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Peacekeeping in Lebanon


Lebanese troops are taking up positions in the southern part of the country following a bloody month-long war between Hezbollah guerrillas and the Israeli government. Fifteen-thousand Lebanese soldiers will eventually be joined by an international peacekeeping force of about the same size. Together they will bolster 2,000 U.N. troops already there.

As the United Nations works out the details of the operation for southern Lebanon, experts are debating the necessary elements for a mission that will keep the peace.

The Keys for Success

Bill Stuebner is a long time expert in conflict resolution, having worked closely with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. He told an audience at a recent forum in Washington that his years of experience have taught him that several key ideas must be factored in if peacekeepers are to be successful.

Stuebner says, in designing such an operation, leaders must recognize that national interests will always take priority over international interests. "Whether it's the national interests of the players on the ground or the people who contribute to peacekeeping, national interests will always trump international interests," says Stuebner.

Number two, Stuebner says, a peacekeeping mission must have a clear and unambiguous mandate. "All the players have to know what that is; they have got to have clear orders and they have to carry them out without exception. Otherwise, you end up creating false expectations and sometimes those lead to disasters."

Stuebner says the expanded U.N. force for Lebanon must have a unified command structure along with enough equipment to get the job done. He adds, the most important element is political will. "Even if you have everything else in place, if there is not the will on the part of the warring parties to actually have peace, then there is no peace to keep," says Stuebner.

The case of Lebanon and Israel - - with their tortured and complex histories - - presents a huge challenge to mediators, raising the peace-making bar to a new level.

Former U.S. Ambassador David Mack, acting President for the Middle East Institute says, "As it happens, I was in Beirut when the Israeli air force attacked the airport in 1968. Nearly four decades later, we have not resolved the intertwined problems of Israel's security, Lebanon's sovereignty and infringements on that sovereignty from various parties, and the survival and well-being of the Lebanese people."

Hezbollah and Syria

And that means addressing the existence of Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist group, but, nonetheless, is a part of the Lebanese government. It also means, many experts say, dealing with Syria and Iran, both of which support Hezbollah.

The Bush administration is wary of direct talks with either country, saying 'Syria knows what it has to do.' But many experts say there will be no peace without bringing at least Syria into the fold.

"Syria has been part of the problem, but it does not follow that Syria cannot be part of the solution. Just as, in a way, Hezbollah can be part of the solution internally. Because the internal Lebanese deal -- if there is one to be had -- is going to amount to Hezbollah disarmament, more or less, and ceding to the Lebanese government the authority to exercise sovereignty regarding arms," says David Mack of the Middle East Institute.

Disarming Hezbollah is a key part of U.N. resolution 1701 that also calls for a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, and authorizes the newly expanded U.N. mission for southern Lebanon.

But that tricky task has been left to the Lebanese government and will not be carried out by the new U.N. force. The Lebanese government has said it will not forcibly disarm Hezbollah, reportedly agreeing to allow the group to keep its arms if they are hidden.

Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown says sending in a broadly configured international force to secure the region is only one part of what he says must be a two-pronged approach to the Lebanese-Israeli conflict.

"The second is what the [U.N.] resolution calls for, which is the political track. Where Hezbollah looks at disarmament and, indeed, the Lebanese government looks at disarmament as part of this longer-term political process. Because you cannot secure this border with military patrolling alone," says Brown. "We have to, as the resolution requires, get a political deal in place as well under which Hezbollah voluntarily disarms and then the role of the peacekeepers is to police that disarmament and to make sure that they honor it."

But is it possible? Former U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hughes with the Middle East Institute says yes, but only if the U.N. mission is a very responsive operation. "Non-bureaucratic, flexible, nimble, and a very professional organization that can respond to situations as they change, situations as they develop between the two treaty parties and to meet their needs. Not simply to stick to the needs and words in the protocol and the treaty, but to be responsive to the parties and what they need."

Hughes echoes expert Bill Stuebner in saying that the will for peace and a resolution to the crisis is essential for success. "Commitment of the parties is critical. And not only the commitment politically, but the ability and the will to compel compliance within their own countries," says Hughes.

It remains to be seen if that political will exists -- in Lebanon, in Israel and at the United Nations. Many hurdles will have to be dealt with before the full force of the new U.N. operation is in place, which is expected to take place in about one month.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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