Friday, August 18, 2006

Standing on Rhetoric in Lebanon

Believe it or not, George Bush may actually have stumbled on a rhetorical formula that could be useful in the never ending search for peace in a world at war – many of which the U.S. has hand a hand or foot in starting or perpetuating.

In the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 on the process of implementing and extending the cease-fire between Hezbollah/Lebanon and Israel, the aphorism would be: “As the Lebanese army stands up, the Israeli army will stand down.”

Well, the Lebanese army, which numbers only about 60,000, has committed 16,000 troops south of the Litani River, where most of the devastation occurred outside of the southern suburbs of Beirut; bridges, electricity generating plants, and communications facilities throughout Lebanon; and specific targets in the Bekaa Valley.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is also supposed to “stand up” an expanded force , going from 2,000 to 15,000 , as rapidly as possible – the UN Deputy Secretary-Genera Mark Malloch-Brown wants the first 3,500 soldiers on the ground along side said France has tentatively agreed to lead the expanded force for the first six months, but will only contribute 200 new soldiers – France already has 200 soldiers in the current UNIFIL force – to the expanded force. That the country supplying the mission headquarters will have so few personnel in the mission is unusual but may stem from Paris’ commitments in support of UN operations elsewhere (e.g., in Cote d’Ivoire) – as well as special operations in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces. Most of the offers for ground troops have come from Asian nation: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nepal. The only European countries identified so far as possible ground troop contributors are Spain and Italy. Germany has made an offer of a “strong naval advisory” component to assist Lebanese officials in controlling seaports and other Mediterranean entry points. And Denmark has said it plans to dispatch two naval vessels to assist with the maritime interdiction mission.

Once again, however, the UN is racing the clock as it tries to get a peacekeeping mission running smoothly before a cease-fire breaks down. In Lebanon’s case, the fact that UNIFIL has been in the area for 28 years cuts the “learning curve” needed to integrate the new peacekeepers and ensure they are properly oriented to the mission.

Once the peacekeeping force is fully functioning, UN diplomats ought to re=examine the case for establishing a permanent Rapid Reaction force of perhaps 2 battalions (1,000 troops) and a smaller international police training corps that would constitute an advanced contingent available to respond to a UN Security Council peacekeeping mandate. No matter how hard the UN labors to restore and maintain peace , even in the best possible circumstances there will still be a gap between the end of hostilities and Security Council authorization. But the shorter the time lost, the better the chances that a peacekeeping operation will succeed.

In a sense, “standing up” and “standing down” are the wrong images. If peace is the objective, peacekeepers really want the belligerents to “sit on their hands.” It’s a sure bet that few people could fire a weapon if they can’t pull the trigger or press the “fire” button.

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