Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is the U.N. obsolete?

Obsolete may be too strong a word, but changes are certainly necessary, and America needs to take the lead, as Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth explain in this very fine essay. (It's only available to subscribers at the moment, sorry.) Viable international institutions are vital in a globalized world.

One change I would like to see is the formation of a standing international "Quick Response Peacekeeping Force". This would be a well-trained and well-equipped force made up of volunteers from member nations. As it currently stands, anytime the UN approves a peacekeeping/peace enforcement mission, it has to ask member nations for troops and equipment, which then have to be handed over to nominal UN control and brought to the country where the mission will take place. All this takes time and is a logistical problem. If the UN had a nimble fast-action force that could be sent anywhere in the world as soon as a decision is made, many lives could be saved that were otherwise lost while the UN scrambled to find troops and equipment.

The force would need to be exceptionally nimble--with its own transport aircraft and lots and lots of helicopters. Peacekeeping missions need helicopters to function, and the UN does not have enough. The Economist had an article on the problem over a year ago:

The situation is even more acute for the United Nations. Its peacekeepers need the power and mobility that helicopters offer in remote, rough places but find it increasingly difficult to beg and borrow enough.

For UN peacekeeping, Western countries generally prefer to send money rather than troops and vital equipment. The bulk of the UN's manpower comes from Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India is already the biggest donor of helicopters to the UN, while Pakistan is busy fighting militants in its tribal areas. “The situation would change overnight if China, which is starting to get involved in peacekeeping, were to lend some of its helicopters,” says Mr Gowan. Another source might be Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet-block countries, which have plenty of helicopters, but have so far offered few of them.
If the UN had a standing reaction force, it could step into bad situations like Darfur in a matter of days and weeks, instead of months and years. While the fast-action force jumps in immediately and puts boots on the ground, the UN can look into getting long-term troops and equipment into the country. In the meantime, lives are being saved. Over time, the original force can be replaced by troops raised the traditional way.

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