As more American soldiers are killed in Iraq, criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policy has drawn serious consideration to using United Nations troops to fill out coalition forces. In the past few days, even Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, mentioned this concept.
While the United States has yet to fully develop a nation-building strategy for Iraq, our effort is at the very least persistent and sincere. Some naively assert U.N. involvement would alleviate much of the U.S. burden in rebuilding Iraq. However, they fail to recognize the breach of trust among “allies” and the U.N.’s history of failure in peacekeeping missions, which interfere with our success.
Betrayals are reflected in the recent reports regarding the Russian and French governments and their commercial groups, which provided the former Iraqi regime with information and military intelligence against American troops.
These actions occurred throughout Desert Storm in Gulf War I and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Gulf War II. As the United States conducts the war on terror, we cannot leave our troops vulnerable to treachery from apparently greedy allies that might be asked to help us now.
In Somalia, U.N. elements frustrated the peacekeeping process and led to its eventual failure. Few elements were proactive or helpful. For instance, many of the 22 countries participating mostly stayed in their compounds, leaving the daunting peacekeeping responsibilities to others. Further aggravating the problem, the Indian soldiers, being Hindu, were unable to command respect from Muslim Somalis, or even their Muslim Pakistani cohorts.
In addition, the Pakistani contingent in Somalia looked at the Somalis with contempt and committed various human rights violations, including beating the Somalis with sticks. These actions led to Mohammed Farrah Aideed’s group ambushing and killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. As a result, U.N. authorized UNSCOM to take all necessary measures against those responsible for the armed attacks. This later contributed to the deaths of American soldiers in the tragic incident recalled in the film “Blackhawk Down.”
U.N. modis operandi allows various countries to deploy undesirable and diseased soldiers as peacekeepers. Some of the 22 nations involved in Somalia came in “light” and left “heavy,” stealing anything of value from the Somalis and other coalition members. Additionally, Zimbabwe sent a large contingent of soldiers who were HIV-positive, placing a burden on American and U.N. medical teams, and jeopardized the health Somali women through fraternization.
The efforts made in Haiti were much of the same. The Bangladeshis serving there for the U.N. held the Haitians in low regard and often physically abused them, as witnessed by one of the authors of this article.
“Whorehouse Row” in Port-Au-Prince was constantly packed with U.N. personnel who could have been engaged in nation-building or life-saving activity.
It is bizarre that at a time when the goal is to promote socioeconomic, political and military stability, the United Nations would place persons prone to mutual antagonism alongside one another and expect their differences to disappear.
While some U.N. contingents perform remarkably, such as the Swedish medical teams in Somalia and the Canadian Police in Haiti, the contributions of others are counterproductive. The majority of U.N. forces lack training and equipment, have little or no knowledge of conducting civic action and civil affairs or performing security operations, particularly within urban environments. These ineptitudes render some multinational forces unable to coordinate movements and carry out missions with their more sophisticated counterparts. The result is mission failure and increased combat casualties.
The cost of these U.N. debacles has not only been paid for with the lives of American soldiers, but also with American taxpayers’ dollars. As reported by the General Accounting Office, the U.S. currently pays an estimated 25 percent of the costs associated with U.N. operations. Between 1992 and 1995, the U.S. contributed approximately $1.3 billion for U.N. missions in Haiti, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia. At the same time, the United States spent $5.3 billion providing additional support to U.N.-sanctioned missions, for which it was never reimbursed. In Haiti for example, the U.S. contributed an additional $953 million to provide training and equipment to coalition members to help them establish order — a goal never really attained.
In a nation-building mission such as the one in Iraq, the most important task is winning the trust of the Iraqi people. Our troops are engaged in civil affairs and civic action aimed at developing indigenous Iraqi elements to provide education, public works, transportation, communications, sanitation and medical treatment to promote security and stability. To protect our troops and secure mission success, the United States cannot associate with outside forces that might thwart or impede our success.
Sun Tzu admonishes: “Causing havoc in one’s own army leads to victory for the enemy.” If the United States is going to operate multinationally, we must insist these coalition forces match our capabilities and comport ourselves in a manner that will promote peace, not exacerbate existing problems.
Lastly, it is too bad Mrs. Clinton could not enlist in the Marines when she “tried,” as the experience probably would have enabled her to offer more realistic comments about her recent Iraq visit.
F. Andy Messing, Jr. a retired U.S. Army major, is executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation (NDCF). He has performed medical relief services in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia. Elizabeth M. Stafford is a research assistant with the NDCF.