Handing Off in Somalia

DICK HOOKER

January 26, 1993|By DICK HOOKER

BETHLEHEM, MD. — Bethlehem, Md.--Domestic pressures are likely to increase soon for the U.S. to hand off Operation Restore Hope in Somalia to a U.N. peacekeeping force. We need to think seriously now about what happens after we leave. The issue is not only important for Somalia, but also has relevance for the future of U.N. peacekeeping elsewhere.

We need to resist pressures to turn the Somali operation over to the usual U.N. peacekeeping effort, because the typical cobbled-together U.N. peacekeeping force operating under traditional rules is sure to fail, and Somalia will relapse into anarchy, maybe for good. If that happens, we will have been responsible for a disaster at least partially of our own making.

Let's consider the problem. After we go, the overall level of violence is likely to remain high, because disarming the Somalis at this stage is simply not in the cards, given the relatively few U.S. combat troops now ashore (most of the force that has been sent to Somalia has non-combat duties). Disarming local Somali gunmen must be sporadic and limited, mostly in parts of Mogadishu, with the likelihood of ever-increasing opposition.

This approach is not likely to accomplish a lot. From the looks of the TV coverage we are just picking up junk, the operational weapons having been well hidden. Solving the Somali security problem before we go is therefore likely to be beyond us. It will remain for the U.N. peacekeeping force, and this is not cause for optimism.

The United Nations has been in the peacekeeping business in one way or another for more than 40 years, but it has never demonstrated an ability to keep the peace when that meant separating warring factions not wishing to be kept apart, or imposing security when local ele- It is wrong to send weak, unprepared U.N. forces under outmoded rules to peacekeeping missions when we know they can't do the job.

ments resisted vigorously. Both conditions exist in Somalia.

There are three main problems with U.N. peacekeeping operations. First, the rules under which U.N. forces operate prohibit the use of force except in self-defense. The prime directive is to persuade and negotiate, not enforce or coerce. You may shoot only when shot at, and even then only after an ascending order of warning steps. Under extreme conditions such rules are useless in protecting the U.N. units, much less keeping the peace.

Secondly, by virtue of their mission, U.N. peacekeepers are typically armed only with small arms, machine guns and mortars. They have no artillery or air support. No large reinforcements lurk nearby.

Finally, since by tradition no forces can be provided from countries which are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, peacekeeping units can come from wildly variable backgrounds, sometimes with relatively low levels of training and experience, and little modern equipment.

Compounding these problems is the fact that there is no real organization within the U.N. Security Council to control and direct U.N. military operations; there is no war room, no 24-hour operational capability, no communications center and no military staff.

In the absence of a strong U.N. command system, governments providing forces tend to meddle with the operations of those forces, using national command channels not available to the local U.N. commander, whose own military talents and experience may not always be of the highest quality.

How, then, to field an effective U.N. force to carry on in Somalia so that the remaining U.S. combat forces can begin to disengage with some hope that Somalia can begin to rebuild -- and to insure that we are not willing contributors to a U.N. failure there?

First of all, the old peacekeeping rules must be changed. Any follow-on U.N. force must arrive with a mandate to operate aggressively in dealing with Somali anarchy. Security must be established. Weapons must be seized. Wrongdoers must be apprehended. No more shoot-only-when-shot-at.

There must be enough capable forces for the job. This means professional units, not the third- and fourth-rate military forces that sometimes show up in the U.N. lineup. Capability, not availability, must be the criterion for selection of U.N. forces. To get such units on a continuing basis, the traditional policy of barring permanent U.N. Security Council members from serving as peacekeepers may have to be changed.

The general objective for all U.N. peacekeeping operations -- not just Somalia -- must be the deployment of good units, properly trained, equipped and supported, led by experienced and capable generals who operate under a working U.N. military chain of command. First priority must therefore be the establishment of a permanent system which can provide all these things as a matter of course.

Can it done? Maybe not right away, but the essentials ought to be possible before Restore Hope changes hands. It is wrong to agree to send weak, unprepared U.N. forces under outmoded rules to peacekeeping missions when we know they can't do the job. We should not be a party to such undertakings. Having started the Somali intervention, Washington must do all it can to insure that United Nations peacekeeping can complete the job. Anything less will be dishonorable.

Dick Hooker is a retired Army colonel.

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