Global Policy Forum

Armed Troops Sought for UN


By Sean Scully

Washington Times
June 1, 2000

Rep. Jim McGovern was horrified by the violence he witnessed in East Timor last year and thinks the United Nations needs an armed force to prevent anything like it from happening again.

"A lot of lives could have been saved" if the international body had troops at its disposal, the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Mr. McGovern, therefore, has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for a 6,000-man international military force that could step into dangerous situations and keep the peace at a moment's notice. He dismisses any suggestion that this is the first step toward creating an international army. Congress last year passed a law saying that the United States would not pay its dues to the United Nations if it attempts to build a permanent military force.

"I know there are some people who are suspicious, paranoid, about the U.N.," Mr. McGovern said. "I think they have seen too many Oliver Stone movies; they think everything is a conspiracy."

But the leading congressional opponent of expanding U.N. power, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, seems unlikely to agree to Mr. McGovern's resolution.

"It's a slippery slope," said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the North Carolina Republican. "Next, [the United Nations] will be saying they don't want to collect contributions from member nations, they want the power to tax. This isn't fantasy: It was suggested by the last secretary general." Whether it is called an "army," a "police force," or a "rapid deployment force," Mr. Helms opposes putting armed troops under permanent U.N. control, he said.

"There are basic trappings of sovereignty: the power to exact justice, the power to tax, the power to call up a military," Mr. Thiessen said. "These are powers the United Nations should never possess."

Some members of the House agree that any armed U.N. contingent smacks uncomfortably of an international army. "It's only a matter of definition whether something is a military force or police force," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

U.N. officials have long suggested they need more power to carry out their peacekeeping missions. The recent fiasco in Sierra Leone, where rebels captured 500 U.N. peacekeepers, shook the organization.

"We have to rethink how we equip troops and prepare them for these operations," Secretary General Kofi Annan told the London Independent last week. "In that way, they will be able to depend on themselves and do what they have to do."

While Mr. Annan has not openly called for a permanent military force, "he thinks it's a really good idea," according to Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican and a co-sponsor of the House resolution, who recently had lunch with Mr. Annan. "He feels some money [spent in advance] saves lives."

Two years ago, Mr. Annan attempted to organize a "rapid deployment headquarters" that could coordinate peacekeeping troops from around the world. Congress reacted sharply after finding that the White House had given $200,000 to the effort, a discovery that prompted Mr. Helms' legislation tying the issue to U.S. dues.

Critics of the United Nations, including Mr. Helms, say the organization has drifted away from its original peacekeeping missions. Where its duties were once confined to monitoring existing peace agreements, the United Nations has increasingly injected itself into hot spots where the peace is unstable — such as Sierra Leone — or where there are no coherent organizations to negotiate peace — such as East Timor, where gangs only loosely controlled by Indonesia, killed as many as 10,000 persons.

Giving the United Nations some armed forces could lead to even more dangerous assignments that could draw the United States or other powers into dangerous regional wars, Mr. Thiessen said. The United Nations had to rely, for example, on heavily armed British soldiers to rescue its failed mission in Sierra Leone.

"Peacekeeping is a mess," Mr. Thiessen said. "The solution is not to create a permanent U.N. military force to get involved," but to rely on local and regional organizations such as NATO.

Mr. McGovern and his supporters insist a U.N. force is needed to fill a hole where regional organizations such as NATO cannot or will not step in. Africa has proven particularly troublesome for the United Nations since there are no strong regional organizations or alliances to keep order.

"This force will allow the Security Council, subject to a U.S. veto, to deploy well-trained and -equipped peacekeepers within 15 days of a resolution, bringing immediate relief and protection to civilian populations emerging from violent conflict," Mr. McGovern wrote last month in a letter seeking co-sponsors for his bill.

As envisioned by Mr. McGovern, the "United Nations Rapid Deployment Police and Security Force" would stay on the ground for only a few months while U.N. leaders scour the globe for troops for a more traditional peacekeeping force. Because of the long time it now takes to build a peacekeeping team from scratch, he said, the United Nations has found it difficult to respond to violence in places such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Congo. Often order is restored only after thousands die. "Once we've decided to do something, it takes a while to do something," Mr. McGovern says of the current system.

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