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Noel Malcolm

The Sunday Telegraph (page 31) 4th June 1994

That the Bosnia Serbs reacted to air strikes by seizing UN personnel as hostages should have surprised no one. Many will have been puzzled, however, by the ease with which they rounded up nearly 400 so-called "peacekeepers" over a period of several days. To lose one or two military observers might be regarded as a misfortune,; but Lady Brachnell would have had something to say about losing so many as that.

Why were unarmed UN observers wandering around the Serb strong-hold of Pale at the very time when Nato planes were attacking when nearby ammunition dumps? Why were British troops left manning indefensible "observation posts" outside Gorazde, surrounded by Serb soldiers? And why, or how, were the crews of six UN tanks and 21 armoured personnel carriers persuaded to hand them over politely to the Serbs?

Only those who have not been paying any attention to the whole dismal UN saga in Bosnia will be surprised by these details, however. There is nothing new about the Serbs taking hostages or stealing whole lorryloads of UN equipment plus the lorries. Not long ago it was reported that the head of the SAS and his two bodyguards were relieved of their weapons, flak jackets and luggage (and his laptop computer) at a Bosnian-Serb checkpoint.

One Sarajevo source estimates that the serbs have taken more than 120 UN vehicles during the last five months. "Soon" one UN officer remarked with a note of resignation, "they'll have more UN equipment than we do."

The ordinary blue-helmeted soldiers who undergo these humiliations do not enjoy the experience, of course. But they are obliged to turn the other check by the policy which their own commanders, together with the UN's political chain of command, have laid down. It is a policy that requires them to be ostentatiously "neutral"-to do nothing to the serbs without the serbs' consent, and, whenever possible, to avoid "provoking or antagonising" them.

Even UN spokesmen will admit that this policy has often turned their own personnel into passive victims of the Serbs militia, which operates under rather different rules. What the spokesmen are less willing to recognise is that these local incidents of kowtowing are part of a far wider pattern of manipulation, part of a process at which the Serbs have become highly skilled in getting the UN to serve their own particular purposes.

They have used it as a source of fuel for their own military campaigns, and as a transportation service to speed up "ethnic cleansing". They have used it to freeze front lines, to disarm Bosnian government fighters, and even to act as a kind of sub-contracted police service round Sarajevo, enforcing the arbitrary rules for those entering and leaving the city which the serbs have invented (foreign journalists, for example, are forbidden to take out more than six letters from bosnian civilians). More and more they have used their power over the UN ground forces as a device with which to control the policy options of the Western governments, preventing any large-scale shift in objectives.

This is an unhappy position for the UN personnel to be in: prisoners of the serbs in some respects, and prison wanders on their behalf in others. But is it, all the same, a necessary?

The UN commanders usually justify it in two ways. First, they say that seeking the consent of the Serbs for their actions is a practical necessity, because if ever they tried to force their way through a Serb checkpoint, the Serbs would retaliate by closing down the whole aid operation in Bosnia. But the evidence for this assertion is quite unconvincing. On the rare occasions when British, Dutch or Scandinavian troops have used force to gain passage for the aid convoys (most notably on the road to Tuzla, known to British squaddies as "bomb ally"), the serbs have quickly backed down- as indeed they have on the most of occasions when any credible threat of force was made against them.

The second argument offered by the UN commanders sounds more compelling. It is that their forces are in Bosnia only as "peacekeepers" and that a peacekeeping mandate requires absolute neutrality and the constant maintenance of "consent". As one standard UN textbook puts it, peacekeeping is an operation "without enforcement powers... based on consent and co-operation. The requirement of impartiality.

The alternative to peacekeeping, we are usually told, is peacemaking: in other words, inflicting full-scale defeat on one side. And since the UN forces were obviously not sent there to do that, they must have only a "peacekeeping" function.

This whole argument is based on the misunderstanding of the nature of UN mandates. The correct distinction is between a "consent" mandate and an "enforcement" mandate. The former, under Chapter Six of the UN Charter, does require the consent and co- operation of all sides, while the latter, issued under Chapter Seven, authorises the use of force - not necessarily to go to war but to fulfil whatever purpose the mandate dictates.

In the case of the deployment in Bosnia, most of the essential Security Council resolutions were made expressly under Chapter Seven. They authorise the use of force to carry out specific tasks: above all, to ensure the delivery of aid and to deter attacks against the "safe areas". Also among the tasks concerning the safe areas is the requirement that the UN forces "promote the withdrawal of military units other than those of the government of Bosnia." That is the very opposite of a mandate to be impartial.

And yet, not only has the UN failed repeatedly to carry out those tasks (131 aid convoys, for example, were turned back from the starving Bihac enclave by the Serbs last year); tit has also misrepresented its own mandate, claiming that it has only a peacekeeping role dependent on the consent of the Serbs. The myth of "peacekeeping" in Bosnia has become a dogma: last week Field Marshal Lord Craver solemnly told the House of Lords that there was no Chapter Seven enforcement mandate for Bosnia, and not a single member of that venerable body informed him that he was talking through his brass hat.

The real reason for this dogma lies in the faulty political judgment of the UN bosses. From the start they have tried to use their military presence in Bosnia as part of their diplomacy; and since their diplomacy was based on a doctrine of equivalence between the rebel Serbs and the legitimate Bosnian government, they have always been determined to impose a theoretical symmetry on the Bosnian conflict, even where none existed. Hence the desperate attempts by the UN publicity machine in Bosnia to circulate unfounded allegations that "the Muslims" were shelling their own civilians. This is another service that the UN now performs for the Serbs: it distributes their propaganda.

Step by step, concession by concession, the UN presence in Bosnia has ceased to be part of the solution (it ever was one) and has become part of the problem. It serves a policy -delegitimising the Bosnian government and preventing it from receiving arms to defend its own people - which has simply prolonged the war. When the Bosnian government is at last permitted to obtain heavy weapons, it will be able to win the war. And when the UN force has been withdraw from Bosnia, the Serbs will have lost the best of all weapons they possess.