IT IS not easy to admit the truth of Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where thousands of Muslim men were executed and hundreds buried alive, where a grandfather was forced to eat the liver of his grandson. But in its report released on Monday, the United Nations accepts its share of the blame. It designated Srebrenica a safe haven but failed to supply enough troops to make the safety genuine. When Bosnian Serb militias set about the massacre in July 1995, the U.N. force of 110 soldiers in Srebrenica offered no resistance. By the United Nations' own reckoning, as many as 20,000 Muslims died in this and other "safe" areas that the United Nations had sworn to protect.
The U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, should be commended for this stark admission. The question, however, is whether his honesty will spur bolder peacekeeping in the future. In the conclusion to his long report, Mr. Annan invites U.N. member states to reflect on "the gulf between mandate and means; the inadequacy of symbolic deterrence in the face of a systematic campaign of violence; the pervasive ambivalence within the United Nations regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace; [and on] an institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide."
During the Bosnian war, Mr. Annan's predecessor called for 34,000 troops, but the Security Council gave him only 7,400. In the recent case of East Timor, the council supported the idea of a U.N. referendum on independence but refused to send troops to deter a blood bath that was widely predicted.
Sometimes the United Nations' failure is built into its structure. Where a permanent member of the Security Council opposes intervention, no action will be authorized: Hence the United Nations' current silence about Russia's war crimes in Chechnya, and its early impotence on Kosovo. But in cases where the council does approve action, it is fair to insist that it be serious. The U.N. member states need to embrace force to secure peace; they need to shove neutrality aside and denounce evil in order to combat it. As Mr. Annan says, the U.N. mission to end conflict does not preclude moral judgment. On the contrary, it makes it necessary.