UN Force on Kuwait Border Likely to Fail

By , Steven J. Argersinger is a national security fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

ALTHOUGH the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) assumed full responsibility for maintaining peace along the Iraq-Kuwait border only a few days ago, it is not too early to begin planning for the eventual failure of this peacekeeping effort. Evidence suggests that UNIKOM will not succeed in bringing peace to this troubled border area. Accordingly, the United States should consider now what conditions, if any, will cause it to reintroduce a military force to enforce peace. History has proven that peacekeeping will be successful only if all of the following criteria are met: the objectives of the peacekeeping operation are clearly defined; there is sufficient military planning time; an adequate buffer zone is created; and most important, if there is a desire for peace by all conflicting parties. What do these four criteria tell us about UNIKOM's potential for success?

First, the mission assigned to UNIKOM is clearly defined and attainable: Oversee the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait and ensure that no military personnel, equipment, or fortifications are maintained there. UNIKOM is not responsible for refugee safety or for maintaining order inside the demilitarized zone. That means, however, that the opportunity exists for Saddam Hussein to take revenge on the mostly Shiite refugee population now residing in the demilitarized zone, and for Shiite refugees t o

use the zone as a safe haven to attack Iraqi forces. Unrest in southern Iraq can be expected to grow as the refugee population expands.

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Second, sufficient time to deploy peacekeeping forces. Such forces are ad hoc organizations typically comprised of units from as many as 10 nations. The commander is normally appointed only days before the arrival of his troops. Failure to establish a strong command presence suggests a lack of resolve and undermines future efforts to establish the rules of conduct in the area. Thanks to sound planning, US forces that occupied the demilitarized zone did not withdraw before UNIKOM was fully operational.

Third, wide buffer zones between conflicting parties. Preferably, buffer zones are also sparsely populated, provide good visibility of the combatants, are easy to patrol, and are located on accepted boundaries. Using these criteria, the nine-mile-wide buffer zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border should be adequate. Nevertheless, continued chaos and lack of central authority in Baghdad will increase the likelihood of religious and ethnic conflict along the demilitarized zone. Also, the Rumalia oil field stra d

dles the border of Iraq and Kuwait and is considered vital by both nations. The peacekeeping force does not have the mandate to protect the oil field from incursion by either Iraq or Kuwait.

Fourth, successful peacekeeping missions begin with a commitment to peace from all parties, in this case Iraq and Kuwait, as well as local Shiite leaders. A peacekeeping force cannot stop one side from attacking the other; their use of force is restricted to self-defense. The UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission is a relatively small force: 1,440 total personnel, including only 300 observers and 680 lightly armed soldiers in an area 125 miles long and nine miles wide. In comparison, the UN force in southern L

ebanon occupies a buffer zone measuring 50 miles by 20 miles, with an authorized strength of 6,000 soldiers. The decision to limit the number of troops in UNIKOM is a dramatic demonstration of UN awareness that unless Iraq wants peace there will be no peace, regardless of the presence of a United Nations force along its borders. This troop level also suggests that the US has agreed to back the peacekeeping force with at least air and naval forces.

The criteria for successful peacekeeping operations appear to suggest some optimism: the mission given UNIKOM is clear, the buffer zone is physically large enough, and there was sufficient planning time.

However, history says that when there is no commitment to peace by the adversaries, the peacekeeping operation will fail. Saddam has certainly made no such commitment. Violations of the fragile peace that now exists will increase as a burgeoning refugee population within Iraq spills into the demilitarized zone and as long as the Rumalia oil field tempts the Iraqis.

Sooner or later, force will likely be necessary to reestablish peace in southern Iraq. If this military action is to be part of a well-considered policy and not an emotional reaction to some future incident, planning must begin now.

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