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The UN Needs a `Fire Brigade' To Douse Regional Conflicts

A true international force could act quickly in situations likeRwanda's

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THE alarm went off on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down and the first reports of widespread carnage flooded in. Instead of sending international forces to stop the killing, the United Nations troops on the scene were pulled out. Two genocidal months, 300,000 deaths, and half a million refugees later, the United States agreed to a UN force of 5,500 troops from seven African countries. With luck, it may arrive in late summer or early fall. In desperation, France has deployed a force of 2,500 (including its Foreign Legion) despite being perceived by Rwandans as partisan. It is far too late for the dead and dying.

``We can do better,'' as President Clinton likes to say about domestic policy, and the world must do better in fighting conflagrations like Rwanda. Under current UN procedures, once a new operation is approved, the secretariat starts from a zero base of resources. The secretary-general must constantly beg member states for the means to implement Security Council resolutions. The answer: a volunteer UN ``fire brigade'' - a quick-response force to stop a low-intensity conflict before it rages out of control.

What kind of a force makes sense? A standard regimental-size combat team with five key features: 1) a standing force; 2) staffed by personnel who volunteered for UN service; 3) detached from member states and national chains of command; 4) equipped with on-hand ``interoperable'' equipment; and 5) led by a unified command reporting to an enhanced military staff at UN headquarters.

Such a ``fire brigade'' would be deployed by airlift immediately upon Security Council authorization without the delay of assembling national contributions. It being a truly international force, no parliament would need to debate why its soldiers would be fighting machete-wielding Rwandans or Haitian thugs.

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