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Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 1999 /4 Tishrei, 5759

Paul Greenberg

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Chaos by design: The U.N. strikes again -- INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS could be made so much more efficient if, the next time the United Nations undertook to negotiate the security and independence of some small territory -- Bosnia, say, or East Timor -- all the people being protected would sign their last will and testament at the same time. It would save a lot of time.

Once again, the U.N. has promised peace and proved useless when the killing started. As usual, the gangs conducting these murderous rampages call themselves militias. And the foul regimes they're connected with, whether Slobodan Milosevic's in Serbia or B.J. Habibi's in Indonesia, can be counted on only to do their worst.

Indonesian troops, who were supposed to provide security as East Timor voted on independence, are now standing by while the slaughter proceeds. Well, not always. Some of them seem to be helping the killers. Naturally the U.N. is pulling out all its own personnel. If only the people they were supposed to help could leave so easily.

At last report, Dili, East Timor's capital, was looking much like Phnom Penh when the Americans abandoned Cambodia to the Communists and the bloodbath began. The Indonesians are the new Khmer Rouge, and East Timor the latest killing field.

Whether the world is dealing with a homicidal type like Slobo or just a hapless one like Indonesia's President Habibi, the result is the same: chaos. And the U.N. is left to make its usual futile gestures. The world is sending its sympathy and little else.

With the possible exception of the State Department, the U.N. has to be the world's leading expounder of dangerous guff. Did anybody really expect that, once the people of East Timor chose independence, their old masters would let them depart in peace? Well, maybe the masterminds at the U.N. did, which says everything one needs to know about their tenuous grasp on reality.

No continent offers more lessons about barbarism, its continuing threat and how to contain it, than Europe. Right up to the present decade. Let it be noted that not until a strong regional alliance -- NATO -- finally awakened to what was happening in the Balkans, and did more than talk about it, was some semblance of law and order finally imposed on that still smoldering part of the world.

Whether in Bosnia or Kosovo, the U.N. mainly got in the way and sometimes actually led the sheep to the slaughter by setting up Safe Cities that were anything but. Remember Srebrenica? The scenes there were a lot like what is happening in Dili now. All those U.N. troops in Bosnia mainly stood by while Serbian stormtroopers took away every man and boy between 12 and 60 they could get their hands on, killing some 8,000 thousand in all.

East Timor sounds like a replay with a different and even bigger cast:

"There is very clear evidence of collusion between elements of the (Indonesian) security forces and the militias to deport East Timorese forcibly,'' says Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. No kidding.

Of late the U.N. has shown a certain facility for organizing war crimes trials, but that international disorganization still shows pathetically little ability to prevent those crimes. Whether in Bosnia or Kosovo and now in East Timor.

Southeast Asia, like southeastern Europe, needs a strong regional alliance that will do more than wring its hands while the usual killers, in uniform and out, turn the rivers red.

Alliances that assure a region's security are seldom formed in placid times, for who can see the need for them then? But just as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was hastily organized at the outbreak of the Cold War, the passion of East Timor may arouse its neighbors at last.

Now is the time to resurrect John Foster Dulles' old dream of a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, a counterpart of NATO on the other side of the world. SEATO has been in hibernation long enough, and something like it is needed again -- now and in the future.

East Timor is not likely to be the last victim of violence in Southeast Asia. And to suggest that the U.N. protect its people would be to add cruelty to devastation. The U.N. may be good for legitimizing the defense of the weak once other and stronger parties take a hand in matters, as they finally did in Bosnia and Kosovo, but only the suicidal would trust their defense to the bureaucrats at the Untied (SIC) Nations.

In this decade, the threat in Southeast Asia is no longer a raging Communism, but the kind of chaos unleashed in East Timor. After decades of persecution, an unarmed people has tried to gain its freedom at the ballot box -- only to face bullets. Should the people of East Timor ever gain their freedom, the first thing they ought to do is pass their own Second Amendment. Right now they're defenseless and dependent on the U.N., which is much the same thing.

Countries like Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have a clear stake in the peace and security of their region, and so do others. If the plight of East Timor has evoked sympathy worldwide, now is the time to build on it and organize a new SEATO that can offer much more than sympathy.

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate