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New UN peacekeeping rules give troops freer hand in Lebanon

United Nations peacekeepers pouring into southern Lebanon will be operating under a new, streamlined system that may change the way the organization carries out armed missions around the world. Local commanders on the ground will now have greater leeway to use force, and the chain of command will be clearer, according to French officials and outside analysts. „One of the lessons from past experience is that chain of command is the big issue,” said Dana Allin, senior research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. „There is definitely a feeling that the old UN peacekeeping model doesn't work.” The Lebanon mission, with a mandate to create a buffer zone between Israel and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militia, will answer to a new strategic command center located in New York and staffed by officers from the contributing countries, which now include France, Italy, Spain and several other European nations. Their commitments total between 6,500 and 7,000 soldiers, or less than half of the planned force of 15,000. Italy, as the largest contributor with 3,000 troops, will take command of the New York-based center, while France's Major General Alain Pellegrini will remain in charge of troops on the ground in Lebanon until February 2007, when he will be replaced by an Italian. The ground commander will make any decisions regarding the immediate use of force by the UN troops, both in self-defense and in some other situations.

The new center is designed to eliminate the overlapping decision-making that plagued peacekeeping missions in the past, said Jean-Baptiste Mattei, spokesman for French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. The model France most wants to avoid is the „dual-key” command structure used by the UN's mission in Yugoslavia, which operated from 1992 to 1995 in an attempt to prevent fighting among Serbs, Croats and later Bosnian Muslims. That system required local commanders to clear decisions both with their national headquarters and with UN staff. The new command center will avoid that by putting officers from the contributing countries together in one place. French President Jacques Chirac said Aug. 25 that the decision to dispatch two more battalions of French soldiers, for a total commitment of 2,000, depended on a change in the command structure.

While UN Security Council resolutions in 2004 and this month call for disarming Hezbollah, the peacekeeping mission isn't charged with enforcing them; the UN hopes that job will be negotiated by the Lebanese army. Meanwhile, Hezbollah's remaining arsenal, and Israel's presence in and near southern Lebanon will put the UN force in a precarious situation, said Allin. „This will be the test, and a very difficult one,” he said. „Being stuck between Israel and Hezbollah is not a very enviable situation.” The UN's new system resembles the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military command center in Belgium, known as SHAPE, which in 1999 coordinated the air campaign against Serbia, launched to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo from Serb attacks. Therese Delpech, a senior researcher at the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research, says the changed model may still not be flexible enough for the mission the UN faces in Lebanon. „The existence in New York of an Italian general is an improvement, but it is not going to provide the solution to the UN's problems in Lebanon,” she said. For instance, she said, it isn't clear whether UN forces will be able to intercept arms shipments sent to Hezbollah, whose principal patrons are Iran and Syria.

France, with 4,493 soldiers, provided the biggest contingent, followed by the UK with 3,405. As the war spread, UN troops became targets, hostages and in one case human shields. The mission suffered 213 fatalities, including 48 French. „The UN had a peacekeeping culture based on principles of impartiality,” said Allin. „But if one side violates the peace, then you become humiliated. That is what happened to the French.” Heisbourg said the failures in Yugoslavia even have a name: the Akashi syndrome, after Yasushi Akashi, the Japanese leader of the UN effort until 1995. That Akashi syndrome came to represent „playing ping-pong between the civilian and military chain of command, decisions not taken in time, commanders on the ground precluded from acting in self-defense,” Heisbourg said. „It was shorthand for the broader failure.”

French General Philippe Morillon, who in 1992 and 1993 became a hero for defending civilians in Bosnia and is now a member of the European Union's parliament, said UN forces need to operate from a position of strength. ”To be effective, they should be respected,” Morillon said in an interview from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he was serving on an EU election-monitoring mission. „To be respected, they have to be strong, they have to have the means, and the right to use them, according to the mandate of the mission.” Heisbourg said the success of the UN's new approach will depend on the outcome of its mission, which is to support the Lebanese army. „If the Lebanese army doesn't do anything, then the model for peacekeeping will not have changed at all,” he said. (Bloomberg)