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Experts Provide Their Perspectives on the UN Force Mandate in Lebanon

The U.N. Security Council resolution on ending the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah called for adding up to 13,000 troops to the 2,000 member U.N. peacekeeping force presently stationed in Lebanon, called UNIFIL. VOA's Carolyn Weaver spoke with experts about the promise and pitfalls of peacekeeping missions.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visited southern Lebanon Tuesday where a newly expanded force is supposed to help the Lebanese Army retake control of the area. Hezbollah has dominated the region since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Retired U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hughes notes that the first United Nations peacekeeping effort was set up in Egypt following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Hughes is a former director of the multinational peacekeepers now stationed in the Sinai. He says a strong mandate and clear rules of engagement are critical.

"The mandate is the bedrock and the instructions on which the force commander and the force operates on behalf of the U.N. And that is why there is such an enormous problem under the Security Council Resolution 1701 regarding the cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel,” says the former ambassador.

“The mandate is not a very strong one. It talks in terms of the international force taking all necessary steps, but it's also there to assist the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese armed forces in doing the job in the south of Lebanon. And now they're trying to turn that mandate in 1701 into an actual concept of operations that the force commander would use to instruct his troops on the ground,” adds Hughes. “And then they have to also draft R.O.E., rules of engagement. What are the individual soldiers to do in various circumstances regarding their own use of arms?"

Some peacekeeping forces are authorized to use arms to enforce a truce. Others are restricted to a role as observers. An example is UNIFIL, the U.N. group that has observed the peace between Lebanon and Israel since 1982.

Johns Hopkins University professor William Zartman says that observer-peacekeepers such as UNIFIL are not as effective when the conflict is between a nation-state and a rebel group that isn't accountable to the U.N. "Between Israel and Lebanon, UNIFIL worked perfectly well. Between Israel and Hezbollah, sitting in Lebanon, it didn't work at all."

Zartman says peacekeepers need instructions permitting them to act in defense of themselves and civilians. He points to the history of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, called MONUC.

"MONUC was finally given a mandate to defend themselves, but not to defend the population around them,’ says Zartman. “So all the people around them said, 'What are they doing here? What good are they? They're not helping us. They're supposed to help us in a civil war.' And this was not between states. The conflict there was with rebel groups. So there was no question of state responsibility there. And they lost their credibility with the local population."

He says it's clear the U.N. force in Lebanon will be expected to do more than merely observe. "…That is, military engagement to back up the ceasefire and to disarm Hezbollah. And we learned in Somalia, some people have pointed out very specifically, you can't disarm unless you're prepared for combat, because people with arms, some of them, are going to resist. And so you have to be in an enforcement position, with an enforcement mandate and enforcement rules of engagement."

Former U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hughes says the best guidelines for peacekeeping operations were set out in a U.N. report in 2000. It recommends adequate numbers of military and civilian personnel who can be quickly mobilized.

"This hasn't been done because countries are unwilling to commit forces to situations that they might find politically difficult, or might have their own problems. But there are a couple of other reasons, in addition to the whole question of sovereignty,” explains Hughes. “No one wants to put their forces into harm's way and take serious casualties, unless they know it's a professional operation, it's got a high degree of success, and it's really important not only to the international community but to their own national interests and relationship with the countries involved."

Hughes says he's hopeful for the success of the peacekeeping effort in Lebanon. "But they need the gravitas of sizable numbers. They need to get near that 15,000 if they're really going to be in enough places and be taken seriously enough by Hezbollah and all the groups in Lebanon -- and Syria, and Iran -- if they are going to have any real chance of success."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says more than 9.000 troops have been offered by European countries for the peacekeeping force. He notes that several Islamic countries have offered to contribute as well.