The Evolving Role of U.N. Peacekeeping



Washington. -- About the same time the Clinton administration announced its decision to commit U.S. troops to a U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia to implement any peace agreement, administration officials also indicated that some American forces will be left behind in Somalia to join U.N. peacekeeping forces in that country, after the bulk of U.S. forces have withdrawn in April.

These are important decisions; not only because they engage the United States more deeply in the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia and Somalia but also because the Clinton administration joins an accelerating worldwide trend to multinational peacekeeping under U.N. auspices and command.

It is a powerful trend.

During 1992, the number of U.N. peacekeepers worldwide quadrupled -- from 11,000 to 44,000. The U.S. budget for peacekeeping has also quadrupled since the end of the Cold War from $81 million in 1990 to a budgeted $438 million for 1993 -- and still rising. The number of peacekeeping missions has doubled since the end of the Cold War and is still increasing.

Given the strategic, financial and political importance that peacekeeping has acquired, it is obviously time to think more carefully about this new international activity -- how it works and how it relates to American defense and interests.

These are difficult questions in part because the nature of activities called ''peacekeeping'' has changed a good deal since 259 peacekeepers were deployed in June 1948 to oversee an armistice between Israel and the Arab states, and it is still changing.

Confronting the Suez Crisis in 1956, then U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold drew up rules that shaped peacekeeping efforts long afterward: Hammarskjold asserted that a peacekeeping force should be temporary, should be neutral between the parties to the conflict, should be deployed with the consent of both parties.

He decreed that the commanders of peacekeeping missions would be appointed by the United Nations and operate under the supervision of the secretary general, and that no troops would be accepted from the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia). Peacekeepers were to be lightly armed and use force only in self-defense. Their mission would be to supervise compliance with a cease-fire or an armistice agreement, to patrol a border and generally contribute to maintaining order between belligerents with a will to peace.

By now Hammarskjold's rules have been bent and broken by changing circumstances. We know today that peacekeeping missions are not likely to be temporary, that almost all peacekeeping missions ever deployed are still there. Forces deployed to monitor the Arab-Israeli cease-fire in 1948 are still there. So are those deployed on the India-Pakistan border in 1949, those deployed to Cyprus in 1964, to the Golan Heights in 1974 and Southern Lebanon in 1978.

Today all permanent members participate in peacekeeping missions. And those missions have evolved. Today peacekeepers observe elections, support humanitarian relief, monitor human-rights observance as well as supervise compliance with armistice agreements.

But peacekeepers are still lightly armed and authorized to use force only in self-defense. When the vice president of Bosnia was murdered at the Sarajevo airport while he was under U.N. protection, not one of the peacekeepers charged with protecting him had drawn his weapon during hours of confrontation with menacing Serbian troops. It was explained that under peacekeeping rules of engagement, a man was allowed to use force only if his own life was directly threatened. Peacekeepers only ''keep'' a peace that already exists. They do not ''make'' peace or ''enforce'' it, both of which involve more readiness to use force.

Today, as in the past, peacekeepers are neutral between parties to a conflict. The U.N. Charter distinguishes between an aggressor and a victim, and calls for collective action to turn back aggression -- as Desert Storm drove Iraqis out of Kuwait. But peacekeepers make no distinction between victim and aggressor.

Obviously, these formal and informal rules of engagement limit the applicability of peacekeeping to situations where all parties have a will to peace, where it will not be necessary to use force against one of the parties.

That means normal peacekeeping rules of engagement cannot be safely or effectively applied in civil wars where no one can commit all combatants -- as in Somalia. The 22,000 peacekeepers assigned to former Yugoslavia have not been able to stop the devastation of Bosnia, the ethnic cleansing, the murder and rape. It is not realistic to imagine that lightly armed men will be effective in confronting determined, ruthless military forces.

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