CANADA

The limits of tolerance

A Quebec town fights for English rights

BARRY CAME April 20 1992
CANADA

The limits of tolerance

A Quebec town fights for English rights

BARRY CAME April 20 1992

STEPPING INTO THE FRAY

WORLD

CANADIAN TROOPS IN CROATIA SYMBOLIZE THE NEW ACTIVISM OF THE UNITED NATIONS

From the front seat of a white United Nations jeep, Maj. Peter Devlin has witnessed firsthand the destruction of war. Despite 14 years’ service with the Canadian Forces, the 32-year-old officer from London, Ont., admits surprise at the wide-scale damage that he has observed on daily reconnaissance missions in Croatia, where he is part of an international peacekeeping force. “Some of the small villages have been completely levelled,” he told Maclean’s last week. “There are very few houses in the rural areas that have roofs or glass left, and the belongings of many homes have been scattered. It is very sad to see.” And at night, Devlin has heard the echo of distant gunshots as militiamen fire their weapons indiscriminately to proclaim control of their territory. “Initially you would hear it every night,” he said. “But as each day goes by, it is less frequent and less intense than at the beginning.”

On March 26, Devlin, from November Company, part of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Baden, Germany, arrived in the war-tom country to prepare to lead 230 other soldiers. But despite Croatia’s dangers and the difficulty of leaving behind Judy, his wife of seven years, and their two small children, John and Laura, Devlin says that wearing the peacekeeper’s trademark blue helmet is the opportunity of a lifetime. “Without a doubt, the chance to be here and to do something as exciting as this is an honor,” he said. “Most Canadian soldiers would have done anything to be a part of it.”

For Canadian peacekeepers, the Croatian mission is another in a long line of risky UN operations. Since 1949, when Canadians formed part of an observer group that stood between the warring armies of India and Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, Canada has participated in every major UN mission to the world’s hot spots, from the Belgian Congo to the mine-riddled Iran-Iraq border. But for the 1,200 Canadian troops who form part of the 13,870-member UN contingent in what was once Yugoslavia, policing

the shaky ceasefire between bitter ethnic rivals is groundbreaking. For one thing, it is the first time that the United Nations has policed a truce in Europe. And the current mission also underscores a new willingness to get involved in messy disputes within a shattering federation. “The role of the UN,” said Ambassador Valentin Lozinskiy, Russia’s acting representative on the Security Council, “has taken on a new dimension: to ensure the human rights and the safety of life inside a country.” Added Austria’s UN ambassador, Peter Hohenfellner: “The Berlin Wall of non-interference has crumbled.”

Certainly, the United Nations has expanded its role in resolving world conflicts. Since 1988,

the organization has mounted 10 new peacekeeping operations, compared with 13 in the previous 40 years. By the end of May, the number of Blue Berets deployed worldwide will surge to 44,000 from 11,500 in February. But the United Nations’ newfound assertiveness carries a high price tag. The annualized bill for peacekeeping will triple from $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion by April, 1993. “I don’t think we can go on much longer at the present rate,” said Marrack Goulding, undersecretary general in charge of peacekeeping. “The elastic is very thinly stretched. We are close to the breaking point.”

But financing the growing operations is not the only problem facing the United Nations. The body’s increasingly interventionist role has prompted some countries to complain that the East-West rivalries which paralysed the Security Council during the Cold War have been replaced by a deep divide pitting the world’s wealthy, industrialized North against the impoverished South. Officials of many poorer countries worry openly that the United Nations will find reasons— such as hunting terrorists or human

THE PRICE OF WAR AND PEACE A COST COMPARISON

Cost of 42-day-long $72.4 billion Gulf War: Cost of 15-month Cambodian $2.3 billion peacekeeping operation: Annual cost of other UN $1.5 billion peacekeeping forces: Cost of one F-l 17A Stealth $50.6 million fighter plane: (All figures estimates. Sources: U.S. defence department, U.S. air force, United Nations.)

rights abusers—to flex its newfound muscle and violate their sovereignty.

Still, optimism and energy pervade the corridors of the United Nations’ headquarters in Manhattan—twin skyscrapers along the banks of the grimy East River. “It’s bloody long hours and no weekends,” said the 54-year-old Goulding, who assumed his current responsibilities last January when Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali streamlined UN operations. Goulding’s new 38th-floor office shows signs of his recent move, and of frequent absences that result from visits to peacekeeping missions abroad. Relief maps of the world’s trouble spots—from the Middle East to Central America—lie in a stack on the office floor. “Some nights at 11:30,1 feel like putting a freeze on peacekeeping,” he jokingly confessed.

Goulding is no stranger to conflict. While he was inspecting Israel’s incursion into UN-controlled territory in southern Lebanon last February, a pro-Iranian militia fired over his head. And he admits to being acutely aware of the dangers that the UN troops currently face. “We knew that Yugoslavia was going to be damned difficult,” he said. “The obvious risk exists that we are going to get drawn into hostilities

elsewhere, not just in the Serb-populated part of Croatia.”

The most volatile of those areas is the newly independent country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The former Yugoslav republic of 4.3 million people, situated between Serbia and Croatia, was officially recognized last week by a number of countries, including Canada. There, ethnic Serbs, opposed to secession, have battled Moslems who support independence. And the escalating conflict clearly worries UN officials. Said Goulding: “The past few days of fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been pretty dispiriting and have reinforced the doubts that the secretary general had about this operation.”

But despite the many concerns, the United Nations has enjoyed recent successes. Listing the comprehensive peace settlements in Cambodia, Angola, Namibia and El Salvador— where the organization has either established a transitional government or aided regional parties to prepare for free elections—Goulding said that the nature of peacekeeping is radically changing. In many cases, he said, “we are helping the parties to implement something that has already been agreed.” That is a departure from the traditional practice of merely

keeping warring factions apart until they can negotiate a lasting peace.

Dousing the world’s post-Cold War fires is just one expression of the new vigor at the United Nations. Preventing new crises—or engaging in “preventive diplomacy and peace building,” as diplomats refer to it—is another priority. “It is a visionary view of the United Nations,” said Goulding, a career British diplomat who joined the peacekeeping service in 1985. But, he cautioned, “We must be very careful not to intrude. It is still necessary to wait for an indication from the country or countries concerned that they want our help.”

Indeed, Third World diplomats insist that the United Nations must not become the policeman of the world. And they express concern that the

newly emboldened Security Council might use human rights abuses as an excuse for UN intervention. “Human rights violations do not give the UN a licence to interfere,” said Mexico’s UN ambassador, Jorge Montaño. Added Morocco’s ambassador, Ahmed Snoussi: “The UN should not become a conqueror or invader.” Many diplomats argue that wealthier countries must address the growing gap between rich and poor throughout the world if the United Nations genuinely hopes to ward off new, and perhaps bloodier, battles. Agreed Austria’s Hohenfellner: “We may face a much bigger challenge at the end of the century if we ignore the problems of development, environment and population that are racking the Third World now.” Even if the United Nations considers such bold actions as intervening in the brutal civil war in

Somalia—where it has become almost impossible to provide humanitarian relief—the most difficult constraint may be funding. “The member states are very interested in using the technique of the UN to control and resolve conflicts—but the message has not got through to their treasuries,” Goulding complained. And he argued that the cost of peacekeeping is considerably lower than such undertakings as last year’s Persian Gulf War. Said Goulding: “Compared with $1.5 billion [U.S.] a day for Desert Storm, peacekeeping is not such a bad deal.”

Still, the budget squeeze has threatened to stall the massive deployment of troops and equipment to Cambodia. And last week, Boutros-Ghali cautioned Greek and Turkish Cypriots that the 28-year-old UN mission on the

Mediterranean island will be scaled back unless the parties renew peace efforts. The Canadian government has also said that it may pull its 576 troops out of Cyprus by year’s end unless progress is made. Goulding lamented the perpetual funding crisis, which means that the UN forces cannot even keep basic peacekeeping equipment in stock. Said Goulding: “Each time, we have to start from scratch and order radios, generators and vehicles.”

Staring out of his large office windows that frame a giant neon sign of a Pepsi-Cola bottle across the river, Goulding reverted to careful diplomatic talk of “possibilities at the margin” when asked to comment on a plan put forward by Russia to allow multinational corporations to fund the UN’s cash-strapped peacekeeping operations. But Russia’s Lozinskiy was not so

circumspect. “It has sometimes been ridiculed as the Pepsi-Cola operation,” he said. “But we think that the UN should be more creative in involving the private sector.” Perhaps more seriously, some UN diplomats have suggested a one-per-cent levy on arms sales, which they say would generate $2 billion in additional revenues. As well, they are considering a new tax on international airline tickets that would bring even more money into UN coffers.

Far removed from the bureaucratic problems at UN headquarters, Maj. Peter Devlin travelled throughout the shell-pocked countryside around the small Croatian town of Daruvar last week, scouting suitable sites for UN checkpoints and observation posts—and meeting the local people. The warm welcome that he re-

ceived, said Devlin, convinced him that the presence of the Canadian troops was lifting the spirits of the war-weary villagers. Many of those who had fled the fighting were now returning to their tiny, damaged homes. “Each and every day, I notice a change,” he said. “It is very rewarding to know that you are part of a force that is restoring confidence in the people.” With considerable pride, he added: “Life is slowly but surely returning to normal. People are starting to smile much more than they used to.” Such expressions of gratitude were a promising sign that the difficult decisions made in New York bring welcome relief to oncebesieged towns like Daruvar.

HILARY MACKENZIE

SCOTT STEELE

in New York City with Toronto