Preparing Peacekeepers

Peacekeepers in places like Bosnia and Kosovo have demanding jobs. They're soldiers, police, and sometimes even diplomats rolled into one.

Combat training, a soldier's basic preparation, isn't all that's required. A strictly combat mentality, in fact, is a hindrance. The task isn't to destroy a military enemy, but to keep often-warring civilians from destroying each other. Also, peacekeepers must not themselves add to the conflict.

The need for better training was underscored by the terrible behavior last January of some US paratroopers on peacekeeping duty in Kosovo.

In the months since, the US Army has tried to strengthen training, including stronger emphasis on respect for human rights.

The task has probably been made more challenging by the Army's decision to shift all peacekeeping duties in Bosnia to National Guard divisions. This means more of America's part-time soldiers, who have been used to serving a weekend a month and two weeks in summer, will have to gear up for extended duty far from home.

On the positive side, many Guard troops are less rigidly focused on a particular combat specialty than regular troops and may thus be better suited to the varied demands of peacekeeping. The negative is that many Guard members, faced with spending so much time away from their families, could opt out of service altogether.

The best solution would be regular brigades trained as specialists in peacekeeping. This idea, unfortunately, goes against the grain of military tradition, which tends to concentrate resources on the armored units that fight "big" wars.

Whoever gets the job of carrying out American peacekeeping duties abroad, those troops will need to be brought up to speed on the complexities of the task. This will demand increased resources and a clear recognition that peacekeeping requires much more than military skill.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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