The massacres in Beirut and the international community's inability to prevent them demonstrate the need to create a permanent United Nations police force. Had such a force existed and been sent to Beirut at the time United States, French, and Italian troops were first introduced, it might have averted tragic loss of life. As a police force representing the world community, it could have remained longer than the quickly withdrawn three-nation force, thus avoiding the entrance of Israeli and Lebanese Christian militia into west Beirut at all.
At last the establishment of such a force may be politically acceptable to those who must support it to make it successful. Following the Beirut massacres the governments of Lebanon, the Soviet Union, the US, and most Arab states all favored sending a UN peace-keeping force to Beirut. It was not sent, through no fault of the UN or its existing ad hoc forces but because Israel opposed the idea. The Israelis presumably thought a UN force would be less reliable and less sympathetic to Israeli interests than the return of a US-French-Italian force.
The creation of a permanent UN force would help overcome future objections, both real and imagined, such as the Israelis posed. It would also increase the determination and political ability of other governments to employ such a police force early enough in volatile contexts to prevent precisely what happened in Beirut. Indeed, if such a force had been created a decade ago, it might also have made the prolonged Syrian military presence in Lebanon unnecessary, and removed other reasons - whether pretexts or real concerns - for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the first place.
To gain the political support required for employing a UN force effectively in future conflicts, it should have these characteristics: It must be permanently established to acquire an unassailable reputation for impartial enforcement. The members of the police force should be individually selected by the UN from persons who volunteer. Wide geographic, national, and linguistic representation is essential. Those recruited would give loyalty to the UN, its officials, and the prescriptions of the world community.
This differs slightly yet significantly from ad hoc UN peacekeeping forces which have relied on contingents contributed from national armed forces. The proposed force would make it difficult to allege that its personnel have divided loyalties or take orders from their own national governments rather than the UN. Once in place for enforcement action, an individually recruited force could not be pressed to withdraw prematurely, as occurred with an ad hoc force separating Egyptian and Israeli forces in 1967, under pressure from two contributing states which threatened to pull their troops out of the UN force if it remained in place.
Appropriate training would produce a highly skilled, professional group. As an individually recruited force, it could have a fully integrated command structure under the Secretary-General's authority. The force should be stationed near points of recurring tension, ready to move immediately, and prepared to stay indefinitely. It could be sent into action through either General Assembly or Security Council decision as long as the host government agreed to its presence.
Even if equipped more as a police force than as an army, it would still possess the merits described here. The political opposition of partisan governments to accepting impartial enforcement - not a complaint about military weakness of UN forces - has usually caused disuse in the past.
Previous UN successes with ad hoc enforcement procedures confirm the potential usefulness of creating an even more effective and politically palatable UN force. Such a force can be especially helpful where US, Soviet, and third-world interests coincide. These points include halting the slaughter of civilians caught in the cross fire of civil wars; interposing a buffer force between the military forces of antagonistic countries; keeping peace in strife-ridden countries where one or both superpowers may be tempted to intervene but each is willing to refrain if it can be assured that the other side will be kept out; and patrolling borders during revolutionary conflicts where one superpower genuinely fears or falsely claims that the infiltration of foreign arms justifies its own involvement.
Other uses come to mind, incuding the Falkland/Malvinas Islands and the Kampu-chean-Thai border and refugee camps. Such a force could also help guarantee a peaceful, open Jerusalem and perhaps even undergird a Palestinian-Israeli political settlement on the West Bank.
To create a dependable institution for enforcing international legal norms - such as against the needless killing of civilians - is one of the most transformative acts possible in today's diplomacy. The earlier a permanent force is established, the more surely the accretion of international practice can proceed. Through precedent the role of legal enforcement could gradually expand.
Tragic though they are, international crises provide fleeting opportunities for changing the rules of the international game. Because the US, Soviet, and many nonaligned governments have recently agreed on the utility of a UN enforcement function, we have a chance to produce a small yet lasting change in international relations. To reduce the violence in at least a few conflicts could pave the way for eventually moving more of them from the battlefield to the admittedly imperfect yet more promising field of law enforcement and political settlement. Those who yet live should show an urgency of purpose equal to the human agony that lies in the streets of every continent's Beirut.