Global Policy Forum

US Ambassador to UN Calls for


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
June 14, 2000

Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke said today that the United Nations must transform its civilian-run peacekeeping department into a larger and more effective military-style operation if it is to avoid repeated humiliations in the riskier missions it is undertaking around the world.

The peacekeeping efforts need to be bolstered with military professionals, in New York and in the field, Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview reflecting on his first year as the United States representative to the United Nations. He said that the reliance on polyglot pick-up armies must stop, and that the United Nations be allowed to resume "borrowing" experts from national militaries, a practice a third-world majority of nations curtailed several years ago in the interest of creating more jobs for their candidates.

Toughening up the peacekeeping department, which Mr. Holbrooke says he intends to promote along with his campaign to get economically healthy nations to foot more of the peacekeeping bill, is not an easy task here or a welcome policy in Washington. Conservatives in Congress see the specter of a United Nations army on American soil. Developing nations, with a majority in the General Assembly, can block any substantial reform of a department they cannot control.

But Mr. Holbrooke, who said his views did not represent a change in administration policy on peacekeeping, has an unofficial ally in Secretary General Kofi Annan, a former head of United Nations peacekeeping who has had bitter experiences of failures in the field linked to the limitations of the stripped-down peacekeeping department of 400 employees -- half the staff of the organization's department of public information.

Mr. Annan has already asked for the power to restore the right to borrow military experts whose salaries are paid by governments, against the objections of the third world.

"The peacekeeping department is effectively the U.N.'s ministry of defense," Mr. Holbrooke said. "They're running worldwide operations and they're stretched to the bone. They work around the clock. They don't have sufficient technical expertise. No serious military force would have been sent out with the command and control and communications structures that the U.N. has sent into some areas."

Mr. Holbrooke's view's came as Mr. Annan offered a bleak prognosis for a planned operation in Congo. He asked the Security Council today to order all foreign troops out of Congo and threatened to use economic sanctions or military force against any of the combatants -- soldiers from six nations and several rebel groups -- who do not stop fighting.

Military force, however, is exactly what the United Nations cannot adequately muster, Mr. Holbrooke said. "Some of the most basic components of responsible military planning are lacking in the U.N. system because of the resource crunch, the lack of qualified military personnel and, above all, the fact that the peacekeeping department has not risen commensurately in size or quality with the dimensions of the challenges."

The United Nations now has major operations in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, with new missions planned for southern Lebanon as well as for Congo. The Organization of African Unity is expected to ask in coming days for a mission of up to 5,000 observers on the Ethiopian-Eritrean cease-fire line.

"So, of the big five -- about to become the big six -- five-and-a-half of them didn't exist a year ago," Mr. Holbrooke said. "Peacekeeping needs three things: More financial resources, more and better-trained military and civilian personnel in the field and a coherent command structure overseas with better central direction out of New York," he said. He added that all member nations, including the United States, should be giving peacekeeping more support. The United States is criticized sharply here because it owes the organization more than $1 billion, most of it in peacekeeping arrears.

For the last six years, the Clinton administration, with an eye on Congressional critics, has been reluctant to aid peacekeeping in ways that Mr. Annan says the United Nations most needs help. Last month, the secretary general was unable to get any direct American assistance for Sierra Leone, where he badly needed the kind of official planning and coordination skills Britain ultimately provided even before it sent troops. When Americans offered military aircraft to ferry soldiers from other nations to Sierra Leone, the Pentagon's charter rates for the job -- based on a complicated formula involving not only the cost of the plane but the numbers of passengers allowed on each flight given conditions in Freetown -- were far higher than those of commercial airlines or private charter companies, officials said.

Mr. Holbrooke's vision of professional peacekeeping runs against fears in Congress of an international army outside American control, and there is wariness in developing nations that a stronger United Nations military arm would allow big powers to run the world in the guise of peacekeeping.

Mr. Holbrooke said he would welcome a high-level debate in the United States on the issue of United Nations peacekeeping as a factor in American national security, "but not during a presidential campaign." Four years ago, Republican candidates' attacks on the organization eroded American support for the United Nations. Many Americans had already turned against peacekeeping because of the deaths of United States soldiers in Somalia.

Mr. Holbrooke's proposals for a new look at peacekeeping -- a process that would sooner or later require an interminable debate in the General Assembly -- come as a panel of experts is examining peacekeeping options for Secretary General Annan and the United Nations is selecting a new head of its peacekeeping department. Bernard Miyet, a French civilian whose contract expires later this year, is likely to be replaced with another French expert, officials say. A change in leadership could allow for some changes to be made outside the General Assembly.

As if to underline Mr. Holbrooke's worst fears about the crumbling of peacekeeping, Secretary General Annan told the Security Council in his terse report today that he is being forced by circumstances to rethink the Congo operation.

More troops with better equipment may be needed in Congo, United Nations officials say. A total force of about 5,500 -- monitors, soldiers and a large support staff for a country with few roads or public services -- had been planned.

But with fighting continuing, and with both the Congolese government of President Laurent Kabila and his armed opponents becoming increasingly uncooperative with United Nations teams, there are fears of a debacle like the one in Sierra Leone last month, when hundreds of United Nations troops were taken hostage.

Mr. Annan also included in his report examples of "serious logistical deficiencies" in troops already promised for Congo.

"One country which had undertaken to provide four airfield crash-rescue units subsequently withdrew the offer and proposed only one unit instead," he wrote. "Another, which was supposed to provide an infantry battalion, has none of the 20 armored personnel carriers required, and lacks significant amounts of other materiel, including generators, engineering equipment and radio-equipped Jeeps."

Mr. Annan recommended that while planning for eventual deployment could go on in New York, none of the basic requirements for deployment -- a cease-fire on the ground, the provision of bases and general cooperation by Congo and the recruitment of troops with "adequate strength, equipment and training" -- had been met. No force could be sent under such adverse conditions, the secretary general concluded.

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