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Private Group Calls For Non-UN Peacekeeping Force  - 2004-09-10

A private group in Britain wants to provide peacekeeping services for the United Nations, supplementing the service traditionally provided by armies. The Global Peace and Security Partnership says peacekeeping missions are slow to get organized because of domestic politics in U.N. member states. The recently formed, non-profit group says the solution is to hire military and civilian personnel from outside the U.N. structure. A high-ranking U.N. official in Iraq does not like the idea.

In a United Nations report on peacekeeping, an internal review panel stated that in a conflict zone, the first six to eight weeks after a cease-fire is reached are often the most critical for ensuring both stability the credibility of U.N. forces to be deployed there.

The August 2000 report prepared by senior U.N. official Lakhdar Brahimi recommends that the United Nations deploy a traditional peacekeeping force within 30 days of Security Council approval in most cases, or within 90 days for a more complex operation.

Critics charge, and the report acknowledges, that has rarely been the case. Analysts say often it is the failure of member states to contribute troops to a U.N. peacekeeping mission that is to blame.

Now a British non-profit group called the Global Peace and Security Partnership is offering to manage peacekeeping operations for the United Nations. A member of the Partnership, Michael Hepburn, argues that a private organization can deploy military and civilian personnel to a conflict zone more quickly than the U.N. Security Council.

"You've got the inability of the Security Council to pass resolutions," he said. "You've got the unwillingness of the developed nations to contribute troops to low intensity conflicts that may not really be in their strategic interests. And then you've got broader overarching issues of whether it would be legal under international law to allow an intervention force."

Mr. Hepburn stresses that his group does not seek to profit from conflict, a charge leveled at many private military firms. The group is seeking private and institutional funding to begin operations. Then, the United Nations or a regional organization would be able to hire the Mr. Hepburn's group to deploy military and civilian personnel to a mission in a conflict zone.

Staff members would receive internationally competitive salaries. But there would be no private investors to profit from the deployment.

In addition, a council of trustees would be formed to determine the mandate and scale of any operation.

"We would be looking to put in place an international council of trustees that would act as a de facto Security Council," said Mr. Hepburn. "What we mean by this, men and women from all disciplines, be it political, military, NGO [Non-government organizations], economic. And what would happen is a request for a rapid response would come in to the Board of Directors, and then that request would be elevated to our international Council of Trustees for approval or for disapproval." Perhaps nowhere have the operations of private military firms come under more recent scrutiny than here in Iraq.

At a time when the United Nations can not convince member states to provide troops for a security force for its own operations in Iraq, according to some estimates there are at least 15,000 employees of private military firms working in the country. That is more personnel than any single nation has contributed to coalition forces, except the United States. They offer support services to coalition troops and private companies ranging from truck driving to security escorts for convoys, to bodyguard services for senior officials.

The private security firms have come under criticism because they are not accountable to any government and, at least during the first year after the fall of the old regime, they operated with virtually no controls.

The U.N. Deputy Special Representative in Iraq, Ross Mountain, is skeptical of the proposal to use private forces for official peacekeeping work. He says the idea runs contrary to the founding principles of the United Nations.

"The United Nations is an effort of the international community and it's imperative for the international community and its legitimacy for it to have the buy-in of the member states and that includes the buy-in of the member states in providing troops for peacekeeping," said Mr. Mountain. "And it means the buying in of member states not just from the poor countries from Europe, North America and elsewhere in total peacekeeping effort. It's a global institution, global responsibilities. The responsibilities are that of the whole community."

Mr. Hepburn of the Global Peace and Security Partnership says the number of private military firms operating in Iraq with little regulation has had an effect on his group's effort to get support for its plans.

"Iraq is not helping the situation with the number of private military companies that are operating really in what is perceived as above the law or really without any accountability," he said. "Our model being not for profit, very much transparent [is such that] we hope to get around those arguments."

The Global Peace and Security Partnership says some sort of help is needed.

The United Nations was forced to scale back its operations in Iraq after a terrorist bombing at its Baghdad office in August of last year killed more than 20 staff members. Just this week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he can not send any more than the 35 international staff members he now has in Iraq because of the security situation.

The secretary-general is calling for member states to contribute 480 troops specifically to protect U.N. facilities in the country. So far, not a single nation has offered to contribute troops to protect the U.N. mission. And the world body is mandated to help coordinate nationwide elections in Iraq, scheduled for January.

But Mr. Hepburn says it is not likely that a private group like his would get involved in an operation as large as Iraq, where there are so many coalition troops and private military firms already deployed.

"What we really want to do is address the low intensity conflicts that are not being dealt with typically in Africa and more the Third World countries where a force of 200 to 300 men and women could really make a difference," said Mr. Hepburn. "Again I could see it more likely in a Sudan situation, a Uganda, Sierra Leone, perhaps even a Nepal."

Mr. Hepburn says his group hopes to begin its field work by doing security and humanitarian assessments in conflict zones to help the United Nations and other organizations determine whether international intervention is required. He hopes that will be a step toward helping the international community respond more quickly and effectively to crises.