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The Lessons of Liberia

At the United Nations last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stood together to urge swift and substantial financial support for Liberia, which is poised on a knife's edge between the possibility of recovery and a new descent into violence. The response was gratifying, with the European Union fully backing the effort to rebuild that shattered nation. Nearly a hundred countries participated in the meeting, promising Liberia more than $500 million in reconstruction aid.

Many observers saw this display of unanimity as a conspicuous contrast to the deep divisions in the world community that surrounded the war in Iraq. But in many ways it is Iraq that was anomalous. The international consensus about the urgent need to pacify and rebuild Liberia - with UN leadership guided by a united Security Council - is in line with global responses to peace accords in many other national and regional conflicts, from East Timor, Cambodia, and Mozambique to Liberia's neighbors Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire.

But despite global agreement on the need to seize these moments, we too often find ourselves scrambling after the fact, in ad hoc fashion, to convene willing donors and organize teams of experts and logisticians to deliver urgently needed aid. Even in the best of cases, as we have seen with Liberia, where a peace accord was signed in August, this takes a perilously long time. Before the next Liberia comes along, we the world needs to find a way to provide resources for peacemaking much, much sooner.

As we look at the wider global context, it is clear that this kind of post-conflict intervention is going to be a major part of the UN's work in coming years. We cannot always afford to wait for gatherings of world leaders and financial pledges from donor nations.