Cambodia was going to be the testing ground of the new activist United Nations. Now Yugoslavia will be. The Security Council is moving forward with a plan to send 13,000 troops to keep the cease-fire that has been agreed in Croatia. It would be the largest U.N. force since the Congo (now Zaire) in 1960, and the first on the European mainland. Yet the classic conditions to allow peace-keeping do not exist. The apparent purpose of the force would be to create those conditions.
Peace-keeping rests on the agreement of the disputing parties to the peace to be kept. Absent that, peace-keeping troops can be made targets and become participants, escalating rather than quelling the conflict.
War-weary Serbia and Croatia have agreed to a cease-fire after seven months of fighting, while Serbian insurgents and federal Yugoslav army units occupy one-third of Croatia. Yugoslav and Serbian leaders endorse peace-keeping to last one year. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman supports it for six months, suspicious that it would solidify Serbian control of occupied Croatia. But Milan Babic, leader of the break-away Serbian enclave of Krajina, in Croatia, defies the plan and says it "would certainly cause many casualties."
A deep split has developed between super-militant Serbian minorities outside Serbia, and Serbia's regime. President Slobodan Milosevic wants the peace kept because the fighting has wrecked Serbia's economy, spread crime and lost the support of many Serbians. But there is no compromise in the Serbian ethnic leaders of isolated Krajina.
None of this has dissuaded U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali or his mediator in the area, former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who believe the force should be sent. Reportedly the five permanent members of the Security Council agree. President Bush has asked Congress for $700 million to pay the U.S. cost. Some 30 nations have been asked to provide troops, though not Yugoslavia's immediate neighbors or Germany, which is barred by its own constitution and is seen as pro-Croatian.
It is in every nation's interest that Yugoslavian disputes be settled peacefully. But it is dangerous to send a large body of troops where one of the disputant parties calls them unwelcome. If the Krajina insurgents are determined that the peace not be kept, it will not be, and U.N. troops would indeed be made targets and perhaps participants. That is a high risk for all the countries that would send the peace-keepers, and for the young foreign soldiers of good will, whose quarrel this is not.