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opinion

World attention has rightly focused on the problems and failures of international peacekeeping. But there is another problem we often overlook: growing apartheid in our efforts to keep the peace, especially in non-white regions.

Put simply, many of those countries with the military muscle to mount effective peacekeeping operations lack the courage of their convictions, while those with the will lack the military means. Western nations, in particular, have grown hypersensitive to the sight of peacekeepers coming home in body bags and prefer others to carry out the international tasks. The result is that in conflict-prone areas outside their own neighborhood, they often leave risky operations to non-white soldiers.

Such a tribalization of peacekeeping cannot continue much longer. Last week, Jordan announced that it would pull its 1,800 troops out of the UN peacekeeping operation in the west African country of Sierra Leone for lack of Western company, signaling how strongly developing countries are beginning to feel about Western attitudes that cast them as the hired help.

But this is only the latest example. The hurried withdrawal of UN forces from the east African nation of Somalia was dictated by Western countries being unwilling to run further risks there following the deaths of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in October of 1993. And the shameful withdrawal of most UN troops from Rwanda at the height of the genocide in April, 1994, was also necessitated by Western -- particularly U.S. -- refusal to intervene meaningfully. These events have led to a pattern of Western flight from peacekeeping duties in Africa. The message has not been lost on African warlords, for whom this is excellent news.

Western governments are still prepared to volunteer troops for classic peace monitoring operations that follow a ceasefire, such as that on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. In such cases, the risk of casualties is low. However, most wars today resist tidy solutions and involve the UN staring down a variety of combatants prone to shifting alliances and goals. These are the duties Western governments prefer to avoid.

Western countries often train and equip militaries in the developing world to cope with peacekeeping missions deemed too risky for their own personnel. Such training is to be encouraged. Not only does it help the UN prepare for peacekeeping, but it can also facilitate military reform in the developing country supplying the personnel. None of this, however, can compensate morally or practically for the absence of U.S. and other Western participation in African peacekeeping.

When conditions in Sierra Leone reached a crisis point this past spring, Great Britain dispatched a small force to rescue peacekeepers and stabilize the UN operation. The operation showed what Western high-tech militaries can achieve, even with small numbers.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is a powerful advocate for Africa at the UN. He speaks often of the need to address the problems of this vast and desperately underdeveloped continent. But the impact of his message is undermined by the persistent refusal of the U.S. Congress to allow American participation in peacekeeping in Africa, or even the financial appropriation of the U.S. share of UN missions on the continent. (Oddly, the Congressional Black Caucus has been silent on this scandalous pattern.)

Canada has performed better than most Western countries when it comes to peacekeeping in Africa, with Canadian Major-General Romeo Dallaire and his very few hardy companions serving as a beacon of decency in the midst of Rwanda's genocide. Since then, Canada attempted in late 1996 to organize the rescue of refugees in Eastern Zaire but was frustrated by more skeptical, larger powers unwilling to risk security assets for these purposes. Canada participated in a multinational coalition and UN peacekeeping operation aimed at forestalling serious internal violence in the Central African Republic. And it is now preparing to deploy several companies of troops to the UN's new operation on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. Canada can and should build on this creditable record of its own, but it also should encourage other Western countries to engage likewise with Africa's severe security challenges.

A heavy burden falls on African leaders, such as the democratically elected and highly regarded presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, to police their own continent. They are doing this in the Ivory Coast at the moment. This is promising.

But if the world is to contain and reverse the dangerous trend to violence on the African continent, a violence that threatens us all economically and through immigration, then we must recognize that Africans and developing nations cannot do the job of peacekeeping alone. Industrialized countries must not only support UN peacekeeping through financial and technical contributions, they must be willing to live up to their own rhetoric and put their soldiers on the line. David Malone is president of the International Peace Academy in New York. Ramesh Thakur is vice rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo.