Mark Twain once said that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
The same could be said of efforts to establish a multilateral peacekeeping force in the Middle East. Not only is there no agreement on a peacekeeping force, there is not even agreement on a ceasefire leading to creation of such a force.
But in fact, there actually is such a force already in being. It is known as UNIFIL, or United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and it has been there since 1978. It has 2,000 members, down from more than 6,000 at its peak. The force is drawn from France, Ghana, India, Italy, and Poland. It has suffered 257 casualties, and it is so impotent that it cannot even supply itself with food and water during the present fighting around it.
In all, there have been 59 UN peacekeeping forces. Typically the personnel in these forces are drawn from smaller countries because nobody trusts the larger ones. The oldest is the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) authorized in 1949 and main-ly concerned with Kashmir. The others have been scattered among 38 countries. All have limited powers for using force.
The drafters of the United Nations Charter in 1945 did not intend things to be like this. They envisioned a standing UN military force with real clout. They created the Military Staff Committee, consisting of the chiefs of staff of the permanent members of the Security Council at the time – China, France, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States. In ratifying the charter, all members of the UN agreed to make armed forces available to the Security Council. Members also agreed to "hold immediately available national air force contingents for combined international enforcement ac-tion." These forces could actually invade a country to compel it to comply with Security Council decisions.
The start of the cold war shortly after the charter was adopted kept these provisions from being implemented, and that was one of the cold war's less noticed but more important casualties. But the cold war is over. The Chinese representation issue (Beijing or Taiwan?) is now settled with Beijing holding possession of the Chinese seat as a permanent member of the Security Coun-cil – with a veto. This gets the Security Council back to its original form. So why not activate the Military Staff Committee? If nothing else, it would provide a forum for multilateral military discussions among the five permanent members.
But even if all of this happens, it is going to take a long time, and it will be powerfully influenced by contemporaneous events involving Lebanon, Hizbullah, the Palestinians, Iraq, and Muslim sectarian strife, among other things. This is the witches' brew for which the international community has so far been unable to find an answer.
The United States is the most involved and least trusted player. This is a good reason for the Europeans or the United Nations to take the lead, but they think that this would be a hopeless cause without US pressure on Israel. It is the close US relationship with Israel that is seen as the US's ace in the hole, but this ace may not be as powerful as it appears if the United States is unwilling to use it.
The United States can also be seen as Israel's ace in the hole. From the moment of its founding in 1948, Israel has been able to count on the US to come through when it needed international support.
Europeans think this is why any initiative on their part is hopeless without US pressure on Israel. This pressure is unlikely to be forthcoming, especially in an election year. Of our 11 presidents since Israel's founding, George W. Bush is probably the one least concerned with giving the appearance of evenhandedness.
But even if he were evenhanded, Congress probably would not let him get away with it. Both parties want to appear more pro-Israeli than even the Israelis. The latest example is the action of the House of Representatives in passing a resolution by a vote of 430 to 8 declaring strong support for Israel against Hizbullah.
This ability of countries to influence Congress is not unique to Israel. The pattern is to go first to the State Department; if State resists, go to the White House; and if the White House resists, go to Congress, where they almost always get what they want.
• Pat Holt is former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.