The New GI as Mediator

Turning warriors into peacemakers has a biblical ring. It's hardly what has traditionally characterized the training given American GIs or Marines.

Yet techniques for "winning the peace" - to use the phrase often applied to Kosovo after NATO's air campaign - have been part of the drill for US land forces since the early 1990s. The setbacks in Somalia and the early challenges in Bosnia underscored the need to understand and work closely with both local people and international bureaucracies.

The US Army deserves praise for making peacekeeping tasks part of the curriculum at its war colleges in Carlisle, Pa., and Fort Bragg, N.C. Officers' test their ability to resolve conflicts between former enemies through role-playing exercises. They're taught how to bring some administrative order to war-battered communities. Police functions, like setting roadblocks and preventing civil violence, are studied. Current confrontations between NATO peacekeepers and vengeful crowds in Kosovo underscore the difficulties.

Recommended: Somalia: A timeline of change in a troubled country

While the Army has shouldered the bulk of peacekeeping responsibilities, the Marines also try to instill these essentially political skills, in line with their code of tackling any mission.

The idea of teaching combat soldiers peacekeeping skills may bother some military planners. It could seem a detour from the forces' war-fighting work. But few can doubt that peacekeeping tasks will continue to spring up. It's reassuring to know that American officers and the soldiers under them will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's positive, too, that officers from allied nations are participating in this training.

The trend should be sustained. Peacekeeping experience should be a factor in promotions within the military. Just as important, the civilian officials who'll make the decisions about what missions to undertake should encourage the services' teaching of peacekeeping skills. This know-how could be critical to establishing a constructive leading role for America in the 21st century.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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