But according to the basic details in an alleged UN draft document published today by the French newspaper "Le Monde," the strengthened UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon will have the authority to shoot to defend themselves, to protect civilians, or to disarm Hizballah guerrillas in their way.
"The forces will not have to wait until someone shoots at them in order to shoot."
The draft, which the Paris daily says enjoys the consensus of the main countries involved, lays out the engagement rules for a strengthened UNIFIL -- the 2,000-strong UN observer mission in south Lebanon since 1979 that is now supposed to morph into a major force of 15,000 peacekeepers.
Significantly, the rules of engagement would give the peacekeepers the right to "preventive self-defense."
Giovanni Gasparini is a defense analyst at Rome's Institute of Foreign Affairs.
"The forces will not have to wait until someone shoots at them in order to shoot. This is a very significant change from the normal situation in which you have a peacekeeping operation," he said.
A lack of clear rules of engagement was the main reason why no country, apart from Italy, had stepped forward with a firm offer of troops. Italy offered to send up to 3,000 troops and to lead a new UNIFIL force.
In a speech that was closely watched throughout Europe, French President Jacques Chirac went on national television tonight to announce that France will now send 2,000 troops to Lebanon, a significant increase from its previous commitment of 400.
Chirac said he hoped that France could still lead the international force. He added that he had urged his fellow European leaders to do their part, as well.
"I have talked to my counterparts to convince them to take their part [in the UN force in Lebanon]," he said. "Several of our European partners will do so, as well as some important Muslim countries in Asia. And I hope that other permanent members of the UN Security Council will also commit themselves on the ground."
Originally, France had been expected to lead the new peacekeeping force, only later to spurn the idea, citing lack of clarity in the mission.
Gasparini says France's about-face is hardly coincidental.
"France played the card of not giving troops in order to gain a stronger mandate and stronger rules of engagement, he said. "It looks like they succeeded. Now that they got the outcome that they wanted, they are more willing to relinquish more troops, also because this has convinced the military of it, and they were a bit skeptical at the beginning."
Remaining Sticking Points
Syria said on August 23 that it will consider any deployment of peacekeepers along its border as a hostile act.
However, UNIFIL's mandate, as spelled out in Security Council Resolution 1701 of July 11, calls for the force to assist the Lebanese army in securing the Syrian border, not to do that by itself with its own peacekeepers.
The final issue remains the disarming of Hizballah.
According to the report in "Le Monde," the rules of engagement do not call on UNIFIL to actively pursue the militia's disarmament. Instead, the force would be allowed to use force if needed to disarm Hizballah guerrillas that they come across in the course of their day-to-day duties.
"The Israelis cannot ask UNIFIL to disarm Hizballah. It is not written in the mandate," UNIFIL's current commander, French General Alain Pellegrini, told reporters on August 23 in Tyre, Lebanon.
Operational Divisions Of Labor
Meanwhile, the "Le Monde" report lays out a general timeline for the deployment of the force. It says some 3,500 troops would be sent by September 2 with the rest -- 9,500 more -- arriving by November.
Both France and Italy have also called for a large contribution of troops from non-EU countries, particularly Muslim ones. However, Israel so far has objected to the presence of troops from countries that don't recognize the Jewish state, such as Indonesia.
If France does return to seek to lead the peacekeeping force, where would that leave Italy's leadership offer?
A report in the Rome daily "La Repubblica" today says France has offered a dual command with Rome. France would continue to command the force on the ground in Lebanon through General Pellegrini, while Italy would take control of the UN Office of Peacekeeping Operations.
That means France would have operational command on the ground, with Italy given political control at the UN in New York.
All these details are due to be discussed on August 25 in Brussels when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with EU foreign ministers.
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)
RELATED ARTICLES Middle East: UN Mulls New International Force For LebanonGeorgia: Issue Of Russian Peacekeepers Heats UpUN: U.S. Presses For Peacekeeper Deployment To Darfur