You may be shocked for purely ethical reasons but we have to accept this. Everyone is equal but some persons are more equal. This is a political body and the member states have national interests so they will obtain a resolution in their favour and not pay attention to others.’

In Angola and Afghanistan more people were dying than in Bosnia, he said. `My role is to correct this distortion, to put things in the limelight … but as long as you do not receive the financial support of the member states what can you do?’

On Somalia, however, the Secretary-General appears to have accepted the US view that the Somalis have had their chance and the UN should now withdraw its operation. It will be wound down over the next three months, leaving the political situation even further from resolution than it was when the UN first sent troops three years ago.

Mr Boutros-Ghali said it had cost an average of US$ 3 million a day and that hundreds of soldiers had died. He accepted that the UN might be dragged back to Somalia by reports of starvation in a year’s time, but he said: `There is no political will there to solve the problem. It is like an addict who does not want to be cured … How can we impose our will on them. We are there to keep the peace, we are there to help them but if they do not want to be helped …'”

Richard Dowden is Diplomatic Editor of The Independent newspaper, London.


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