Washington -- Another good idea has come and nearly gone in Bosnia where the shelling and starvation of Sarajevo's civilian population continues. The Rapid Reaction Force, conceived by France and Great Britain during the hostage crisis, will, it now appears, be neither rapid nor forceful. Its operation will be subject to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's normal U.N. rules of engagement and will need the permission of his personal representative, Yasushi Akashi, for the use of force.
That being the case, it hardly matters that 1,300 French and 650 British soldiers are already assembled and in training near Toneslavgrad and that 75 U.S. airmen have arrived at Split to help (Sic!) in the arrival of a British contingent and 300 German troops.
If existing plans are implemented, the force will be able to do nothing useful, except, perhaps, help in evacuating U.N. peacekeeping forces. Instead it will go the way of planned NATO air strikes, of no-fly zones, "secure towns," of delivering food by air drops, and all the other plans to help the civilian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina survive the Serb sieges, shellings and destruction.
Each of these good ideas has been declared unacceptable by Bosnia's supreme decision-makers -- Messrs. Akashi and Boutros-Ghali -- who, one decision at a time, have rendered "peacekeepers" as helpless as the civilian populations they came to defend. To submit the Rapid Reaction Force to the perverse philosophy and tactics of the secretary general and his "personal representative" is to ensure that it becomes impotent and demoralized.
These are the "commanders" who authored the "rules of engagement" that guaranteed the failure of U.N. peacekeepers, assured success to Serbian aggressors and annihilation to their victims. It is, of course, the secretary general who chose his "special representative" and who devised the tactics that place young men in danger without adequate means to defend themselves, with instructions to surrender their arms on request, to permit themselves to be captured without resistance, to be taken hostage, humiliated and ridiculed. These commanders are always ready with concessions to the demands of Serbian aggressors.
A Rapid Reaction Force operating under such rules and such commanders will be as impotent as NATO has become under these rules and commanders. But, of course, the responsibility for such a development will not ultimately be Mr. Boutros-Ghali's. The responsibility for action and inaction remains with the governments who deploy the forces, cast the votes in the U.N. Security Council, and who acquiesce in the cowardly capitulations and unauthorized revisions of Security Council resolutions.
It is the governments that have acquiesced in the policy of peace-keeper "neutrality" that for three years refused to distinguish between aggressors and victims, though the reporters and other observers in the region have had no problem in seeing who has driven whom from their homes and villages, and who is shelling whom.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali conceived these and other ideas concerning peacekeeping, but member-states accepted them -- each for its own reason. The British, perhaps, to forestall much U.N. activity unwelcome to the Serbs; the French, perhaps, to prevent NATO from assuming a dominant role in this first post-Cold War conflict on the continent of Europe; the United States, perhaps, because this is the only way the Clinton administration can see to support the United Nations; the Russians, perhaps, because the U.N. Secretariat has magnified the Russian voice and its role.
There has never been anything quite like Mr. Boutros-Ghali's conception of peacekeeping with its strange ideas of an "impartial use of force," where care is taken never to change the military balance of power on the ground to the advantage of one of the warring parties -- even if one of the warring parties is engaged in wiping out the other.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali's conception of peacekeeping has very nearly destroyed post-Cold War hopes for collective security. But this only could have happened because member-states acquiesced in the secretary general's conceptions and the policies based on them. It could only happen because member states agreed to fund his policies, to staff them and to overlook their failure.
That failure is becoming ever more impossible to ignore or excuse. The U.N. failure in Bosnia is no greater than its failure in Somalia, but because the effort is more closely tied to NATO and the Western European Union, the repercussions will be greater.
NATO -- having submitted to Mr. Akashi's permissions and vetoes -- has been seriously compromised. The Rapid Reaction Force has already lost its capacity to act independently -- even before it had the capacity to act. Instead of controlling violence as intended, NATO and the United Nations are being destroyed by the violence they failed to control and the loss of credibility that accompanies this failure -- much as the League of Nations was destroyed before them.
0 Jeane Kirkpatrick is a syndicated columnist.