US, UN Face Opportunity for Global Peace

THE end of the cold war has eliminated superpower competition over regional conflicts around the globe, but, unfortunately, it has not ended the conflicts themselves.

Actual and conceivable clashes with the potential to cause much destruction exist in too many corners of the globe. Total breakdowns of civil order, such as in Somalia, threaten starvation for thousands of innocent civilians. Calls for outside intervention once threatened to escalate into superpower confrontation. Now, with that danger removed, increasing attention is being given to the role that the United Nations can play in maintaining international peace and security with its own forces.

Many Americans recoil from the idea of a United Nations "army" or from the thought of putting United States forces under UN command. They fear our nation may become committed to battles it otherwise could avoid or that we may find ourselves on the "wrong" side in a conflict.

Yet I believe that we must move aggressively to create a mobile and efficient UN force precisely to avoid US entanglement in situations that could be more dangerous and more damaging to our national interests if we were involved unilaterally.

The recent decision to send US forces to protect emergency food shipments to Somalia only confirms my conviction that a UN force would help to prevent relying on the US as the 911 service for the globe. The main reason the US is called on to become so directly involved in Somalia is that we are currently the only country able to project and sustain its power at a distance. If a UN force were available, it could have the financial and logistical support from member countries to fulfill this function.

Americans need not fear a loss of sovereignty if such a force is created. Since all proposals for a UN force tie its use to a vote of the Security Council, where the US exercises an absolute veto, the US need never commit UN troops to a purpose in which we do not believe.

A UN peacekeeping force must be both politically sustainable and militarily effective, but the most important criterion for such a force is military effectiveness. If it succeeds at its mission of preserving peace and security, no one will care about the mix of its nationalities; if it fails, the political correctness of its member nations will not restore the force's credibility.

Proposals which have been offered up to now about how to create such a force err on one side or the other. For example, Richard Gardner, a professor of international law at Columbia University, has suggested that the five permanent members of the Security Council, acting under Article 43 of the UN Charter, designate units of up to brigade strength (2,000 soldiers) and another 30 member countries contribute units of battalion strength (600 to 700 soldiers) to a UN Rapid Deployment Force.

Mr. Gardner's proposal has the advantage of spreading the responsibility of such an armed force broadly throughout the world community, increasing the likelihood that it will be perceived as a true supranational force, not tied to parochial or national interests.

However, this UN Rapid Deployment Force must succeed dramatically the first time it is used. Its inability to carry out effectively the first peace mission assigned to it by the Security Council could undermine the political support that will have been carefully built to permit its creation.

Even if joint training and exercise produce a genuinely cohesive armed force, I doubt such training can be carried out quickly enough to produce such a force capable of addressing conflicts as soon as we need it.

R. James Woolsey has chaired a panel of the UN Association of the US which recommends, among other options, a small, rapid response force of, at most, two countries used to operating as an effective unit.

Mr. Woolsey cites British troops and Nepalese Gurkhas as an example of such a force. His example certainly meets the test of cohesiveness, but fails the test of political acceptability. I doubt that a force made up of these two nations would find ready acceptance anywhere in Asia, for example.

The Gardner and Woolsey plans fail the tests of political sustainability and military effectiveness. A better proposal is to designate several countries that meet the cohesiveness test as members of a pool upon which the secretary-general could draw. These forces would clearly be under UN command, but, if the crisis being addressed entailed special historical sensitivities for one of the designees, a limited number of other countries' forces would be available.

Finally, just as our nation's concepts of security need to expand beyond the traditional concerns of military threats, UN concepts of peace and security should include natural and human-made disasters, ecological catastrophes, and other threats that are beyond the response capacity of single nations.

As recent natural disasters in California attest, even a nation as wealthy and populous as the US can have its capabilities stretched to uncomfortable limits. This is why we have nothing to fear from seeking to fulfill now the dream of the United Nations founders that humanity could create an institution to preserve global peace and security.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.