The U.N. in Liberia


The United Nations Security Council moved a step toward accepting the role of subduing anarchy within a nation by calling the fighting in Liberia "a serious threat to international peace and security."

Liberia's neighbors in West Africa sought the resolution, which clamps an embargo on arms to Liberian belligerents similar to those on Iraq and Yugoslavia. The embargo is pointed at Libya, which has provided Charles Taylor with training and arms. The resolution exempts and supports the 15,000-man force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) dominated by Nigeria, which has prevented the rebel Mr. Taylor from sacking the capital, Monrovia.

So far, the only international dimension to Liberia's trauma is the intervention by ECOWAS. In the past, the U.N. would have treated Mr. Taylor's rebellion, which controls most of the countryside, a domestic matter of little international interest.

The precedent of Liberia may yet be the only way a concerned world can feed the people of Somalia, whose armed thugs steal the food sent them. The world community is moving closer to accepting such options as legitimate. The end of Cold War rivalry allows nations to tolerate more generously each other's interventions in the affairs of third parties.

The United Nations is getting more deeply involved in Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia and, now, Liberia. Yet the United Nations is nothing but machinery allowing its members to act collectively. So far, such members as Nigeria and the United States have sufficiently similar views for this to work, though the strains are great.

Greater pressure on Mr. Taylor is needed to bring Monrovia and the countryside back to normal life and allow the Liberian people a free choice of who should govern them, which might well turn out to be Mr. Taylor. But the global significance of what is going on should not be overlooked.

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