Policy Challenges of UN Peace Operations


© 1994 James H. Baker

From Parameters, Spring 1994, pp. 13-26.

"Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace, and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war."[1]
--- Winston Churchill

Blue-helmeted United Nations troops have in recent years conducted numerous operations worldwide, all with the goal of furthering stability, security, and peace. Many of these military endeavors go beyond the usual definition of peacekeeping or even peacemaking. A useful generic label for them might be "peace operations," a title broad enough to cover the whole spectrum of multinational military efforts, short of outright warfare, undertaken to further peace and security.

Collective security and stability are important policy objectives, whether to foster the development of other free-market democracies or to preserve our position in the world. Until recently, the United States pursued these objectives chiefly through mechanisms other than the United Nations. In the post-Cold War environment, however, the UN has become the mechanism of choice. To the degree that UN peace operations contribute to those objectives, they provide a useful foreign policy option.

As recently as 1990, a mere handful of US Army officers were seconded to the United Nations as military observers. Barely four years later, Army troops serving under the UN flag (or in direct support of United Nations operations) number in the thousands. US participation in such ventures can be expected to continue, and the Army's institutional interest in UN peace operations is rapidly rising.

Like war itself, a peace operation is a military undertaking with a political aim. But unlike warfare, with its long history, peace operations are a relatively recent military phenomenon. Historical precedents are few. This fact alone makes peace operations, in all their forms, a special challenge not only for those who implement policy but for those who make it, both in and out of uniform. The salient policy challenges are in the areas of multilateral operations, mission termination, and combat readiness.

The Evolution of Peace Operations

A review of the origin and development of peace operations may be the best way to broach this timely but complex topic. "Traditional" peacekeeping began in 1948, when the United Nations dispatched unarmed officer-observers, drawn from several nations, to verify adherence to a truce between the new nation of Israel and its neighbors. These officer-observers were assigned to the UN's first peacekeeping command, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).

Such a military operation by the United Nations was not addressed in the UN Charter. Nonetheless the UN Security Council undertook it on the understanding that it bridged the gap between the non-military measures for conflict resolution described in Chapter Six of the Charter, and the military enforcement actions authorized by Chapter Seven.

Other UN "observer missions" followed in various trouble spots, such as the India-Pakistan border. In most of these, two hostile nations did not want to renew a bloody and expensive struggle, but neither fully trusted the other to keep the peace. With their consent, the United Nations established a neutral zone between them; as impartial, militarily credible observers, UN officers manned the buffer zone and verified compliance or noncompliance with a cease-fire or truce. The UN presence was to be temporary, ending when a treaty was signed.

A mandate from the UN Security Council, periodically renewed, spelled out the purpose and constraints of each peacekeeping effort. Observers had neither the authority nor the military capability to stop either side from breaking the cease-fire. They observed truce violations and reported them to the Security Council and to both parties in an attempt to discourage further breaches. Peacekeepers sometimes assisted with prisoner exchanges, graves registration, and similar humanitarian tasks, although such duties were not required.

Armed combat troops eventually appeared in some peacekeeping structures. At first the mission of these Peacekeeping Forces, or United Nations Forces, was to observe and report infractions of an agreed truce; their weapons were for self-defense only. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I), established after the Anglo-French-Israeli campaign in Egypt in late 1956, was the first such force.

Over time, the United Nations found itself interposing blue-helmeted troops among a welter of factions in civil-war settings, instead of between two nations. In these nontraditional situations few cease-fires could endure; where there was no peace to keep, the role of peacekeepers was ill-defined and potentially dangerous. Such undertakings popularized the notion of "peacemaking" as distinguished from "peacekeeping." In the early 1960s, the United Nations became embroiled in direct military operations in the Congo, first to maintain law and order and later to suppress the revolt of Katanga province.[2] In 1978 a multibattalion United Nations Interim Force deployed to strife-torn southern Lebanon in an attempt to restore peace to the area. It is still there today, its work complicated by the fact that Lebanon's weak central government cannot control all armed elements within its borders.

These peace operations were established amid the polarization and relative stability of the Cold War era. As a general rule, it was judged appropriate to exclude troops from the "Big Five" permanent Security Council members: America, Britain, China, France, and the Soviet Union. Exceptions were few. American and French observers took part in UNTSO from its beginning; they were joined by Soviet observers after the 1973 October War and by Chinese observers in 1990.[3] Britain and France sent troops to UN operations in Cyprus and Lebanon, respectively. Otherwise, the most frequent contributors of "blue berets" during the Cold War were nations like Austria, Canada, Finland, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden. Financial and logistical support were routinely provided by some Big Five nations.

In today's less-polarized but unstable environment, the Big Five are sending more military personnel to UN peace efforts. The United Nations created the Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) following the 1991 Gulf War to monitor a demilitarized zone straddling the Iraq-Kuwait border. UNIKOM was the first UN peace operation to include military personnel from all the Big Five nations. It was also the first one established without the consent of one of the parties--Iraq.

From the beginning, UN peace operations have included civilian members to handle administrative affairs, political liaison, and related tasks. Recent UN operations have seen an increase in the number of civilian agencies and individuals involved; civilian policemen and election monitors have played particularly important roles.

At first all peacekeeping was conducted with UN sponsorship, but as the concept gained acceptance, some operations were undertaken outside the United Nations framework. The non-UN peacekeeping effort most familiar to American soldiers is the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), deployed in the Sinai Peninsula along the Egypt-Israel border to monitor adherence to the peace treaty between the two nations. The MFO's structure and operations parallel those of a UN peacekeeping organization. The US Army has provided an infantry battalion, a logistics element, and staff personnel to the MFO since it began operations in 1982.

The Multinational Force in Beirut at the time of the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing was another non-UN peace effort. Independent peace operations have been organized by the British Commonwealth and the Arab League. Still others are now being conducted by the Organization of African Unity and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) is contemplating similar endeavors. At present, however, the prestige, resources, and experience of the United Nations make it the primary mechanism for such undertakings.

The Challenges of Policy

Obviously United Nations policy is distinct from American national policy. Nonetheless, UN policy is largely determined by its Security Council, of which the United States is a prominent and permanent member. In much the same way, US national policy is distinct from US military policy. The latter implements the military aspects of national policy, which in turn is often influenced by military assessments and recommendations. When considering the policy challenges of peace operations, it is useful to bear in mind these distinctions and relationships.

Multilateral Operations: UN Policy

Peace operations can be conducted unilaterally, but the only country with sufficient military capability to do so is the United States. The American public, however, is weary of the World Policeman's burden. A frequent comment is "We have enough problems at home; why should we put someone else's house in order?" American legislators, too, are leery of loosely defined military undertakings and foreign quagmires; the shadow of Vietnam looms large over congressional debates. Furthermore, unilateral peace operations are expensive, and the United States faces severe budgetary problems. As America downsizes its military forces, the possibility that its reduced military establishment may become overcommitted to peace operations fuels legitimate concern. Finally, unilateral American conduct of peace operations could aggravate foreign suspicions of, and hostility toward, American intentions.

Multilateralism is a cardinal principle of UN peace endeavors, and such an approach seems to address these American concerns. The American people and their elected representatives appear more willing to support overseas military involvement if the US government undertakes it as part of a United Nations coalition.[4] In this way, the World Policeman's burden is placed on the UN's doorstep. In theory at least, if peace operations bog down, America can more easily divorce itself from a UN quagmire than from an all-American morass--by simply announcing a unilateral pullout date, as in Somalia. And coalition efforts promise affordability; in principle, other countries can provide financing, troops, and equipment, thereby lessening strains on the US budget and armed forces. A UN coalition also provides political cover for the United States. Foreign hostility, if not stilled, is at least muted: "The UN is running this operation, not America."

UN-sponsored multilateral peace operations appeal to makers of US national policy--whether they view that policy from a budgetary, electoral, national security, or foreign affairs standpoint. But for shapers of US military policy, a multilateral framework can present difficult issues. Foremost among these are the command and control problems that often vex UN peace efforts in the field. Such problems are, to some extent, inherent in coalitions. But they are aggravated by the nature of peace operations and by the UN's political approach to coalition-building.

In any multinational enterprise, individual states do not give up their sovereignty. National autonomy is inevitably reflected in military operations. A coalition field commander can issue orders, but he cannot directly reward or discipline subordinates: promotions and punishments, like pay and pensions, are controlled by the home country, not the multinational command.

This autonomy can prove troublesome for command and control in wartime coalitions. Comparing British Field Marshal Alexander's job in Italy during World War II with that of his German opponent, Field Marshal Kesselring, a British author notes that "Kesselring had an easier task controlling his subordinates. The German commanders were all Germans whom he could promote or dismiss according to their performance. Alexander's subordinates were . . . responsible to different national governments."[5]

Coalitions for peace give rise to similar problems: "The general in charge of a multibattalion UN Force once ordered a subordinate commander to seize an area where snipers were hiding as they fired at UN soldiers. The subordinate feared the task would entail casualties among his own troops and get him into hot water with his home-country superiors, so he stalled for time. Then he contacted national-level authorities in his own country . . . to ask whether or not he should obey his tactical orders from the United Nations."[6]

As these examples imply, the commanding officer of a national contingent in a multinational force is normally careful to stay in close contact with his home government, and to take his cues from it. It defies imagination to suppose that in mid-1993, when the commander of Italian forces in Somalia initiated negotiations with Somali warlord Muhammed Farah Aideed independently of the United Nations headquarters in Mogadishu, he did so without the sanction of his government. When the UN (reportedly with American encouragement) requested his relief for insubordination, Rome retained the general in command of the Italian contingent.[7]

In a multinational military effort, the best guarantee of military cooperation is each country's unwavering political support for the coalition's chief purpose, and for the method of achieving it. Despite frequent disagreements, the World War II Allies were fully committed to the same overriding political goal--victory--and hammered out a consensus as to method. In the case of the Italian general, political disunity, not insubordination, was probably the basic issue. Whether that political discord centered on purpose or method is beyond the scope of this discussion; the principle remains the same--military unity of command cannot take root in political disunity.

Difficult as it sometimes is to achieve unity among allies in wartime, it can be even more difficult to achieve it among partners in a coalition for peace. From the perspective of nations providing peace troops, peace operations are less desperate than war. There is rarely a compelling threat or common enemy against which to coalesce. National governments are correspondingly less ready to spend blood and treasure, and less willing to shelve their national agendas temporarily, in order to achieve the UN's political goal.

The UN's political approach to coalition-building exacerbates this difficulty. At present, UN coalitions for peace seek broad, worldwide representation; they deliberately include politically disparate countries in the same peace operation. Thus there is little commonality of interest among participants, and firm political unity is almost impossible. Some countries requested to take part in a UN peace effort have little inclination to do so and can be persuaded only by political, economic, or other inducements.

For traditional peacekeeping, such inducements are perhaps adequate. In such a setting, shallow political commitments are a relatively minor irritant, because command and control problems rarely come to the fore in a static military situation where UN troops simply occupy a buffer zone and verify adherence to a truce. But in less stable conditions, where fire and maneuver and mutual dependence are required, and where costs and casualties multiply, no "inducements" are adequate. A more substantial political commitment is required. Without it, military command and control problems quickly arise; without immediate resolution they cause dysfunctional command and control relationships.

Responsive command and control procedures are essential to successful peace operations that go beyond traditional peacekeeping. As long as such operations are carried out by multilateral forces, the United Nations must build its coalitions with political unity in mind. It must select, as coalition members, those nations most likely and best suited to support its political goals in a specific peace endeavor.

If the UN's political approach to coalition-building aggravates the command problems inherent in all coalitions, its lack of a military perspective in coalition-building can cripple them. To judge by their actions, UN policymakers have little appreciation for military subtleties beyond the obvious fact that certain armies have more and better equipment than others.

Some armies, like the US Army, focus primarily on national defense. Others concentrate on crushing rebellious factions or minorities. Still others have a security-police role. A few are token forces with essentially ceremonial functions. Some promote on merit; others do not. Some are responsive to civilian authority; others are less so. Such armies (and their officers) may approach UN duties with fundamentally incompatible values and formative experiences. It is absurd to put troop units from widely disparate armies together under the UN flag and assume they will work side-by-side in harmony, showing equal tolerance and restraint toward refugees, ethnic minorities, and other civilians. But the United Nations does so frequently. For nontraditional peace efforts, coalition-builders must discreetly but closely examine the military forces they select for peace operations; they are inviting not just a nation to join a peace coalition, but also its military establishment.

Multinational coalitions must be built on the principle of political unity if ensuing military operations are to succeed. This is desirable for traditional peacekeeping efforts but essential for nontraditional ones. Those who organize UN coalitions, or who influence their composition, must also be sensitive to the military implications of choosing participants in peace operations. Because relatively compatible armies should be chosen to work alongside one another, military advice should be sought during the coalition-building stage.

These policy steps are essential for effective multilateral peace operations. Yet their implementation will not be free of difficulty. An attempt to discriminate among national military establishments when choosing participants for nontraditional peace endeavors may in fact eliminate some of the very countries most suitable according to "political unity" criteria. And attempts to create political unity in UN coalitions for peace will likely focus on nations with a vested interest in the proposed area of operations. Such an interest could well run counter to the UN's tenet of impartiality among participants in peace operations and, in the case of opposing interests, prove divisive rather than unifying.

Such dilemmas need not arise in traditional peace missions, or in the relatively straightforward, fixed-term tasks of supervising elections or confirming troop withdrawals. For nontraditional operations, however, the options in this event might be to abandon impartiality for the sake of political unity, or to forsake multilateralism itself.

Although it is selectively ignored by the UN,[8] the principle of impartiality should probably not be abandoned; an integral part of peace operations, it represents a significant difference between them and other UN-sanctioned actions such as the wars in Korea and the Gulf. But multilateralism, though attractive, is not vital to the conduct of peace operations. Such operations could be conducted in a supranational rather than multinational or unilateral framework, by the establishment of a professional United Nations peace-constabulary functioning directly on orders from the Security Council. A supranational approach would address most of the concerns of American policymakers, as listed earlier. Doubtless such a solution would bring its own problems, not the least of which would be start-up costs, legal issues, structure, armament, and personnel composition. But once established, such a constabulary would respond to one political authority only, the Security Council. For nontraditional peace operations, this option is certainly preferable to fractured multilateralism.

Theoretically, of course, restricted multilateralism is also possible. The involvement in peace operations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has frequently been discussed. But without a compelling common threat to a majority of its members, NATO is likely to prove no more immune to political disunity than other versions of multilateralism. Probably the same holds true for the Western European Union, the European Commonwealth, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and similar groupings. Furthermore, NATO involvement in such operations could accentuate latent divisions within a hitherto successful defensive military alliance.

Nontraditional peace operations in post-Cold War conditions pose special challenges to the United Nations' multilateral way of doing business. These challenges should concern makers of national and military policy in the United States. Multilateralism, as the UN currently practices it, is politically fragmented and militarily unworkable. Policy decisions to remedy the situation may be the ultimate challenge for the United Nations in its conduct of peace operations.

Mission Initiation and Termination: National Policy

The proliferation of UN peace operations over the past few years should not obscure several such efforts that have lasted for decades. The most notable are those on the India-Pakistan frontier, in Cyprus, on the Golan Heights, and in south Lebanon.[9] The inconclusive nature of these undertakings is disconcerting to many American observers and presents a challenge for US national policymakers as they weigh American troop contributions to UN endeavors.

It is in the mission-initiation stage that mission-termination criteria can best be addressed.[10] When UN military involvement in a given "stability crisis" is first proposed, the potential length of UN involvement is often fairly predictable.[11] By their very nature, some peace operations have a fixed term or are easily terminated--safeguarding elections or verifying troop pullbacks, for instance. Others, especially those involving bitter and prolonged conflicts, are more difficult to end; in principle, a UN troop presence buys time for a permanent political settlement. In the case of intractable political difficulties, however, UN forces will likely remain committed indefinitely. Such outcomes are often foreseeable.[12]

Fixed-term propositions pose few dilemmas for policymakers in New York or Washington. It is the potentially intractable ones that raise difficult issues. Policymakers should bear in mind that the fundamental purpose of peace operations is not to usher in a Golden Age of universal tranquility, but to preserve stability and collective security. Is the problem under consideration a localized conflict, or does it pose a serious threat to world stability and security? Answering this question can be extremely difficult. Stability crises involving one or more nuclear powers can unquestionably affect the whole world, but other cases are less clearcut. When does a threat to regional peace become a threat to world stability?[13] Clearly, the world at large is not equally threatened by every violent dispute in the Balkans, Africa, Southwest Asia, or the Middle East.

If the crisis, though grave, does not truly threaten world stability, an American veto (or lesser means) in the Security Council can insure the proposed peace operation never starts. Without exaggerating America's role in Security Council deliberations, it is fair to say that US views are very important indeed: without US political, financial, and logistical support, few UN peace operations can get off the ground. All require at least tacit American backing. Decisions to initiate such operations are largely, if indirectly, in the hands of US national policymakers.[14]

If, however, after full deliberation, a given crisis is deemed a serious threat to stability and collective security, the world body should undertake a peace operation, even at the cost of a long-term commitment, and the United States should back it. Stability is, after all, in America's interest. The United States' status as sole superpower enables it to promote UN involvement in such cases.

If there is to be no UN operation, the issue of US troop involvement never arises. But it is becoming rare for America to decline to provide military personnel for the UN operations it supports in New York. The question here is not so much whether or not the United States should take part, but whether US interests require that it play a leading or supporting role in such operations. The former generally requires a substantial troop commitment, while the latter can be limited to a more symbolic presence. This, too, is a decision for US national policymakers.

National policymakers can effectively endorse or prevent specific UN operations on the basis of their own evaluation of threats to world stability. Assuming that America will provide troops to the operations it advocates, national policymakers can opt, according to their assessment of US interests in each endeavor, to contribute significant forces or a handful of observers, technicians, and staff officers--or anything in between. Even in a leading role, American participation is unlikely to equal, much less surpass, the huge US military presence in Cold-War Europe, a deployment which, though based on deterrence, was intended to maintain stability and collective security.

If UN peace operations and US commitments to them were approached in this way, American troops would deploy overseas on UN duty only for fixed-term missions, or on tasks so vital to world stability that the United States would be willing to accept a long-term commitment--whether of a significant or symbolic nature. There would be no more Somalias and very little "mission creep." Both initiation and termination criteria would be understood at the outset.

The policy process in a democracy is rarely so orderly. These American policy decisions are not made in a vacuum, since public and media pressure to "do something" can build rapidly, with a predictable effect, especially on elected leaders. In such circumstances it can be tempting to create the illusion of action, or to pass a political hot potato to the United Nations, with promises of American support.

The first challenge for national policymakers is to distinguish between proposed UN operations essential to collective security and stability, and those which may have the US public's attention but little effect on world order. This is easily done. A subsequent challenge is to act accordingly; amid the hue and cry of a media-intensive, elective democracy, this is no easy task.

Safeguarding Readiness: Military Policy

Once a battalion or brigade deploys to a peace operation, it cannot be withdrawn on short notice to take part in military operations elsewhere; during the period of its assignment to peace duties, it is essentially unavailable for combat contingencies. Because such units are often rotated to and from the mission area at four- to six-month intervals, two similar units are "fenced" from combat contingencies at any given time--one to train for peace duties and prepare for deployment,[15] the other for block leave, post-deployment personnel shuffles, and retraining for combat missions. In general, the commitment of one battalion to peace operations on these terms is a subtraction of three battalions from the Army's combat-ready strength.

As American participation in peace operations expands, and in view of the prolonged, open-ended nature of many such commitments, their effects on the Army's combat readiness are obvious. In the context of the current military drawdown, they are potentially serious. The challenge for military policymakers is how to meet national policy goals for peace operations without becoming overcommitted to an extent that harms combat readiness.

This challenge cannot be addressed by the Army alone, since peace operations can involve the other services. Experience suggests, however, that Army troops will almost always furnish the majority of US military personnel committed to such operations. Unless national policymakers work to limit the number of UN peace operations, or to limit US troop involvement in them (or curtail the ongoing drawdown), the primary way to safeguard readiness is through military policy measures. Several options are available.

Burden-sharing among the military services is feasible when American combat support or combat service support units are desired, but less so when ground combat troops are needed. In the case of clearly long-term commitments to peace endeavors, a 12- to 18-month tour length for combat battalions assigned to peace operations may be possible, though it must be weighed against the effects on the morale of soldiers and families.

Another possible solution for long-term commitments might be to permanently assign a battalion or brigade to peace duties overseas. The unit would remain outside a divisional framework, and individual replacements would be rotated to and from it. This may be feasible, for example, in the case of the US Army infantry battalion assigned to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai. In this way the effect on readiness would be limited to one battalion, not three. Just as important, its deployment would no longer detract from the readiness of Army combat divisions, since they would not be required to give up a battalion periodically for a six-month MFO rotation. This step would require a support structure for the battalion established overseas, since it could not rely on support from a parent division. If only one such battalion were permanently assigned to overseas peace duties, the support structure might not be cost-efficient, but this would rapidly change if it eventually supported two or more battalions--as could well be the case.[16]

Nonetheless, each battalion removed from combat-ready status is significant in a shrinking Army. Whenever consistent with the national policy determinations discussed above, Army participation in peace operations should be in the form of individual military observers (drawn from both the active and reserve components) rather than entire units. A long-term commitment of observers would do less harm to Army combat readiness than a lengthy troop commitment; it would have the concomitant benefit of exposing a large number of officers to an immensely valuable training experience. The presence of several American observers in blue berets would demonstrate US commitment to specific UN peace operations just as clearly as a large body of troops.[17] The participation of US military personnel, even in limited numbers, could be energetically publicized so as to raise its visibility. And since national policymakers presumably want America not only to support UN peace operations, but also to be seen doing so, widespread publicity and recognition are always implicit objectives of US involvement.

The United Nations, however, considers some peace operations unsuitable for unarmed observers. Where observers are not desired, the assignment of US staff personnel to the field headquarters of an armed UN force may be feasible.

Finally, ongoing commitments to peace operations must be constantly reviewed. Even when ground combat troops from the active component are deployed to such operations, it may sometimes be possible to substitute observers for them at a later date. For example, the size of the US troop commitment to the Multinational Force and Observers could probably be scaled back without adverse political or operational effects. Infantry battalions from Fiji and Columbia currently occupy the MFO zone paralleling the Egypt-Israel land border, but the US battalion occupies the coastal sector along the Gulf of Aqaba from Eilat to Sharm el-Sheikh, the least confrontation-prone strip of land in the MFO zone of operations. To man this sector with most of an Army infantry battalion, after more than a decade of quiet in that area, is probably wasteful of money and manpower.[18]

Most if not all of the observation posts in the US sector could be manned with small teams of officer-observers, conducting regular vehicle patrols just as United Nations peacekeeping observers do. Drawn from both active and reserve components, officer-observers could serve a mix of 12-month and 179-day tours. By replacing the Army infantry battalion in the Sinai with military observers, the Army's readiness gain would be three battalions, as outlined above.

Safeguarding readiness in an era of shrinking forces and growing commitments--some of them open-ended--is a unique challenge for military policymakers. Possible ways to ease the strain on combat readiness include burden-sharing among the services, lengthening tours for US battalions assigned to peace operations, and permanently assigning units to long-term peace endeavors overseas. Probably the best solution to the readiness problem is to dispatch individual observers or staff officers in lieu of troop units, whenever such a step is feasible. A decision to send observers cannot be made independently by the armed forces, however, because it is for national policymakers to determine, on the basis of US interests, whether a substantial or symbolic US military presence is appropriate in a specific peace operation. Other solutions to the combat readiness dilemma may also be found.[19] Whatever the solution chosen, makers of military policy must constantly remind national policymakers of military readiness concerns.


American involvement in peace operations has grown dramatically in the past few years. Peace operations are politically desirable for the United States, and can be expected to continue.[20] They may prove to be the primary American military mission of the post-Cold War era.

Policy challenges abound. If the United Nations is to use a multilateral military instrument, it must form politically unified, militarily effective coalitions, especially for nontraditional peace operations. Those who plan the composition of United Nations coalitions should seek military advice as to the compatibility of forces selected to work together in such undertakings. Eventually, UN policymakers must weigh a supranational solution to the issues of political unity and military effectiveness in nontraditional operations.

The challenge of mission termination is essentially one of mission initiation, and is above all an issue of US national policy. Policymakers in nations belonging to the Security Council, and especially those in the United States, the Security Council's most prominent member, must avoid applying a UN solution to all problems. Put bluntly, they must determine which of the world's many problems demand UN involvement and which do not. US policymakers must also decide if American interests in a given situation dictate a sizable or token US military presence in the UN effort.

American military policymakers must seek ways to achieve national policy goals without overcommitting US forces, in order to safeguard the combat readiness that the world's only superpower must maintain. Several steps are available to address this problem. Some are purely military measures, while others require close coordination with national policymakers.

Two centuries ago, the political context of military operations expanded from disputes between royal families to conflicts between entire nations. We may be witnessing the first signs of another such contextual shift, in which the United Nations supra-state undertakes political-military operations on behalf of the world community. Such a development would not be welcomed in all quarters. Yet, whatever the trend or outcome, all can agree that, as Milton wrote to Cromwell, "Peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war." Peace operations, too, will be part of the United States Army's history. They are just as epoch-making as any war it has fought.


1. Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987), p. 331.

2. The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peace-keeping (2d ed.; New York: United Nations Department of Public Information, 1990), p. 222.

3. The United States also sent military observers to serve with the UN along the India-Pakistan border in the late 1940s, but they were withdrawn a few years later, in the early 1950s.

4. For the purposes of this discussion, it is not necessary to differentiate among the terms "multinational," "multilateral," and "coalition." They are used interchangeably.

5. W. G. F. Jackson, The Battle for Italy (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 231.

6. "Central control essential in U.N. `peacefare,'" Army Times, 21 June 1993, p. 31.

7. For background on the General Loi story, refer to "Italy seeks to calm row with US on Somalia," London Financial Times, 13 July 1993, p. 3, and "Troops in Somalia defy orders from local commanders," London Financial Times, 14 July 1993, p. 1. The United Nations request for Loi's relief is discussed in "Somalis attack U.N. post," Washington Times, 15 July 1993, p. 1, and "U.N. Removes Italian General Impeding Somalia Operation," The Washington Post, 15 July 1993, p. 20. For Loi's retention in command of the Italian contingent, see "Italy Seeks Tighter Somalia Rules," The Washington Post, 25 July 1993, p. 21.

8. For example, by the dispatch of British troops to Cyprus, French troops to Lebanon, Italians to Somalia, and Russians to Serbian areas of the former Yugoslavia.

9. These are, respectively, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP, 1949); the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP, 1964); the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF, 1974); and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL, 1978).

10. On 23 September 1993, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright, announced the Clinton Administration's tentative criteria for US military participation in UN peace operations. These were formulated as a series of questions: "Is there a real threat to international peace and security? Does the proposed peacekeeping mission have clear objectives and can its scope be clearly defined? Is a cease-fire in place and have the parties agreed to a United Nations presence? Are the financial and human resources to accomplish the mission available? Can an `end point' to participation by the United Nations be identified?" ("Nunn Says He Wants Exit Strategy If U.S. Troops Are Sent to Bosnia," The New York Times, 24 September 1993, p. 1.)

11. Somalia is a case in point. The Somalia mission began as a short-term, US-led humanitarian operation. Once the UN assumed responsibility for it, the mission's scope was enlarged (UNSCR 814) to include "nation-building" objectives. It then became a potentially long-term undertaking. A review of the UN's previous experience with another type of nation-building in Namibia probably would have indicated as much. See The Blue Helmets, pp. 341-88.

12. Increasingly, an eventual treaty or other political settlement specifically requires the continued presence of peacekeepers, as is the case now with the Multinational Force and Observers along the Egypt-Israel border. Such developments, too, are frequently predictable. For example, similar arrangements will almost certainly be written into an eventual peace treaty between Syria and Israel. For American offers to contribute US troops to a force monitoring a future peace accord between Syria and Israel, see "What's Ahead for U.S. in the Mideast," Long Island Newsday, 15 September 1993, p. 97. In such cases, termination criteria are exceedingly difficult to establish.

13. Inevitably Security Council members will bring their own interests to such calculations. For instance, potential clashes between Greece and Turkey (whether over Cyprus, the Aegean, or the Balkans) might not pose a direct threat to overall world stability. But for the United States and Western Europe, such a conflict would represent an intolerable split in the NATO alliance, making them likely to push for a UN peace endeavor. Since permanent members of the Security Council can veto a suggested peace operation, recent proposals to add additional permanent members to the Security Council (such as Germany, Japan, India, and Brazil) would, if implemented, introduce a new element into the council's deliberations on such proposals.

14. It is disingenuous for Americans to say that the United Nations should "know when to say no" to proposals for further UN peace operations. The implication is that American policymakers are unwilling to bear the onus of using the United States' veto against such proposals in the Security Council.

15. A good example occurred in October 1983, when the 2d Brigade of the 82d Airborne Division, as the "Division Ready Brigade," was alerted for deployment to Grenada. One of the brigade's three battalions (1-325) was then preparing for a six-month deployment to the Sinai-MFO, beginning in January-February 1984. For that reason the battalion remained in the US, replaced in Operation Urgent Fury by a battalion from another brigade.

16. Ideally the support structure would be centralized and based in the United States. A Europe-based support structure could handle "peace battalions" deployed in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, or the Mideast, but would be hard-pressed to support similar units deployed in, say, the Pacific Rim or Latin America.

17. Such a presence also would furnish a less attractive target for potential terrorists. The large US Marine presence in Beirut provided a lucrative target for Lebanese terrorists on 23 October 1983. In contrast, the presence of only a handful of US military observers with the UN in south Lebanon limited potential terrorist targets to individuals; small detachments of American officers had served there from 1978 to 1988 before one observer fell victim to terrorists (USMC Lieutenant Colonel William "Rich" Higgins, the author's commander in Lebanon, who was abducted on 17 February 1988 and later died in captivity).

18. Now that the Taba dispute between Egypt and Israel has been addressed, the only other potential flashpoint in this sector is the Strait of Tiran (a casus belli in 1956 and 1967). But freedom of navigation in the Strait is already monitored more effectively by the MFO's Coastal Patrol Unit and aviation unit than by the US battalion. The size of the US contribution to the MFO was determined in an exchange of letters between US Secretary of State Haig and the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Israel in August 1981; the changes proposed would thus require diplomatic coordination.

19. One alternative under consideration is the "Nordic model," in which we would create a battalion with active leadership but filled principally with reservists. This could be an option for Army participation in the MFO in Sinai, for example.

20. Additional peace operations involving American troops have been proposed for the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. See "Fast Track: New World Order," Army Times, 27 September 1993, p. 30, and "What's Ahead for U.S. in the Mideast," Long Island Newsday, 15 September 1993, p. 97.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Baker is Deputy Commander of the 3d US Infantry (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Virginia. A graduate of the Foreign Area Officer Course and the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto, he served as a platoon leader in Germany and a company commander and battalion S3 in the 82d Airborne Division, taking part in Operations Urgent Fury and Desert Storm. Previous assignments include a tour with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as three years of UN peacekeeping experience in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Iraq-Kuwait Demilitarized Zone. His commander in Lebanon, USMC Lieutenant Colonel William R. Higgins, was abducted by terrorist gunmen in 1988.

Reviewed 25 February 1998. Please send comments or corrections to usarmy.carlisle.awc.mbx.parameters@mail.mil.