Anumber of those who question our sending American troops to help save 2 million Somalis from starvation ask: How does this crisis on the Horn of Africa concern our national interest? This is the wrong question. It may have been right in the old world order of international anarchy. But this habitual way of thinking is now the greatest impediment to our creating a new, far better kind of world.

For the past year - as thousands have perished from the rule of the gun in Somalia and in the former Yugoslavia - the world community, including the United States, has committed on a global scale the same sin that three decades ago this country contemplated with horror in the matter of Kitty Genovese.Genovese, as many will recall, was a woman murdered in New York in the early 1960s. The crime provoked national outrage because of the failure of a number of bystanders to do anything to rescue the woman - even to call the police - during her prolonged agony. They didn't want to get involved. Her plight, in their view, was not any of their concern.

Their inaction raised the question: What kind of society have we become?

Now that the Cold War is over and we are no longer involved in a global chess game, there are probably billions of people that no longer concern us. They can no longer serve as pawns in our struggle against a superpower rival. Neither Somalian starvation nor the "ethnic cleansing" of the Bosnians is central to narrow calculations of our national self-interest.

But if this is the way we decide what concerns us, what kind of society are we? If it is a sin of omission to let our neighbor perish within our societal borders, why is it less a sin for nations to stand by as a whole people - be they Somalis or Bosnians - are wiped out?

How little it would take to save so many! The bullies of Mogadishu will surely retreat in the face of a genuine organized force. And for all the talk of "quagmires," I am convinced that had the world community displayed genuine resolve, instead of mere rhetoric and hand-wringing, the Serbians could have been deterred from their onslaughts. Gunships could have protected Dubrovnik, and airpower could have stopped the assault on Sarajevo.

Crippling habits of thought are also revealed by that recurrent question: Is the United States going to be the world's policeman?

No. A Pax Americana would not be a new world order but a new version of the old game of power.

It is not in the interests of our nation or the world for us to impose our will on weaker countries. Not the United States alone, but the world community as a whole must work to substitute justice for the rule of unrestrained force.