By announcing over the weekend it will commit just 200 troops immediately to the planned, enlarged UN force for Lebanon, France effectively renounced its claim to play the lead role in the deployment.
The decision surprised many observers because France played a key part in drafting UN Security Council Resolution 1701. That resolution authorizes the deployment of a 15,000-strong international contingent alongside a Lebanese contingent of similar size in southern Lebanon.
However, Paris now says the mandate of the force is neither sufficiently clear nor robust. And now it is also not clear to what degree other EU nations -- as well as other countries can or will -- take part in the planned international troop deployment.
To address these issues, the EU's current holder of the rotating presidency, Finland, has agreed to a French request to hold an emergency EU meeting on the issue on August 23. An EU diplomat told RFE/RL today the meeting is likely to involve senior Foreign Ministry officials.
On August 20, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in a radio interview that Paris called the meeting to appeal for "European solidarity."
There are suggestions in the French media that President Jacques Chirac, having initially indicated France was prepared to contribute up to 5,000 soldiers, was later dissuaded by advisers who highlighted the possible risks involved.Lack Of Clear Mandate
At the heart of the French concerns -- shared by other potential major EU troop contributors such as Italy and Spain -- is the perceived lack of clarity in UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Critics say the resolution does not address sufficiently clearly the objectives of the peacekeeping mission, nor does it establish clear rules of engagement for the troops participating in it.
"Working documents" circulated by the United Nations over the weekend seeking to address these concerns were dismissed by a French spokeswoman as needing "greater detail."
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie recalled on August 18 France's "painful memories" in the Balkans. Unclear rules of engagement and complicated command arrangements in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s left international peacekeepers there powerless to prevent massacres of civilians. Additionally, some peacekeepers were taken hostage and others killed.
France is also mindful of its prior peacekeeping experiences in Lebanon, where it was once a colonial power. In 1983, the newly emerged Hizballah killed 58 French troops in Beirut in a suicide attack.
Rome, which was formally asked by Israel over the weekend to lead the UN mission, seems in no better shape to quickly commit troops for Lebanon.
Italy has a fragile center-left coalition government and its communist wing is instinctively loath to participate in foreign military missions. Italy is currently in the process of withdrawing its remaining troops from Iraq, though it also contributes to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.Hizballah Still Dangerous
A key issue is the disarmament of Hizballah. Resolution 1701 appears to leave the task to the Lebanese government, which has been manifestly unable to attain that goal.
In fact, last weekend's deployment of a small number of Lebanese army units in southern Lebanon is the first of its kind in 40 years.
Last week, both UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both said international peacekeepers are not expected to disarm Hizballah.
This leaves open what appears to be the key issue -- what precisely will troops from the EU and other countries face in Lebanon?
Irish Defense Minister Willie O'Dea summed up most of his EU colleagues' fears in the British daily "The Independent" on August 20, noting that "if Hizballah do not disarm and the Israelis regroup, then UN troops could be in mortal danger."
The EU's joint position is complicated by the leading member states' different stances on U.S. policy in the wider region. Like the United States itself, Britain will not commit ground troops. Partly, because it already has thousands of men in Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because to do so is widely considered to invite terrorist attacks on any soldiers it deploys.
Germany, another potential major player, has said it will only send 1,500 men to observe Lebanon's sea border. In an interview with the German weekly "Welt am Sonntag," Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out ground troops, citing fears for their safety. She also said Germany will not send any police units to Lebanon's borders -- despite Israel's open invitation to do so -- owing to "historical reasons."
Merkel also said NATO can play no role in the conflict "because a NATO mission would not be accepted by all sides party to the conflict."Muslim Participation Complicated
Calling the emergency EU meeting, French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy also said the EU should ensure ample participation by Muslim countries in the international force.
But this promises to be another complication, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on August 20 ruled out countries that do not recognize Israel. This includes ostensibly willing contributors Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Bangladesh, which ranks first among all UN countries in terms of peacekeepers committed. All three are Muslim countries.
Another difficulty is the timing of the mission. Fearing the obviously fragile cease-fire could collapse, UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown has said 3,500 men are needed by September 2. But this now increasingly appears to be an unrealistic goal.
UN peacekeepers in Haiti in February 2006 (AFP)
In cases in which international intervention in regional conflicts is deemed necessary, peacekeeping missions authorized by the UN Security Council provide legitimacy by demonstrating the commitment of the international community to address such crises. MANDATE
UN peacekeeping missions are prepared, managed, and directed by the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The unique mandates of peacekeeping missions falls under the authority of the UN's Security Council and General Assembly, and under the command of the UN secretary-general.MONEY
Funding for UN peacekeeping missions is provided by UN member states. All are legally obliged to pay a share under an established formula. The leading financial providers as of 2006 were: the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China, and the Netherlands.MORE
All UN peacekeeping missions share the goals of alleviating human suffering and creating conditions for self-sustaining peace. Missions can consist of armed or unarmed military components, depending on their mandate, and various civilian tasks.
Military operations can include:
· Deploying to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spillover of conflict across borders;
· Stabilizing conflict situations after a cease-fire in order to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
· Assisting in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
· Leading states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance, and economic development. HISTORY
There have been 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948. Fifteen peacekeeping missions were in operation in mid-2006, employing more than 60,000 troops, 7,000 police, and over 2,500 military observers. Peacekeeping operations in 2006 were supported by uniformed personnel provided by 109 countries.
(source: UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations)
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