- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

The United Nations has failed in its goal to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Indeed, rather than resolving conflicts in some cases, it has aggravated them. So says a surprisingly candid report written by a panel of 10 foreign policy and security experts chosen by the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The experts' report to be considered by U.N. leaders Sept. 6-8 at the Millennium Summit in New York provides an extensive and illuminating view of the shortcomings of U.N. peacekeeping policies as well as detailed suggestions for reform.
Among other things, the report criticizes the Secretariat for muzzling itself and for approving missions that don't have enough support from member countries: "In advising the [U.N. Security] Council on mission requirements, the Secretariat must not set mission force and other resource levels according to what it presumes to be acceptable to the Council politically. By self-censoring in that manner, the Secretariat sets up itself and the mission not just to fail but to be scapegoats in the future."
Sierra Leone was one example of an unprepared mission gone bad. When the United Nations force of 8,700 peacekeepers a conglomeration of African and Asian troops on foreign territory who couldn't communicate with each other went up against rebel leader Foday Sankoh's armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF), they didn't just fail to stop the violence. The guerilla force as many as 45,000 troops that had been killing, raping and maiming thousands of people since 1991 took 500 peacekeepers hostage and continued to threaten the safety of the local civilian population. "You don't want to have to turn your back on a Sierra Leone," says Brian Atwood, the U.S. delegate to the panel, "but you're probably better turning your back than sending in an inadequate force."
The problem, the report said, was that the United Nations had deployed troops with too little experience, too little in common in terms of culture or training, and too little equipment and preparation. In that line, the panel recommends that the United Nations have an "on-call list" of 100 officers who could be sent out to the conflict zone as military observers on seven days' notice. If needed, a military brigade (around 5,000 troops) would then be sent to join them, also on 30 to 90 days' notice. This brigade would come from a group of nations that had already formed a military partnership.
But that solution has problems of its own. The 100 officers would not have trained together and could come from all over the world without the benefit of a single unifying strategy. With respect to the military brigades, the United Nations is assuming that member states would take it upon themselves to form casual military partnerships under United Nations leadership in peace time. The Secretariat would review the troops and the richer nations would give what was needed to the developing countries, essentially creating a softer, kinder NATO.
Though the panel is to be commended for its excruciatingly honest reflection of the challenges that exist within the United Nations, it will be keeping military experts and peacekeeping strategists awake at night for some time contemplating not just the existing problems facing the United Nations but the uncertainty of the solutions to them.

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