Problems for U.S. Forces in Operations beyond Peacekeeping

By Mackinlay, John | McNair Papers, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Problems for U.S. Forces in Operations beyond Peacekeeping


Mackinlay, John, McNair Papers


After the deployment of three ambitious and powerfully organized peace support forces to Cambodia, Somalia, and former Yugoslavia, the United Nations has crossed the threshold into a new chapter of operations. The characteristics and needs of these contingencies are still unclear. Success has also been elusive, and without an overall concept that has been operationally validated, each force has developed in its own idiosyncratic manner. As a result, a race to develop and promulgate a new concept of operations has begun among the NATO armies. Training and doctrine staff of the U.S. Army are now addressing these contingencies with some urgency. In common with other NATO army staffs, their task is to find a concept of operations to interpret these unfamiliar scenarios to future contingent commanders. But in some aspects their learning curve will be steeper, because for three decades the U.S. armed forces have distanced themselves from UN peace operations. Now that they are joining the peacekeepers club, what problems does this raise for them and for the older members?

Circumstances of U.S. Forces Deployment

The first priority has been to understand as accurately as possible the contingencies to which the administration would be prepared to deploy U.S. forces. In a 1993 address to the National War College, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said that the following concerns would have to be answered satisfactorily before U.S. military forces could become involved in future UN multinational operations:

* Seriousness of the threat to international peace and security

* A clear definition of the mission and parameters for the proposed operation

* Consent of parties involved on the ground

* Effectiveness of the cease-fire between parties

* Availability of sufficient finances and resources to achieve the mission

* Finite nature of the UN's duration in the host nation.

She also stipulated that the administration was unwilling to hazard the lives of young men and women on missions that were badly planned, unprofessionally executed, and without competent commanders. She stressed the Clinton administration would choose the means to implement these responses case by case. (1)

These conditions are well stated and amount to what any caring government should regard as sine qua non for involvement of a national contingent in a UN operation. However, recent case history of UN operations in former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and Somalia indicates that in reality, the U.S. Government, in common with other contributors, is more likely to find itself submitting a national contingent as part of a UN force operating in areas where no peace agreement has been successfully negotiated; locally, consent to a UN presence is in doubt; and there is no clearly defined military mission or end state for the UN involvement.

However desirable, the Albright manifesto may be making assumptions about the standard and the orderly nature of UN operations that, institutionally, the United Nations will be unable to deliver for some years to come. It is also possible that a future situation may arise that is internationally so intolerable or morally so abhorrent that the administration, far from coolly appraising each contingency case by case, is thrust into a situation as the result of mounting pressure from the domestic constituency to "do something"--against the professional judgment of its military advisors and contrary to its own preconditions.

Although the UN institutional capability to plan and direct multinational military operations has not significantly improved, its post-Cold War contingencies have become increasingly complex and hazardous. In their unpublished manuals currently under draft, British and American doctrine writers have acknowledged that future UN forces face a new dimension of operations in which the most likely and challenging tasks amount to something more than peacekeeping but fall short of enforcement by all possible means. …

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