Monitors or Sitting Ducks?

The specter of Mogadishu dictates that no U.S. soldier should die liberating Kosovo or Rwanda–and that Osama bin Laden gets cruise missile treatment. Yet the U.S. government has no such qualms about sending civilians into danger. During the last two weeks, U.S. negotiators have agreed to send unarmed Americans–“monitors”–to help enforce tenuous peace deals in both Kosovo and the Middle East.

Under the Wye accord, CIA agents will be verifying that the Palestinians are imprisoning suspected Palestinian terrorists, as they promised. (The CIA will also act as a liaison for Israeli and Palestinian security efforts.) Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke has assigned up to 2,000 “monitors” (including about 150 Americans) to track withdrawal of Serbian “security forces” from the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. These unarmed civilians are supposed to report on whether Serbs are respecting the ceasefire agreeement Holbrooke negotiated with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

But before Holbrooke and the CIA clink glasses to world peace, there are some serious security matters to consider. “Monitoring” is diplomatic jargon for sending unarmed observers into conflict zones to make sure the bad guys are behaving. In both Kosovo and in the Middle East, we could end conceivably up with hostage problems.

1) Plopping a handful of civilians down in bloody Kosovo is a blueprint for trouble. Already, the first monitors to arrive in Kosovo are more of a security nuisance than a useful verifier contingent. Elaborate evacuation plans have become NATO’s chief priority–no bombs will fall against Milosevic before the monitors are hauled out. As Bob Dole warned in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, the monitors serve as a “de-facto human shield against NATO air power,” playing into Milosevic’s capable hands. (Recall that just three years ago, Bosnian Serbs captured over 200 U.N. peacekeepers and chained some to military targets to forestall NATO air strikes.) The “hostage” scenario is a realistic one.

2) In the Middle East, Palestinian radicals might nail their CIA scrutinizers if they decide that Israel is getting favored treatment. (Senate intelligence committee chairman Richard Shelby voiced his discomfort at the CIA taking on the role of enforcers yesterday, and called for hearings on the issue.)

Clearly monitoring–the gathering of information–is an essential derivative of any peace agreement. But why inject the CIA and vulnerable international civilians into dangerous territory, where we fear to dispatch U.S. forces?

Kate Galbraith