The Best Military Option: Stronger UN Peacekeeping
IT is good that the Pentagon is reassessing the role of the United States military in the post-cold war world. National policy needs to be modified from time to time to take account of changed conditions in the world. But, alas, the defense planners have confused their own bureaucratic security with the country's national security. There is nothing unusual, or even necessarily wrong about this, so long as the rest of us recognize it as self-serving and are not taken in by it.
The latest military reassessment calls for a policy based on American preeminence and for measures to prevent the emergence of regional powers (even friendly ones) which might threaten that preeminence. What is attractive about this new doctrine from the military's viewpoint is that it would ensure a large military role (and large defense budgets, with a great deal of high-tech procurement) into the indefinite future. What is undesirable about it from the point of view of the national interest is that it
would involve the US in endless local quarrels and conflicts all over the world.
The planning document specifically eschews the role of world policeman, but that would be the inevitable result of the policy the document sets forth.
It is too bad that the Pentagon's vision is so narrow and its imagination so limited. The breakup of the Soviet Union has launched a period of unprecedented change. Among the other consequences is the opportunity - perhaps - to make the United Nations' peacekeeping functions work like the founders intended them to in the pre-cold war days of 1945.
The idea at that time, which now seems so long ago, was that the Security Council would have its own military forces to respond to threats to the peace. This is all set forth in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Among other things, the chapter provides that all members of the UN will make available to the Security Council "armed forces, assistance, and facilities ... for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security." Members are to hold national air force contingents immediately available for
urgent measures of combined international enforcement action. There is a Military Staff Committee, consisting of military representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council, to give the council military advice and to provide strategic direction for the council's military forces.
None of this worked as envisioned in the charter, because the divisions of the cold war made it impossible for the permanent members of the Security Council (the US, United Kingdom, France, China, and the Soviet Union, now replaced by Russia) to agree on peacekeeping actions. But the structure is in place.
Notwithstanding, on numerous occasions the UN has found practical ways to circumvent the cold-war deadlock in the Security Council and to sponsor ad hoc peacekeeping forces. Some of these forces have stayed in place for years; some have done their largely unheralded jobs and gone home.
Until very recently, there was tacit agreement that UN peacekeepers would not include forces from the permanent members of the Security Council. This was a delicate way of ruling out Americans and Russians in recognition of cold- war realities and third-world sensitivities. But now Russian troops are part of the UN peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia, and there is no reason why they, and Americans as well, cannot be used in UN operations in other places.
UN forces are unlikely ever to be large enough to pull off an operation like Desert Storm; there will continue to be a need for American forces. But even for Desert Storm, the UN provided an invaluable political cover and UN members provided significant military units which kept it from being an entirely American operation.
Greater institutionalization of UN peacekeeping operations can be expected to strengthen the UN generally. It also can be expected to expand the opportunities for constructive participation by some of the UN's smaller members; and this, in turn, will possibly make them more responsible members.