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Volume 9 Number 3
1 June 2000

With each unfolding international crisis and the inevitable intervention come the tired accusations of who is to blame this time round. Damage control is not about intervening to save the lives of the innocent and helpless from their own kin, but about saving political face in the international media. The crisis does not really matter, whether it is in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda or Kosovo, as the issues remain the same. Rarely are the internal issues addressed, which are unique to the crisis, and thus hold the key to a possible just resolution. Instead, debates around responses to international crises and interventions nearly always focus on the role and effectiveness of UN peace missions. Recently, they eyes of the world were on Sierra Leone.It has become commonplace to use the UN to hide a country`s own foreign policy failures. The US has done this rather often. To many critics, if Jesse Jackson is the only person whom Washington could send to broker an ill-fated peace between Sankoh and Sierra Leone through Charles Taylor of Liberia, it shows how misguided American foreign policy is towards the resolution of Africa`s problems. If, as the same critics charge, the UN was forced to forgo American military assistance in the present peace mission because the Pentagon was charging too much for its own planes, then something is wrong.

It is equally true that the UN can —- and sometimes does — hide behind the failures of the superpowers. The tragedy in Sierra Leone has shown up some of them. Firstly, any peace mission will fail if the mandate changes, but the troops on the ground remain the same. Secondly, poor planning will quite likely result in mission creep. The line between peacekeeping and peace enforcement was crossed well before the UN force realised it. Thirdly, any peace mission needs clear rules of engagement. The whole UN troop hostage-taking fiasco was clearly a direct result of this shortcoming.

This does not mean that peace missions should be abandoned as expensive failures. Peacekeeping is not an end in itself. Nobody expects the US to solve every crisis, but it should shoulder some of the slack. Understandably, the US is shy of engaging in Africa`s woes, with the ghost of the Somali intervention still haunting it. However much the Clinton administration has done to raise the profile of Africa since then, the continent needs to do more by defining clear goals and the political resolve to engage effectively with problems. Clovis Maksoud, a former Arab League ambassador to the UN, described the US as "seeking privileges of leadership without the responsibilities, dominance without the risks." The same could be said for the UN in Africa. After the failures of Somalia and Angola, a UN lessons learned unit was set up in 1995 to establish why peacekeeping efforts had failed. The findings of the unit remain unknown. It is hoped that a UN assessment team, headed by Manfred Eisele, which is reviewing the failures of Sierra Leone, will highlight lessons that would enable UN forces to fulfil their mandate effectively in peacekeeping interventions.

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