An African intervention force? U.S. idea: A plan to support and equip troops to move in when neighbors break down.


THE U.S. ATTEMPT to organize and subsidize an all-African intervention force to deal with political breakdown in African countries, is well-intended but faces huge hurdles. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) welcomes such a force only if it is not permanent.

The OAU has wanted to create an emergency response force of its own, based on national detachments trained and equipped to respond to crises. United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali failed to organize such a force to forestall genocide in Burundi. West African countries led by Nigeria intervened in Liberia when chaos descended. Their army was welcomed by Liberian civilians but increasingly is caught up in corruption and conflict.

The American impulse led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher comes from frustration over that tragedy. Modeled on and long influenced by the United States, Liberia has disintegrated into rival murderous factions, with the U.S. both unable and unwilling to intervene.

A former cardinal principle of the OAU was non-intervention by African countries in each other's affairs. But in the agony from societal breakdown in several countries, African governments have moved toward responsible intervention. Peace-keeping in Liberia is the prime example. The East African embargo on Burundi after the coup is another. South African President Nelson Mandela's pressure on Nigeria to expand human rights is a third.

The U.S. proposal is that African countries create a force able intervene to save life, not fight other armies, with developed countries providing logistic support, equipment and training. The administration is willing to help fund, organize and equip such a force, but only in concert with others. This might never find approval from a Republican Congress. But it won't come to that unless more European and African countries sign on than are now apparent.

Pub Date: 10/02/96

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