Peacekeeping vs. Peacemaking

JONATHAN POWER

August 20, 1993|By JONATHAN POWER

Geneva, Switzerland. -- Item 1: In August, 1993, the Italians accuse the Americans of behaving like Rambos in Somalia.

Item 2: In 1947, the United Nations' Military Staff Committee prepared a proposal which the Big Five -- the U.S., China, the Soviet Union, France and Britain -- all agreed to, on the strength and size of a U.N. Force: Air Force: 750 bombers, 500 fighters, 250 others. Naval Force: 3 battleships, 6 carriers, 12 cruisers, 33 destroyers, 64 frigates, 24 minesweepers and 14 submarines. Army: 15 divisions -- 450,000 men.

The Cold War put a stop to this. But one wonders if the planning had gone ahead how many incidents like the American helicopter shoot-out in Somalia would have happened by today? This was not a blueprint for peacekeepers, but for peace-enforcement employing professional warriors. Indeed, the goals of the peace-enforcers were ambitious. The British delegation to the discussions drew up a list of possible areas for the deployment of this U.N. force, one that would not look too out-of-place today:

a) The Balkans: Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

b) The Middle East: Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

c) Southeast Asia: Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Vietnam and Dutch East Timor.

The Cold War well and truly over, shouldn't we give up all this do-good, blue-helmeted peacekeeping and return to the United Nations' original mandate, enabling it, in the words of the U.N. Charter's Article 42, ''to take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to restore international peace and security?''

No, I don't believe so. Both are needed -- as long as they are kept distinct and not confused as they are in Somalia. In the years since the Cold War put a stop to these grandiose military plans of the United Nations we've learned a lot about conflict resolution.

Out of necessity, blocked by superpower hostility to anything bigger, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold fashioned the half-way house of peacekeeping -- lightly armed units of military personnel who, acting more like policemen than soldiers, can only use their arms in self-defense. It has served the world well -- separating the rival Egyptian and Israeli armies in 1973, patrolling in Cyprus and Kashmir, monitoring elections in Namibia and El Salvador and holding the ring in Cambodia, the most successful operation of all.

In none of these situations was there, to my knowledge, any incident comparable to the U.S.-led helicopter raids in Somalia. The U.S. has never served before in a full-scale U.N. peacekeeping operation and it shows. Temperamentally, the U.S. is more suited to the warrior operation than peacekeeping.

What the United Nations has to do quickly is to formally separate its peacekeeping from its peace-enforcement. Let the peacekeeping continue as it has with its blue-helmets, its tradition of non-confrontation and its anti-Rambo form of military discipline.

At the same time, it is right to pursue the build-up of a peace-enforcement capability, as was foreseen in 1947, while watching carefully that the world's one remaining superpower doesn't take it over. It is both against the spirit of the U.N. Charter and politically counterproductive in the long run to subcontract peace enforcement to the U.S., as was done with Iraq three years ago.

The United Nations must have its own command structure and troops, planes and ships it can call on and activate from a wide number of nations. Otherwise the rank-and-file membership will become convinced that it is not a world body but an American body.

In a curious, tortuous, even accidental way, the last couple of weeks have seen the United Nations take the first steps toward building its own fighting force. It came to be because the U.S. and its European allies decided to put a joint fighter-bomber contingent numbering 50 planes on standby in southern Italy, prepared to attack Serbian gun positions.

After bitter wrangling with Washington, the Europeans and the Canadians won agreement that the force could not be activated by command from President Bill Clinton but only by the Security Council and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, essentially making him commander-in-chief of a powerful, state-of-the-art fighting force. The last 14 words are an underreported development of momentous political significance.

Even if this particular force is never deployed as threatened, a Rubicon has been crossed. And having crossed it in principle, it's time to reopen the books closed in 1948 and reactivate the long-term planning for a U.N. warrior force.

There are two distinct jobs for the United Nations to do -- peacekeeping and peace-enforcement. Both are needed but distinct they must be. Indeed the blue insignia must be confined to the former and other colors found for the latter.

This will both avoid the confusion of Somalia and put the United Nations on a course for breathing life back into its Charter. After all, this is how the great political minds of 1945 saw it and who are we to say they were wrong?

Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

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