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Rethinking Peacekeeping

“Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror.” So writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. He proposes to create just that — a permanent UN force that could deal with problems in places like Somalia. At the risk of throwing off-kilter his perception of American conservatives, I will say that I for one do not regard the idea with horror. (Gideon is right that most on the Right do.)

In fact, I’ve long been drawn to the notion myself because the current setup — ad hoc peacekeeping forces with lousy training and equipment and little capacity to impose their will — has led to one disaster after another in places like Congo and Rwanda, where the big boys (i.e., the U.S. and its allies) have no intention of directly intervening. We are seeing the results now in Somalia, where the Shahab Islamist movement is on the march — and has now started to destabilize neighboring countries like Kenya.

I actually think it is in our own interest to create a more robust UN peacekeeping capacity — assuming that some accountability can be imposed on blue helmets who have a disturbing propensity to commit sex crimes and other offenses for which they are currently not punished. That is why I think Gideon’s approach is not the right one. He writes:

All of this points to the need to create a proper UN force on permanent stand-by. Such a force need not be a conventional army, with its own barracks and personnel. It would be better to get countries to give the UN first call on a certain number of their troops, for a specific period of time. National sovereignty could still be respected by allowing countries to opt out of missions, if they inflame national sensitivities.

But under his proposal, the countries contributing troops would be the same ones as today — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. In other words, the bottom of the barrel in terms of military capacity. And as long as UN forces are made up of national contingents, the idea of imposing unity of action or accountability on them will remain a distant dream.

I think there is a better way: Approach the problem the way DynCorp or Xe (nee Blackwater) do, by hiring veterans of Western militaries. If they are willing to work for military contractors, surely they would be willing to work for the UN. Procure for them vital assets such as aircraft and helicopters and set them loose with a mandate to recruit local forces to help them. It would not take many British SAS or U.S. Special Forces veterans to impose order in chaotic situations in Africa, as long as they have plentiful firepower on call as well as the ability to train and lead indigenous forces. Military contractors like the now-defunct Sandline have proven that. To help them, create a robust command-and-control capacity within the UN. Oh, and make them sign contracts that would make them accountable for their actions before the International Criminal Court or some other body.

All this would probably cost a lot less than the current peacekeeping setup and achieve better results. To those who are congenitally suspicious of the UN (and I don’t blame you — the UN has done much to earn such suspicion): Keep in mind that the U.S. will still retain a veto over how these forces are used. So there is no serious prospect of a UN army being sent to drive the Israelis out of East Jerusalem.


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