Washington Post - [Letters]

Dubious Mandate


Sunday, December 19, 1999

Andrew Bacevich's haughty and politically correct attack upon the UN and upon my book (Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia) was predictably distorted (Book World, Sept. 12). UN-bashing is a popular parlor sport among those who favor the use of force in international relations. There were many in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Washington who were never satisfied that UN international soldiers, with a dubious mandate, refused to become mercenaries against the Serbs. In fact, the international community never provided the UN with the resources it needed in the former Yugoslavia, and then it blamed the UN for not accomplishing an impossible task. NATO today, with financial, military and political support, and with peace -- none of which the UN had -- cannot accomplish its goals in Bosnia. Yet there is scant criticism of NATO's failures.

Bacevich is quite right that President Clinton's actions in the Balkans were driven by domestic considerations, mainly to get elected and re-elected, a tactic that made him adopt Bob Dole's Serbophobia. But one of the Big Lies used to justify NATO's intervention in Bosnia was that the war there would have spread if NATO didn't intervene. Not true. There was never any possibility that the wars inside the former Yugoslavia would have spread, militarily, outside its boundaries. The greatest cross-border problem was with refugee flows, but those too could have been limited if NATO had been guided by the realities of the situation on the ground rather than by the domestic politics of its own member states.

As for Bacevich's cynical dismissal of "impartiality" and "diplomacy" (his quotes), his attitudes are self-indicting. The use of force in international relations is most often a sign of desperation rather than determination, a confession of failure rather than triumph. The pity is that such intellectual arrogance should masquerade as scholarship.

Finally, I must say that I am not an official spokesman for the UN. I was, however, a UN official. And like any author, I appeal for readers to read my book and decide for themselves whether or not my arguments are credible.


[URL may be different next day if article is archived]