The peacekeeper's view


Monday, 4 September, 2000

Major General Lewis MacKenzie, the Canadian commander of UN troops in Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, is a veteran of eight UN missions. He tells BBC News Online that UN peacekeeping faces further disasters unless it undergoes reform.
With a discouraging series of peacekeeping disasters and subsequent UN apologies fresh in their minds from the 1990s, the delegates will turn to the recently released Brahimi Panel Report on UN Operations for both guidance and encouragement.

Security Council role
What a shame, for by doing so, they will neatly avoid addressing the real problem with peacekeeping operations: that is, the decision making process within the Security Council itself.
The report indicates that the consent of the parties to the conflict, impartiality and the use of force only in self-defence should remain the "bedrock" of peacekeeping.
It recommends that if one party violates the terms of any cease fire or peace agreement, the peacekeeping force must abandon its impartiality and take sides.
Sounds great in theory but unfortunately, it will not work in practice.
Who will decide if one or more sides is the aggressor and by default who is the victim?
Presumably the UN Force Commander on the ground will be in one of the best positions to make such a judgement.
Having done so, his recommendations will continue to run into the hard reality of Security Council natural alignments and prejudices, particularly amongst the Permanent Five members.
During the war in Bosnia, blaming the Serbs was stonewalled by the Russians.
Condemning actions by the Croatian or the Bosnian Forces was frequently moved off the Council's agenda by the US.

More support needed
The result was the inevitable watered-down compromise that contributes to mission creep in most UN missions and inevitably leads to disaster.
This will not change - keep your eye on the Congo for confirmation.
Any time a UN force takes sides in a conflict it had better be led, organised, equipped, trained and supported for such a role.
The Brahimi Report indicates that a number of "coherent multinational brigade (approximately 8,000 troops) sized forces" be organised by member-states to meet these requirements.
Once again, nice theory but when it comes time to deploy one or more of the brigades into a mission area, the term "coherent" will no longer apply.
At the 11th hour, any number of contributing states will undoubtedly determine that they have no national self-interests at stake in the new crisis area.
They will then withdraw their troops from the brigade leaving the poor commander with a very "incoherent" force with a much reduced capability to act tough.
The report encourages the UN to plan for worst-case scenarios rather than best-case, thereby providing the force commander with the tools to do the job.
In remote Northern Canada, I could almost hear the screams of support from UN force commanders past and present to this very sensible recommendation.

Lack of commitment
Too bad really because nothing will change. Worst-case scenarios are too expensive in dollars and potential loss of life.
Mentioning 60,000 plus to defend the "safe havens", including Srebrenica, for the UN force in Bosnia in 1993 threw the UN Security Council into a state of denial.
Try convincing the Council today that the situation in the Congo demands up to 400,000 peacekeepers to cope with the worst-case scenario in that country and see how far you get.
As a compromise a few hundred unarmed observers will be deployed with a tiny force of lightly armed soldiers to assist them.
Worst case? I think not.
Ambassador Brahimi's distinguished panel of individuals from 10 nations has attempted to upgrade the UN's capacity to deal more quickly and effectively with international crises in the future.
"Secretariat (should) tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear when recommending force and other resource levels for a new mission", it says.
This somewhat naive statement fails to recognise that the permanent Five members of the Security Council, with their superior intelligence gathering capabilities, know long before the UN Secretariat what is required in the mission area.
Mind you, they frequently refuse to acknowledge that capability and prefer to blame the Secretariat for not keeping them informed as they did following the genocide in Rwanda.
There are other, more practical recommendations contained in the report ranging from inspecting national contingents before they depart for the mission area to confirm their readiness to establishing a proper headquarters to plan and support operations.

National self-interest prevails
Nevertheless, the fact is UN member-states and particularly those of the veto holding Permanent Five of the Security Council - China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and France - will pursue self-interests.
For this reason, they will continue to thwart the practical preparation and conduct of peacekeeping operations now and in the future.
The UN will continue to be forced into "doing something" when the images from the next vicious conflict affront our conscience.
However "something" will never be enough to meet the expectations of the victims or the spectators, otherwise known as the international community.
It is a simple fact that few countries are prepared to sacrifice their sons and daughters on the altar of someone else's human rights.
I can only hope that the UN Millennium summit avoids the platitudes and at least recognises as well as discusses the real causes of past failures.

Original article