The use of police instead of military forces as the primary peacekeepers in post-war conflict areas is an idea whose time has come.
Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have publicly stated that they wish to use police or constabulary forces to relieve the pressure of peace- support operations on the US military. In fact, a bill has been introduced in Congress directing the United States to support a UN rapid-police deployment plan. Unfortunately, few in the US foreign policy community seem to have recognized yet the extraordinary potential that this proposal holds.
Military force will always be needed when fully coercive measures, such as forcing a cease-fire, are necessary. But once a cease-fire begins, the efficacy of the military dramatically diminishes. At the same time, the need for civilian peace-building tools - the agencies of law and order: the police, judiciary, penal system, and body of law - increases. These are needs the military is ill-equipped to meet.
A rapid-deployment police or "blue force" - as blue is the most common color of law-enforcement uniforms throughout the world - would provide exactly the right tool at the right moment. Consisting of specially trained law enforcement officials, each blue-force member would be specifically trained in the plethora of possible civil challenges that inevitably arise in a post-conflict peace-building situation.
Further, the blue force would provide the right tool at the right price. In contrast with regular military forces, a blue force would need only conventional police equipment, long-barreled weapons, and some armored personnel carriers, along with other miscellaneous public-order support equipment for riot control. Without a need for tracked vehicles or heavy artillery, policymakers would find a blue force much cheaper to support on the ground than an army (or green force) without sacrificing peacekeeping capacity.
The blue force could easily deploy to a trouble spot before a cease-fire while the green forces are still on the ground. From the time of the signing of the cease-fire agreement, the blue force would be responsible for public order, routine police work, the arrest of war criminals, security for refugees, and, most important, starting the process of vetting, restructuring, and training the local police. The majority of a nation's military forces could start to withdraw as soon as the blue force was fully deployed.
In essence, the blue force becomes the most important factor in a military exit strategy. The start of the blue force's engagement would trigger the first phase of the army's withdrawal. In fact, had such a force quickly deployed to Kosovo we would not now be facing the growing loss of confidence in law and order in that region. We would in fact be able to plan more effectively the withdrawal of the "heavy" military units which serve little peace-building purpose anyway.
Different countries have different abilities to support such a blue force. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have complementary strengths that could be enhanced in the growing cooperation and sophistication of the North American politico-economic environment. The three countries could jointly form a "Corps of the Americas," whose units would train with each other and assist each other in understanding both common and civil law procedures.
Perhaps most important, their equipment would be air transportable from bases relatively close to each other.
Such a corps would constitute a significant foundation for a viable blue force - a substantial contribution to world peace and a meaningful institution of solidarity within North America.
Currently, there are proposals for the United Nations to have a standing constabulary force of 5,000 people. The Europeans are showing great enthusiasm for this idea and have already implemented the necessary European Union committees to make a blue force a reality. By 2003 the European Union will have 5,000 police identified, of whom 1,200 will be rapidly available, and have further plans to field 200 judges and prosecutors as well. However, the US stands to be left out of this new field unless action is taken now.
While the idea of a standing UN army is rightly an unrealistic dream, the idea of a standing UN constabulary force is a practical possibility of great importance. The blue force would not only provide US policymakers with a cheaper and more efficient tool than the use of military personnel, it would also supply the essential element in any real exit strategy for US military forces involved in post-conflict peace-building operations.
Making a blue force a reality is a major opportunity for the Bush administration to show that it is not going to renege on world leadership, while also demonstrating that it is serious about exit strategies. The blue force is needed now. Let's not let it slip quietly into the night.
Graham Day is a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace. He is former district administrator for the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor. Before that, he directed post-conflict civilian police training for the UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The views expressed here are his own.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor