If the UN is to maintain its credibility, he says, it has to conserve its resources--unless its members are prepared to approach peacekeeping in a more serious and generous spirit.
On May 13th Mr Boutros Ghali told the Security Council that it was impractical to send UN peacekeepers to Bosnia while the war there was still pursued with such ferocity. If the council members wanted to intervene, they should not try to do so on the cheap; they would have to consider sending in tens of thousands of troops equipped with offensive capability. Even if they opted, at this stage, only for armed escorts to protect the relief convoys, they would have to think along similarly expansive lines; a convoy led by the UN had been brutally ambushed by Muslim militiamen. But the council, ignoring his warning, voted two days later for the provision of armed escorts without going into their military needs.
The new secretary-general, who for many years was the eminence grise of Egyptian foreign policy, is not a table-thumper, a politician or even a good speaker. But he is beginning to show a sure touch and may be less worried than his predecessor about making enemies. One sign of this is his readiness to accuse the council of telling him to find people to do difficult and dangerous things without giving them the wherewithal to do them. He believes that when regional groups are strong, as the European Community supposedly is, they should work more consistently to bring about a peace. The UN peacekeeping operation is kept permanently and humiliatingly on the verge of bankruptcy. If the Security Council insists on sending a force into Bosnia without adequate political and military backing, the result on the ground could be a cruel farce.
The background to Mr Boutros Ghali's caution is that the newly assertive ambassadors at the Security Council, unlocked from American-Soviet rivalry, are trying to do something exciting, but they are doing it by stealth rather than accepting that there may have to be changes in approach. The argument for stealth is that pragmatism works; attempts to bring the changes into daylight could open a box of troubles. One of the troubles is the membership of the council itself: the five permanent members are the victors of the Second World War. Japan, murmuring from the outside, wants to join the permanent five by the time the UN has its 50th anniversary in 1995.
More important, the new peacekeeping operations exploding around the council's head are no longer of the traditional kind and do not necessarily call for traditional answers, let alone traditional fund-raising. That the UN charter makes no mention of peacekeeping'' is handy since it lets members be inventive in stretching the international peace and security'' criterion. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was exceptional in being the type of conflict the charter writers had in mind. Most of the conflicts with which the UN is now involved are civil or ethnic--domestic matters into which the Security Coun