Europe, Lebanon and the Details of Peacekeeping

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European hesitation over committing troops to the peacekeeping force is to some extent rooted in bitter memories of the Continent’s experiences in Bosnia, where foreign troops were not only unable to prevent large-scale ethnic killing but were themselves held hostage at times by the warring parties. Some of the peacekeepers’ ineffectiveness was attributed to unclear rules of engagement and to conflicting chains of command between national defense ministries and the United Nations.

Marlise Simons and John Kifner, Europeans Delay Decision on Role Inside Lebanon, The New York Times, August 21, 2006

They’re thinking of Srebrenica. In 1995 Dutch peacekeepers under a UN mandate, encircled and out of fuel, munitions and a clear set of orders either abandoned or were forced to abandon a UN safe haven. The massacre that followed is well documented, and the picture of the Dutch commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Karremans drinking a toast with the war criminal Ratko Mladic remains painful not only in Amsterdam, but in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. And, according to the article quoted above, Madrid and Helsinki, too.

Europe promised troops as part of last week’s cease fire in Lebanon, but as the Dutch experience in Srebrenica tells us, the devil lies in the details. Would peacekeepers patrol with a clear set of orders? Would they have to shoot and get shot at? What if German troops were forced to fire on Israelis? What if French bodies started returning from the Middle East? Is Europe stepping in to Lebanon as part of a lasting peace or as a halftime?

And is Europe taking the right lessons from Bosnia? Peacekeepers without mandates get into sticky situations, but what happens when there are no peacekeepers at all? If Europe learned from Bosnia to avoid undefinded entanglement, did it also learn to step in forcefully before things get really bad?

Jacques Paul Klein

Former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General

Former coordinator of United Nations operations in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Liberia

Lecturer in public and international affairs, Princeton University

Charles Glass

Freelance writer and broadcaster

Author, The Northern Front and The Tribes Triumphant

Guglielmo Verdirame

Professor of international law, Cambridge University

English barrister

Richard Murphy

Former U.S. Ambassador, Syria and Saudi Arabia, among others

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs

Extra Credit Reading

Suzanne Nossel, Lebanon and the Future of the UN, The Huffington Post, August 20, 2006: “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.”

Mark Dowling, Chirac gets it right on Lebanon, From Cork to Toronto, August 19, 2006: “Resolution 1701 does not provide necessary powers to do what the Lebanese Government have now openly said they will not do – disarm Hezbollah fighters if they don’t feel like being disarmed. Instead, the fear is that UNIFIL will be, as usual, caught in the crossfire without a clear mandate.”

Spengler, The peacekeepers of Penzance, Asia Times Blog, August 22, 2006: “Like W S Gilbert’s cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe’s prospective peacekeepers have decided that ‘a policeman’s lot is not a happy one’. Europe’s serious exercise in peacekeeping led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, when Dutch soldiers turned over Muslims in their charge to Serb death squads.”

Charles Glass, Learning from Its Mistakes, London Review of Books, August 17, 2006: “When Hizbullah kidnapped me in full view of a Syrian army checkpoint in 1987, Syria insisted that I be released to show that Syrian control of Lebanon could not be flouted. Hizbullah, unfortunately, ignored the request.”

Catherine Field, Now comes the hard part for France, The New Zealand Herald, August 22, 2006: “Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie…promised [France] would lead the UN force until February at least, provided the force was given a clear mandate – the UN must spell out what Unifil is expected to do, give it the means to intervene if need be as well as the right to defend itself.”

Thom Shanker, Trying to Avoid the Perils of Peacekeeping, The New York Times, August 20, 2006: “‘They’re not going to disarm Hezbollah. But are they going to stop Israel from re-attacking Hezbollah? If the Israeli government decides there is an imminent threat, and attacks with F-16’s, what is the mandate for the U.N.? What does the U.N. do?’

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