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August 20, 2006

Lebanon and the Future of the UN
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Just as the deployment of a UN-sponsored force will be critical to the future of Lebanon, the same mission could be a cross-roads for the UN.  The UN has in recent years come under heavy criticism in the US for corruption, ineffectiveness and an unwillingness-cum-inability to reform.  On the other side, the organization's boosters point to the flagging US support for the UN as a key detriment to the world body's efficacy.  The Lebanon mission may put these competing claims to the test.

The mobilization of the mission is getting more complicated by the day.  While France had originally signaled willingness to serve as the backbone of the force, this week they revealed that they only intend to send an incremental 200 troops, a fraction of the 15,000 that will ultimately be needed.  France has a well-trained and respected military with deep ties to the region, making this a heavy blow to the nascent mission.   

On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel will not accept participation in the mission of troops from countries that do not recognize Israel.  This would exclude Bangladesh, which is currently the leading troop contributor to UN missions worldwide, as well as Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which had already stepped forward as willing to send in men.  Meanwhile Lebanese President Emile Lahoud has said his country will reject involvement of countries that have military ties to Israel, a ban that could potentially exclude Turkey and India, two other potentially important prospects.

Meanwhile, the ceasefire is in trouble on the ground.  Partly due to the week-long delay in deploying additional international troops, skirmishes between the parties are already breaking out.

There's reason to believe the resolution of these issues may matter as much for the future of the UN as it does for Lebanon.  Why?

- This is a crisis that only the UN can solve - Without a robust peacekeeping force in place, there seems little question that the conflict in Southern Lebanon will flare up again quickly and, particularly given the participation of Iran and Syria, destabilize the region.  For reasons described here, no one else can or will do the job. 

- The stakes are high - The world is depending on the UN to contain an explosive conflict that, in terms of its global impact on stability, oil, terrorism, and non-proliferation is higher stakes than Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, or any other prior UN mission.  Had the UN remained in Iraq that mission would have been of comparable import, but even there the UN was not slated to play the primary military role they will in Lebanon.

- The UN needs to demonstrate that its ready and willing to operate with robust rules of engagement - The reason France, Germany and others are citing for their reluctance to commit large numbers of troops to Lebanon is concern that current negotiations over the mandate of an expanded UNIFIL do not confer the mission with sufficiently broad and forceful rules of engagement to enable them to pacify Southern Lebanon, contain Hezbollah, and stanch the inflow of weapons through Lebanon's borders.  This is a legitimate concern, and was at the root of the UN's historic catastrophe at Srebrenica, a humiliation that set back UN peacekeeping for well over a decade by seeming to prove that the organization was incapable of peace enforcement under tough conditions (though its hard to say whether even a clear remit to use force would have worked given conditions in Bosnia). 

Now the UN has another chance.  It needs to show that its ready to mandate, man, and equip a true military mission, as well as wade through the minefield of attendant politics, including what happens if UN peacekeepers kill, what happens if Hezbollah retaliates a troop contributing country, and what happens if the parties resume open warfare.  If it can deliver, respect for the world body will soar.  If it fails, it won't get another chance for another decade or more, and global opinion will once again focus on the UN's limitations, rather than its capabilities.  No one can say with certainty whether the UN (or, for that matter, any conceivable global organization), is up to the job.

- The UN has to prove its capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time - As if it weren't enough to try to keep Hezbollah and Israel at arms-length, the prospective UN mission in Southern Lebanon will also have to coordinate a humanitarian assistance and reconstruction effort ambitious and efficient enough to compete with what Hezbollah itself can mount on Iran's dime.  Otherwise the UN risks winning the war but losing the peace in that if Hezbollah uses the next few years to increase its political capital among the Lebanese population, the short-term success of a peacekeeping operation is unlikely to keep the region stable in the long haul.  Humanitarian and reconstruction are areas where the UN excels, but carrying these tasks out in combination with an assertive military mission is something the organization has rarely if ever had to tackle.

-Its a test of whether the UN's supporters are willing put their troops where their mouths are - Dozens of countries, including the European Union, have been critical of the US's failure to more fully support the UN, both politically and financially.  Now that the UN badly needs them, it remains to be seen whether they will deliver and the early signs are not auspicious.  While its fair for countries to hesitate to put troops in harms way under terms of engagement they know are flawed, as with most everything else the UN does, the decision on how to mandate the Lebanon force will be made by the organization's members, not Secretariat bureaucrats.  So if the French are demurring because they don't like the rules of engagement, their stated belief in a strong UN means that they need to negotiate better rules, not walk away.  That said, I happen to think that, provided the parties concluded it would help not hurt, the US should also be prepared to put in at least a token troop contribution.  As strapped and over-extended as we are, we've still got large numbers of troops stationed in Europe, Japan and elsewhere.  Freeing up a few hundred would be worth it, if it stimulated others to do more.  The worst, most predictable mistake would be to launch this mission with inadequate troop commitments and face a failed counterterrorism scenario.  Coming while the US is still mired in Iraq, that would be an error for which the UN would not be forgiven. 


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Very impressive. I had to wait until the very end for you to assign responsibility to the US.
If you haven't noticed--the troops stationed in Japan and Europe are either USAF/USN who have no utility on the ground in Lebanon (or they would be in the mix for Iraq/Afghanistan), or Army/USMC who are already in the rotational mix for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond that given how the US is seen today vis a vis support for Israel together with the previous UN history- USMC barracks bombed by Hizbollah in 1983 causing 241 dead marines it's at best problematic to include US forces.

If the entire world minus the US can't muster first 3,500 and then 15,000 troops for what the world sees as a vital mission then the UN is simply not worth very much. However, the UN does not need to demonstrate it can operate under robust rules of engagement. Korea in 1950 was robust as was Desert Storm in 1991. It's the UN without the US that seems less than robust.

Is there any sense of shame or duty left in France?

France has a well-trained and respected military with deep ties to the region...

LOL -- deep ties as a colonial power. There's no love lost between France and the Shiites.

You're asking the UN to do something that Israel couldn't: clip Hezbollha's wings. This is an impossible mission, no matter how "robust" the ROE are. (The US army, with 130,000 troops, was unable to break Sadr and his "army" of poorly armed street thugs.)

And there's no way that the Shiites are going to switch allegiance to the UN just because we throw a few dollars around. The international community didn't give a damn about Lebanon's Shiites until now, and the Shiites know its because of Hezbollah.

You're setting the UN up for failure. You might as well have it intervene in Iraq's civil war.

Suzanne -

I'm confused about this debate. Here's what para. 12 of Resolution 1701 says. The Council

"authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of
its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment,ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence"

So the resolution contains the magic "all necessary action" language that would seem to grant UNIFIL the power to defend itself and its mission with force. I don't believe the UNPROFOR troops had a similarly robust mandate, and so I'm unclear why European countries fear a repeat of Srbernicia-like disasters.

In addition, 1701 also authorizes UNIFIL to help the Lebanese army fulfill its mandate under the resolution, which (in para. 8) includes ridding the southern part of the country of all non-governmental arms and militias and implementing prior SC resolutions which call explicitly for the disarmament of Hezbollah. So what's the problem here?

The one very strange aspect of this resolution is that while it finds the situation "a threat to the peace" it doesn't explicitly invoke Chapter VII of the Charter. The first almost always goes with the second. And the mandatory language of some sections of the resolution implies the binding force that only Chapter VII can supply. Perhaps the logic is that because there is an invitation by the Lebanese government, which includes permission to confront Hezbollah and (of course) the Israelis, Chapter VII was not needed to override the objectsions of any member state.

But on the staffing problem, one suspects the Europeans are just using this argument as a way to avoid troop commitments at all. Since 1701 was apparently the result of lengthy and hard bargainning, perhaps they're banking on the failure of any attemtts to revise its terms to meet their objections (whatever they may be).

Interested in your thoughts.

Ahhh, now she's got her groove back. The last submission was, well, not up to her standards.

Nossel shows exactly what's at stake in Lebanon; the problems of deploying troops from around the world to a noted trouble spot; and the longterm implications for Beirut, the region and the prestige of the world body.

Rather than muddy the waters, however, would not the debacle in Somalia be a more apt metaphor for the gathering crisis in the Cedar Republic, and not the Balkans?

The problem might not be the language in the resolution, but how it's perceived by the generals commanding the troops on the ground. True enough, but an even more basic, and ultimately dangerous, problem stems from the troop mix itself.

And here we return to the late stages of the Somali affair, only now we start out with the problem before attempting to fix it.

The White House, prudently, recommended that NATO (plus France, in her unique role) serve as the initial peacekeeping force in Lebanon. A strong force, experienced in ground combat ops in Afghanistan and other hot spots, with a large logistical tail and night-fighting capabilities, would be the best expeditionary force for southern Lebanon.

It would appeal to both the weak, quasi-centralized government in Beirut as well as the Israelis across the border. It would be far stronger than Hezbollah and, well, anyone else in the region except those troops controlled by Jerusalem or CENTCOM.

They also would include Islamic troops (albeit Sunni) from Turkey.

The Security Council, however, doesn't want to mention this because they realize that there's little popular support for deployments to Lebanon, despite all the public hand-wringing over IAF strikes there.

So we're left with the "volunteers" from third world nations little experienced with fighting entrenched guerillas in strange climes and places.

More problematical to French war planners isn't the rules of engagement (trust me, they'll fire back), but the fact that they'll be depending on Bangladeshis on their flanks. Anyone in Mogadishu in 1992 might offer some suggestion on the sagacity of those tactics.

They will never say it publicly, but the French generals are privately applauding Olmert's obstinate rebuttal of the offer for more soldiers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Some might see Lahoud's retort as tit-for-tat, but there's more than that present in his dismissal of troops with ties to Israel.

Always present to do Syria's dirty work, Lahoud doesn't want Turkey's highly competent, always lethal troops slowly crushing the life out of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah Sfeir and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt might have something to say about the career of Lahoud and his ties to Syria. I'll let them talk.

Rafik Hariri can't because, you know. But he might have mentioned a few unkind things about Lahoud about now, too.

"The US army, with 130,000 troops, was unable to break Sadr and his "army" of poorly armed street thugs."

That would come as some shock to al-Sadr! His clashes with U.S. troops, most notably in Karbala and Najaf, effectively ended his ability to knock heads with U.S. armor.

Perhaps you meant to say that the U.S. stopped short of disarming al-Sadr for reasons of comity with the larger community of Shi'i, and that this decision (along with not arresting the man) postponed dealing with a much larger problem (defanging the many sectarian militias bepopulating Iraq).

Certainly, our decision not to tackle al-Sadr when he was militarily defeated but still alive politically came back to haunt us. He's now the largest security problem we have in Iraq, even more than the hardcore, organic Sunni resistence.

But he's a problem deferred, so he doesn't exist in Bush's universe.

Neither "corruption, ineffectiveness and an unwillingness-cum-inability to reform," nor "the flagging US support for the UN as a key detriment to the world body's efficacy" explains the inability of the UN to force and sustain any ceasefire arrangements.

Rather, there is now no central authority higher than states in the international system. Those who consider the UN to be this kind of authority must consider that when states go to war, the UN does not have the authority or the capability to stop the conflict through force. This is a key difference between the level of the international system and the level of the individual: at the individual level, states own a monopoly of force with respect to their civilian population; the UN does not have this kind of violence monopoly over states in the international system. And when conflicts are paused through ceasefire arrangements, as has been the case between Israel and Hezbollah (August 14 2006), this is because both sides have decided to pause the war, not because they have been coerced to pause it by the UN. Either side could continue the conflict without fear of reprisal from a supra-national authority. At best, the UN allowed a forum for different parties to communicate with one another-but it is these parties themselves that decided to stop hostilities.

States interact within a condition of anarchy. Although certain international organizations such as the UN soften some of these conditions by allowing for more communication between states, ultimately there is no higher authority that can force states to not make war. Therefore the premise that the UN has caused this ceasefire agreement is false, as is the idea that the UN can do any more than it has already.

To expect the UN to operate with "robust rules of engagement" - to defend themselves more effectively than US marines did 20-some years ago, seems a bit farfetched. To expect them to do more through their moral legitimacy than Israel could do after decades of fairly robust engagement in Lebanon despite having an existential interest in the dispute is even more wild.

That would come as some shock to al-Sadr! His clashes with U.S. troops effectively ended his ability to knock heads with U.S. armor....Certainly, our decision not to tackle al-Sadr when he was militarily defeated but still alive politically came back to haunt us. He's now the largest security problem we have in Iraq, even more than the hardcore, organic Sunni resistence. -- soldieriniraq

Yes, we won militarily and lost politically. (Unfortunately, that might be this superpower's epitaph in the 21st century.)

I'm sure Sadr doesn't regret a thing. His loss to us helped make him "the largest security problem we have in Iraq."

Donovan has it right. Don't become engaged in fights you can't win. It's as true for the UN as it is for the the US military.

It should be noted that the other place where Nossel's piece appears -- -- is interesting in its own right for the range of "comments" it received.

Judge for yourself the real problem Nossel and others here will have pitching these commonsensical ideas to the Democrat base:

Amongst the comments there, one can see vaguely disguised hatred of Jews, inane ideas about "breaking" the Israeli naval blockade and advice for the UN to "paint" IAF jets before shooting them down.

That's sort of brainstorming the savants on this site will have to battle when they start forming U.S. foreign policy after the next presidential election.


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