The Missing 13,000: What Force for Lebanon’s Frontier?

After five weeks of fighting, starting on July 12, massive destruction and displacement of persons, a cease-fire has been reached on the Israel-Lebanon frontier.  The UN Security Council has decided to increase the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unfil) in place since 1978 to 15,000 peacekeepers who will join 15,000 soldiers of the regular Lebanese Army to control the southern frontier area with Israel in order to prevent both Hezballah rocket launches into Israel and Israeli Army attacks into Lebanon.  The cease-fire and military deployment is a necessary first step in a renewed conflict resolution process which, for the moment, no one is leading.

The Unfil, which has had a monitoring role on the Lebanese frontier, is currently under the command of a French general who is expected to command the larger Unfil which has a wider, if yet not fully clear, mandate. As The UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said on 17 August "The situation on the ground is tenuous.  We must act with great urgency to construct a lasting ceasefire from the current cessation of fighting…We must convert promises into firm commitments and commitments into rapid deployment on the ground.  Every moment we delay is a moment of risk that the fighting could re-erupt."

Peacekeeping as such is not referred to in the UN Charter. UN Peacekeeping operations are justified from the UN Charter’s Chapter 6 "Pacific Settlement of Disputes" and Chapter 7 "Actions with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression".  Nearly all recent UN peacekeeping operations have been under Chapter 6 which require the consent of the host government and where force can be used only for self-defense.  In actual practice, a UN operation can include a number of tasks, and there is a blurring of the lines between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 operations.

Peace operations can include unarmed civilians serving as observers as well as armed troops.  Armed peacekeepers patrol borders, monitor cease-fires to allow opposing sides to enter into negotiations, enforce buffer zones among combatants, and protect relief efforts for civilian populations of both sides of any conflict.  Fact-finding missions and "good-office" missions can provide accurate, balanced reporting about a conflict situation, laying the groundwork for future negotiations.  Civilian roles have expanded considerably since the 1980s.

Peacekeeping operations are the product of UN ad hoc pragmatism, faced by pressing circumstances.  By the time of its first Congo operation in 1960, clear principles and parameters, mostly based on Middle East peacekeeping experiences, had evolved.  Impartiality, the use of minimum force, exclusively at the command of the UN Secretary-General, with maximum international backing is the ideal.  Both the UN and the host government need to reach out to the population at the local and national levels, in order to dispel ambiguity and frustration, and instil a sense of realism regarding what can and cannot be done, when and by whom.

The difficulties of raising a new UN peacekeeping force for each crisis where it might be useful has led to a number of calls for the establishment of a standing, all-volunteer force of peacekeepers, directly under UN command.  Such a force, it is thought, would be able to provide a needed rapid response in situations of grave threats to peace.  The UN ready-reserve could function until nationally recruited contingents could be brought in.  The idea of a small standing UN "guard force" at the disposal of the Security Council was proposed by Secretary-General Trygve Lie as early as 1948 but, as the Cold War began to dominate world politics, the idea was left for non-governmental organizations to promote.

A related proposal to a UN standing rapid response force was to have specially trained, nationally-recruited contingents within national armies.  Such contingents would be additionally trained in relief operations, riot control and police activities, would have necessary language skills and training to work in cross-cultural settings.  The national units would have already trained together and so have an "esprit de corps." They would have received training for engineering, communication, mechanical maintenance and intelligence.

A few states have trained such units but not enough for the UN to count upon.  Rather, we find the bulk of UN forces drawn from what were historically English-trained military: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal from Asia, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana from Africa, Jordan from the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand from the Pacific, Ireland from Europe and Canada from North America. English is the common language of communication, and the military as a "non-political professional force" as the ideal, if not the practice as Pakistan and Nigeria remind us.  Poland is the only large contributor of forces outside the English tradition.

While the US government has criticized UN peacekeeping operations noting that command and control mechanisms are weak and forces recruited are not adequately trained in the special roles of peacekeeping, the US has done little to improve UN peacekeeping.  However the US has been working with Britain and France to build an African peacekeeping capacity.  In March 1998, in a "Reinforcement of African Peacekeeping Capacities" eight African countries provided peacekeeping battalions for a French-led exercise in Senegal.

Military-led peacekeeping forces may not be an adequate international response for all conflict situations.  In a later article, we will look at some civilian, non-violent efforts at peacekeeping.  However, for the moment, the UN is looking for 13,000 peacekeepers drawn from military forces, and they need them in a hurry.  

Rene Wadlow is editor of the online journal of world politics and an NGO representative to the UN, Geneva