Saturday, August 05, 2006

Can the U.N. Keep the Peace in Lebanon?

Friday's Wall Street Journal ran a great piece on the U.N.'s peacekeeping record by Jonathan Tepperman, who's a deputy managing editory at Foreign Affairs. Tepperman notes that as governmental demands for a new U.N. intervention increase -- following the deaths of four peacekeepers in Israel's Lebanon offensive in July -- few observers are mentioning the unsuccessful track record of many previous U.N. peacekeeping missions. According to Tepperman:

The politicians should be careful what they wish for. Unifil was only the U.N.'s most recent star-crossed foray into Middle East peacemaking. Since 1948, the U.N. has stepped into the Arab-Israeli maelstrom five times. But few of these efforts have paid off. Unless it takes a radically different shape, a new intervention could well make matters worse, not just for the parties on the ground, but for the U.N. itself.

Understanding what not to do next time requires figuring out what's gone wrong in the past. Start with Unifil. Created in 1978 during Lebanon's long civil war and charged with helping to restore peace and security, monitor Israel's withdrawal, and extend Beirut's "effective authority" in the country's south, Unifil proved unable to do any of these things. It took 12 more years to stop the civil war, and after Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000, the blue helmets stood by impotently as Hezbollah dug in, launched cross-border raids (once even disguised as U.N. troops), and stockpiled the missiles that now rain down nightly on Haifa.

Part of the problem was size: Unifil numbered 6,000 troops when it was created but had dwindled to 2,000 more recently, and thus never had nearly enough manpower to cover its area of operations. Nor did it have the guns, intelligence or air support to give it any chance of disarming Hezbollah. Moreover, its anemic mandate relied on all parties to comply with the U.N.'s dictates. When they refused, the peacekeepers lacked the authority to do much more than watch. And, sadly, to die; the mission suffered 257 fatalities over the last three decades.

As for the U.N.'s earlier missions in the region, they might have suffered fewer casualties but they were scarcely more successful. The most infamous was the U.N. Expeditionary Force, created in 1956 to act as a buffer between Israel and Egypt after the Suez War. The idea was to separate hostile troops and prevent a resumption of combat. But when Nasser decided to invade Israel in 1967, UNEF, which served at the sufferance of Cairo, rushed to oblige by scrambling out of the way. U.N. Secretary General U Thant didn't even bother to inform the Security Council before yanking out the mission.

To be fair, even more unilateral attempts at peacemaking in the area haven't done much better. In 1982, the U.S. led a four-nation force (with France, Italy and the U.K.) into Lebanon to try to stop the fighting, but these troops were also hastily pulled out the next year, after Hezbollah suicide bombers killed 241 U.S. Marines and 56 French paratroopers. This tragic record points to several key lessons that the U.N., especially the permanent members of the Security Council--who would have to authorize any new mission--must heed now before stepping once more into the breach.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Tepperman indicates that if a new U.N. peacekeeping force were to be deployed, it would need to be large (with several divisions of crack troops), equipped with heavy weapons and intelligence capabilities, and backed with air and artillery support. Moreover, the U.N. force would need aggressive rules of engagement under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, allowing U.N. forces to hunt down Hezbollah and preventing a precipitous withdrawal of the contingent. Tepperman also notes that member states need to be ready to sustain casualties.

The scholarly literature on the U.N. is virtually endless, though one point of agreement among academics and practitioners deals with the differences in types of U.N. peace operations. "Peacekeeping" as traditionally understood entails the separation of opposing combatants, usually joined by diplomatic efforts to end hostilities and create a lasting settlement.

"Peace-enforcement," on the other hand, entails the identification of an aggressor and the joining together of U.N. member states to collectively oppose the breach of international security through the use of force. The classic cases of U.N peace-enforcement operations are Korea in 1950 and the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990 (Source: Bruce Russett et al., World Politics: A Menu for Choice, 2006). So far, though, the case of Hezbollah's aggression against Israel has not generated international calls to act vigorously against the threat from the Shiite terrorist organization.

For a recent book arguing that the United Nations actually fosters global instability, see Dore Gold, Tower of Babel: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos (2004).

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