LONDON — London -- It looks increasingly likely, as the refugee flood breaks its banks, that we are going to see the U.S. do in Haiti what it has refused to do in Bosnia and Rwanda -- ask the U.N. for authorization to send in its troops.
But there has been no indication that the Clinton administration has learned from the Somali fiasco the necessity of placing its troops fully under U.N. command, rather than running a parallel operation.
The U.N. system of peace keeping and peace enforcement is being eclipsed by free-lance operations run by any power that has guns and will go -- the French in Rwanda, the Russians in Georgia. In both the cases, appeals to the U.N. to organize proper multinational peace-keeping operations ran into U.S. opposition on the Security Council. The U.S. was neither prepared to offer its own troops or to fund or vote for anyone else's. (Although with Rwanda, too late, it changed its position on funding and logistical aid.)
The situation in Haiti suggests that President Clinton would make adreadful mistake if he merely sought a U.N. blessing for an autonomous American operation, as the French did in Rwanda (and received) and the Russians did in Georgia (and did not receive).
First, unlike the French in Rwanda, the U.S. could easily recruit countries to be part of a joint U.N. force in Haiti. A number of Latin American and Caribbean countries have already indicated
Second, if Mr. Clinton wants to avoid a repeat of the similar situation in 1915 when America invaded Haiti to depose a blood-stained dictator, and then stayed for 19 years, only to leave with its tail between its legs, the politics of Haiti basically unchanged, its best hope lies in a U.N. operation. Then the anti-American venom that lies deep in the Haitian armed forces can be neutralized.
The U.N. has a working rule that no single country should contribute more than 30 percent of the troops to a particular peace-keeping operation. This makes sense, even though in the case of Rwanda it precluded building a U.N. operation around the French offer to go in, since no other power had the will and the logistical capability to join in. Haiti poses no such problem.
Should a U.N. operation in Haiti be a peace-keeping or a peace-enforcement exercise? The former can only really work if both sides -- the exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the army -- agree that they accept the U.N.'s presence. The army doesn't. So peace enforcement will be necessary -- imposing the will of the international community by the use of force.
Peace enforcement failed in Somalia, mainly because of Gen. Mohammed Farrah Aidid's shrewd direction of his guerrillas. Is the Haitian army commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, made of similar stuff? And if he is, would enough Haitians stand with him?
The answer to the first question is probably no. For all its internal violence Haiti is not essentially a war-like culture, as the Somali desert tribes are. Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic has been for many years one of the quietest in the world. The Haitian army has no experience of war.
Most Haitians would probably welcome a U.N. force, as long as it were not U.S.-dominated. The middle and upper classes who have long supported the generals are now seriously divided. Those who earn a living by commerce or industry are hurt by sanctions and desperately want a return to normalcy.
Usually I'm against enforcement. And since Somalia I've entertained serious doubts about American participation in peace keeping. But Haiti is an exception. It is part of America's backyard. It is probably doable without much actual fighting. On balance President Clinton should decide to go in, but without bending U.N. rules or sidestepping the U.N. chain of command.
Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.