The Limitations Of a UN `Army'
THE failure of the international community to act decisively in the Balkan conflict has led United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to propose an international "police force" made up of 1000-man contingents from member nations. While the idea of genuine collective security is one of the pillars upon which the UN was founded, it is also a deeply flawed idea, as examination of its strategic and operational utility shows.
The UN has a central paradox: While an effective UN must have the power to coerce national governments, few nations are willing to give the organization this power lest it damage their own interests. None of the powerful member-nations will relinquish elements of national sovereignty to an international organization they cannot control. A successful coalition, needed to win a difficult victory, must be dominated by a party with narrow interests that is willing to sacrifice people and material in order to
reach its goal. For the tough campaigns, such as driving the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait, a coalition must be dominated by one nation, or a small group of nations, willing to make the difficult decisions and sacrifices.
The current trend in international peacekeeping is toward the use of soldiers as symbols of the transient will of the international community. Usually sent in after cease-fire agreements, these soldiers, the precursors of a UN army, act as human trip wires. Combatants are shamed into not attacking them. The Canadian commander of UN forces in Sarajevo does not have a defined and attainable military objective, he does not have an offensive mission, and he does not have the resources to perform either. He h as no initiative of action, and his force exists at the pleasure of the combatants around him. The 1982-83 international peacekeeping force in Lebanon was similarly robbed of the initiative, but, tragically, the combatants were not so tolerant as the Serbs have been to date.
THE goal of a police force is to enforce laws to the extent that there is an acceptable level of compliance: In other words, a policing effort is a battle of attrition. The goal of a military force is to secure objectives that are the natural outgrowth of political goals: in other words, victory. The ability of the UN Army proposed by Mr. Boutros-Ghali to present a military character adequate to win formidable conflicts must be in great doubt. The intellectual and psychological strength of the field comm anders and their soldiers, an unquantifiable but hugely important factor in combat, is carefully fostered in the professional armies of most nation states. A UN collaboration army would lack this character.
To some degree, this has been recognized. The proposed strategy is to send the UN army to crisis areas as soon as any indication of trouble arises, a preemptive strike of sorts. But, this strategy once again relies on using the UN army as a human challenge, a tripwire for international condemnation - a mission that completely takes the initiative away from UN soldiers.
Faced with a complex international crisis such as the Balkans, the reaction of many policymakers and commentators is to separate the problem-solving approaches into two distinct realms: diplomatic and military solutions.
A vaguely defined military intervention is proposed as the solution to an intractable diplomatic stalemate. The director of Georgetown University's Institute of Diplomacy actually proposed the incremental application of force (a la Vietnam), ending in "combat operations."
The strategy of using an international force that acts as a human challenge - whose basic weapon is the conscience of the combatants it faces - is fundamentally flawed from a military perspective, but it can enjoy limited successes in some instances. The employment of a UN army to be used as an offensive military force in difficult and complex conflicts, however, has even greater shortcomings.