Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

New UN Role: Make, Not Just Keep, the Peace

Somalia violence shows `blue helmets' can be overmatched, need additional firepower

FOR the world's rescue effort in Somalia, the second act is proving more difficult than the first.

When United States forces turned over their peacekeeping duties to United Nations-led troops last month, the Somali security situation appeared stabilized. But the ad hoc UN peacekeeping force, less organized and not as well-armed as its US predecessor, was unable to prevent the gradual return of Somali gunmen to the streets of Mogadishu.

About these ads

Forceful retaliation for the recent ambush of Pakistani peacekeepers could, in the short term, restore order in the Somali capital. (Reprisal prospects, Page 7.) But the longer-term problem remains: UN peacekeeping forces are today being asked to shoulder far more responsibility than before, without corresponding increases in funds, leadership, or heavy weaponry.

The plight of the overmatched Somali peacekeepers is being replicated, in different forms, in Cambodia and throughout the Balkans. (US troops to deploy to Macedonia, Page 6.) In these situations "it is not just a lack of management support in New York, but an overall lack of equipment and personnel in the field that has gutted the peacekeeping effort," says a new report on peacekeeping by the Worldwatch Institute.

Pakistanis ambushed in Somalia last week, for instance, reportedly ran into trouble at least partly because they do not have armored personnel carriers available for patrol in unsettled areas, as the Americans did. Poorly trained peacekeepers from other nations have at times fired wildly in Mogadishu and needed rescue.

A US quick-reaction force (QRF) intended to provide heavy military backup is still present in Somalia. The experience of last week, however, shows that this concept can have its limitations.

According to the Pentagon, the QRF is designed to provide reinforcement within 30 minutes. When called to the aid of embattled Pakistanis last weekend, the QRF first was told to move to the wrong location on a Mogadishu road.

They had to return to headquarters to get confirmation of the correct location. Upon arrival at this new map grid point, the Pakistanis were again not present, Defense Department spokesman Bob Hall said this week. Eventually the QRF heard gunfire and found the pinned-down peacekeepers.

At press time, the widely expected retaliation against Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed had not occurred. The US has sent AC-130 gunships to Somalia, however, and is considering "a small number of additional forces for the QRF," Mr. Hall says.

About these ads

The UN itself is well aware of its peacekeeping limitations. Last year, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali issued a report intended as a call for Western nations to increase international peacekeeping capabilities.

The heart of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's "Agenda for Peace" is a proposal that member nations designate units of their armed forces as standby peacekeepers. Thus peacekeeping efforts could better coordinate leadership, training, and response.

Though some European nations support the idea, the US and Britain, among others, have reacted cooly to anything resembling a "new world army." But the secretary-general's report was far from stillborn.

"As an intellectual framework it is very much a point of reference for people," says David Shorr, an international organizations expert at BASIC, a security information think tank.

Founders of the UN originally thought such an international army would be part of their new organization. Competition between the US and the Soviet Union prevented agreement on giving the UN enforcement teeth, however.

What developed instead was the UN practice of inserting nonviolent peacekeepers into an area after a cease-fire has been agreed upon. This practice has worked well in many situations. But in recent years the pace of peacekeeping requests has increased, as well as the difficulty of peacekeeping situations.

More and more, UN "blue helmets" are being thrown into situations where violence continues and peacemaking, as opposed to peacekeeping, is needed.

Worldwatch analyst Michael Renner proposes upgrading the UN with a multi-tier peacekeeping approach, including:

* A UN early-warning office that monitors troublespots.

* Permanent conflict-resolution committees set up in various regions of the world.

* The pro-active deployment of peacekeepers, to prevent fighting from starting.

* Both a standing UN peacekeeping force that would be a kind of UN Foreign Legion, and specially designated back-up contingents from various nations that the Security Council could call up on short notice.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.