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Middle East: UN Mulls New International Force For Lebanon

Israeli soldiers firing on positions in Lebanon from northern Israel on July 18 (epa) WASHINGTON, July 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging the Security Council to establish a security force for southern Lebanon as the crisis there escalates. British Prime Minister Tony Blair backs Annan's push for the force, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said he might contribute troops.

But Blair's chief ally, U.S. President George W. Bush, opposes the idea, for now at least, as does Israel.

Chicken And Egg Problem

Blair says the only way to stabilize the Israel-Lebanon border is to achieve a cease-fire, and the only way to do that is to send in a UN force to ensure that the cease-fire holds.

Speaking on July 17 in St. Petersburg at the end of the G8 summit, Blair said the need for a force is urgent.

"The only way, in my view, we are going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment coming over into Israel and therefore gives Israel the reason to stop its attacks on Hizballah," he told reporters.

U.S. Position

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said several questions have to be resolved before any UN force can be formed.

"Would such a force be empowered to deal with the real problem?" Bolton said. "The real problem is Hizballah. Would such a force be empowered to disarm and demobilize Hizballah armed components? Would it be empowered to deal with the countries like Syria and Iran that support Hizballah?"

Dealing with Syria and Iran, as Bolton suggests, may be far beyond the authority of a UN force in southern Lebanon.

But dealing with Hizballah would not, according to Anthony Cordesman, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. State and Defense departments who now studies international affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy research center.

Cordesman tells RFE/RL that introducing a new UN force for southern Lebanon faces a built-in contradiction: The UN force would have to establish a cease-fire, but it couldn't be sent in safely until a cease-fire already is in place.

As a result, Cordesman concludes, Hizballah and Israel must come to understand the stakes of UN intervention.

"Unless people become convinced -- the Hizballah -- that there will be serious intervention to disarm them, and Israel that the UN will take meaningful action -- the situation will make a cease-fire impossible," Cordesman says. "To generate international action, if it's possible, the secretary-general has to call for it. Whether he can get it is, of course, something that you can only find out if he tries."

Diplomacy Lacks Credibility

Cordesman says the first order of business should be to stop Hizballah from conducting rocket attacks, which he calls a nearly impossible task because the current UN mission in Lebanon -- numbering about 2,000 men -- can't suppress Hizballah by force and disarm the militia, as called for in a 2004 UN resolution.

Further, Cordesman says, none of those involved in the fighting -- neither Hizballah, nor the Lebanese nor Israeli governments -- sees diplomacy as a credible way of resolving the crisis.

So is it now too early to begin assembling some sort of UN force to intervene? Even too early to begin thinking about one? Cordesman says it's certainly not too early to begin planning, but adds a caveat.

More Than Just Good Intentions

"To really do anything would take very significant forces," he says. "It would take cooperation from the Lebanese government and support from the Lebanese military. You would have to have popular support in the Shi'ite parts of Lebanon, otherwise you'll simply see weapons buried, people dispersed, and what you do is occupy space without really solving the problem."

Cordesman says it's important to understand that, in his words, "simply declaring good intentions" won't guarantee success, while doing nothing at all guarantees failure. So he says the only realistic role for a UN force would be to disarm Hizballah.

"Trying to put people [UN forces] into southern Lebanon in the UN camps when you are surrounded by Shi'ite enclaves, you'd end up with the UN indefinitely sitting there constantly subject to attack or simply being bypassed," he argues. "That doesn't solve any problems."

UN Peacekeepers

UN Peacekeepers
UN peacekeepers in Haiti in February 2006 (AFP)

MISSION 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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