- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

For the United Nations’ top peacekeeper, the cop on the beat is every bit as critical as the soldier in the blue helmet.

“We learn it again with every mission we do,” said Jean-Marie Guehenno, the Frenchman who serves as U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping. “Experienced civilian law-enforcement professionals are just as vital to the success of our missions as military forces.”

And, he added in a recent interview, “they’re much more difficult to recruit.”

U.N. and U.S. officials, as well as a growing body of evidence compiled by private researchers, have spotlighted the critical role the humble policeman plays in vast nation-building projects, from Haiti and Cambodia to Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the shooting has stopped, the long-term success of the peacekeeping mission often hinges on the thin blue line.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has dubbed 2006 “the year of the police” in Iraq, arguing that the government’s legitimacy could rise or fall on public confidence in the integrity and efficiency of Iraq’s police and internal-security forces.

The unity government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was nearly torpedoed this spring in a fight over who would control the Interior Ministry, a pattern Mr. Guehenno said is a familiar one in many post-conflict countries.

“That is one thing we have come to understand,” he said. “When we deploy our police professionals as part of a peacekeeping mission, it is important to get a grip at once on the Interior Ministry and win the trust of the local police. And for that, you need experienced law-enforcement professionals, which it is not easy for us to find.”

Influential defense analyst Andrew F. Krepinevich, a former Army colonel now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has argued that Iraq’s police will be more critical in the effort to defeat the country’s raging insurgency than Iraq’s army.

While playing an unglamorous role, civilian police officers are widely seen as critical to the legitimacy of the government they serve. An effective, legitimate police force is considered a crucial building block in the process not only to restore safety in the street, but to rebuild shattered economies, curb corruption, and bolster public support for civil rights, political freedoms and the rule of law.

Soaring demand

U.N. civilian police deployments — “civpol,” in the jargon of the specialists — have expanded in lockstep with the explosion in U.N. peacekeeping missions generally since the end of the Cold War.

Mr. Guehenno currently oversees about 18 peacekeeping operations around the world costing about $5 billion, up from five in 1988. Since 1992, the U.N.’s leading powers have approved international police missions in more than a dozen countries, from Haiti and Kosovo to Cambodia and East Timor.

Just last week, about 500 police officers from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal assumed responsibility for daytime patrols in East Timor’s capital of Dili from a foreign military contingent of nearly 3,000. Such phased transitions — the Australian-led military force will still patrol Dili’s streets by night — are seen as a hopeful sign of improved security.

“The stabilization force feels the security situation in Dili has improved to the point where large groups of heavily armed international soldiers are no longer required during the day,” Australian Army Brig. Gen. Mark Slater told reporters.

But a joint 2002 study by two Washington-based think tanks, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the soaring demand for international police professionals put a strain on the U.N. system, already dealing with reports of abuses by its military peacekeepers.

The ever-rising demand created by new missions resulted in a “large number of untrained police who reported for duty,” the report noted. “The United Nations was also unable to provide adequate logistical support.”

There was also an element of “mission creep” in the police deployments. Originally assigned as monitors and instructors for local police forces, U.N. police officers found themselves becoming in effect the local police force in places such as the Balkans and East Timor, with the right to use deadly force in carrying out their duties.

“As an instrument of U.S. foreign policy and as a tool for post-conflict reconstruction, [civilian police operations] have undergone a baptism of trial and error in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor,” the report concluded.

A U.N. study commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and chaired by respected Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi in 2001 recommended a “doctrinal shift” in U.N. civilian policing missions as a result of the strains.

Among its recommendations: give U.N. police professionals greater powers to overhaul and retrain local police forces; provide better coordination between police deployments and criminal justice and human rights bureaucracies; and provide better legal training and clearer rules of engagement. The civilian police arm of the U.N.’s peacekeeping bureaucracy was also beefed up.

More controversially, the Brahimi panel recommended that member states create standing pools of trained police professionals and “rule of law” teams that could be deployed with little advance warning in crisis spots.

But Mr. Guehenno acknowledged that finding experienced law-enforcement professionals willing to deploy to some of the world’s most dangerous places is much harder than raising a force of military peacekeepers.

“It is much harder to get police officers seconded to our missions. It is still being discussed in New York on how we can better hit the ground running,” he said.

U.S. reluctance

While the United States historically has been the largest contributor to U.N. policing missions, the difficulty in finding recruits for such missions became so acute that the Clinton administration issued a presidential directive in 2000 designed to increase U.S. efficiency in finding, training and deploying law-enforcement experts to crisis spots.

But the USIP/CSIS study found that the initial moves to implement the directive were mixed at best, hampered by bureaucratic inertia and by the fact the United States lacks a national police force along the lines of Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The U.S. government has to find its police recruits from about 18,000 state and local police departments, as well as more than a dozen federal law-enforcement agencies. Recruiting was delegated to a private contractor, and there was little enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for major funding increases to pay for civilian police deployments.

Mr. Guehenno argued that the world body’s peacekeeping function is a “bargain, even for the world’s only superpower.” He said the United States would be hard-pressed to man and finance many of the missions that have been handled through the United Nations.

And the demand for blue helmets and U.N. police officers shows little sign of slowing. In both southern Lebanon and the Darfur region of Sudan, diplomats see greatly expanded U.N. security missions — including police — as a key to a long-term solution to the violence.

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