Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Peacekeeping? Not a recipe for success

The concept of peacekeeping troops seems to have gained great ascendancy, and suffered appropriate ignominy in the short span of my life.  It came about as a response to the collapse of Somalia into what, euphemistically, was called a civil war but in reality was a number of uber-thugs and warlords fighting for control of territory in a country where the government had been stripped of all practical power.  Peacekeeping as an idea suffered a setback in the U.S. when American troops were captured and their bodies were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after they had been killed.


In spite of this, the practice was attempted again only a few years later in the Balkans as a response to the “ethnic cleansing” going on as another state dissolved into chaos; this time Yugoslavia.  UN peacekeepers became synonymous with incompetence as the rules of engagement they operated under frequently stopped them from using the weapons they possessed even in self-defense.  Most notably, a squadron was captured by a local militia/army unit using captured UN uniforms.


Some would have us believe that right now the world is spinning into chaos.  North Korea is rattling it’s worn and rusty saber; the U.S. military is pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan attempting to perpetrate a democracy on local populations that seem unwilling or incapable of standing up on their own.  Perhaps most significantly in many the minds of many Americans, Israel is once again at war with its neighbors.


This last piece is the one I’d like to talk about, as regards peacekeepers, though the ideas can be applied to the other situations as well.


In today’s Washington Post, columnist Harold Meyerson writes from the safety of not needing to make decisions that,

“Real border security is going to require the kind of force that didn't exist as World War I loomed. With the Lebanese army no match for Hezbollah, a genuine international army such as that proposed by Kofi Annan and Tony Blair (and bigger and more assertive than the Boy Scout troops that the United Nations periodically deploys) is needed to restore the peace.”


Regardless of how much “bigger” or how much more “assertive” a force in the Middle East would be than it’s predecessor Peacekeeping cousins, it would be doomed to fail without a couple of simple preconditions:

  1. That the countries contributing troops be prepared to lose a large number of young men (and women, depending on the country) in uniform;
  2. That the countries be willing to put these troops on the ground in a region that has been suffering violence regularly for the past 40 years;
  3. That the countries be willing to engage the Israeli Defense Force, Hamas, and Hezbollah equally for likely violations of the terms of truce that the peacekeeping force would itself have to establish—with or without consent from the hostile parties
  4. That the contributing countries would be willing (and their troops able) to enforce marshal law over large, urban populations, where underground paramilitary activity (Hamas and Hezbollah) have become accustomed to operating in this capacity for decades.
  5. Certainly not least significant, that the countries contributing troops to this exercise would have to be willing to see images on Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN of their troops firing missiles into schools and hospitals, killing women and children, because terrorists/insurgents would use these facilities for refuge, or because the troops mistakenly thought so.


All of these would happen because this would not be a peacekeeping mission, but a peace-forcing or peace-creating one.  It would involve inserting an additional hostile force between two (actually 3) forces already engaged in combat.  It would happen because war is ugly, destructive, ends lives, and makes the lives of those involved the worse for its experience.


My opinion: good luck getting a “peacekeeping” force that is either effective designed to succeed through a single government on Earth, much less through the recalcitrant UN Security Council.


ramblingbarrister said...

The problem I continue to see here with any proposal is that they fail to address the root causes, and instead, seek to solve them the only way we know how-- with a bigger army/gun/bomb. The cold war mentality of "problem states" does not apply to groups like Hizbollah or Al Queda-- because we do not allow them to become states (though Hizbollah was beginning to develop social instituions akin to states, and Hamas was following suit).

My thoughts:

1.) Engage, engage, engage. The Bush policy of non-engagement with these quasi-state structures simply entrenches these groups, and further motivates their bases, while not giving the West any advantages. History has shown that peoples appreciate portions of Western culture (while those in Saudi Arabia may not like our movies, they certainly do appreciate coffee makers, for example), and these luxuries draw them closer to the Western ideals that we like. But when we close them off politically, they retaliate by closing us off economically. That usually doesn't hurt our economy, but it certainly does restrict our ability to influence theirs.

2.) Fight these groups clandestinely-- KGB-like/CIA-like. We are fighting the IRA here, not the Germans. We need to understand them and fight small-scale, not large scale. This is a war of ideas-- the Mafia ran soup kitchens in Chicago, remember-- and they weren't brought down by sending in the national guard, but by small groups of cops cracking down on the little stuff-- and tax evasion. The Bush administration has backed itself into a corner-- on one hand it has diminished the role of the UN as being a wasteful and unnecessary institution, and now knows it needs to support it as the authority to which makes an objective mandate to which everybody agrees.

alektra said...

Here's something that may be of import:

Give amnesty to those schools and hospitals. Find a way to get the innocents (kids, eldery, ill) out of the area. Nothing could really show more compassion and deter those who are trying to decide whose side they're on. Compassion to the weakest is the greatest indicator of good in most societies.

The problem with this is that the immediate reaction would be to put these people into internment camps, and that is opposite to the goal this would seek. Countries would have to do more than just sacrifice their young men and women; they would have to open their doors, and widely, to these refugees. And not just the U.S., but other countries to give families the opportunity to save those they know need the care and the safety those countries cannot provide.

The amount of planning would be amazing. The amount of coordination, backbreaking. But in the big picture, taking care of the children, of the elderly, treating the people who are truly caught in the middle of a nightmare may be the first real step towards peace.