Understanding Peace Operations: A Reply to Col Robert C. Owen

By Searle, Thomas R. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Understanding Peace Operations: A Reply to Col Robert C. Owen


Searle, Thomas R., Air & Space Power Journal


IN "AEROSPACE POWER and Land Power in Peace Operations: Toward a New Basis for Synergy," which appears in this issue, Col Robert C. Owen makes some important points about peace operations, but I take exception to some of his views. Let me begin by defending the United States against Colonel Owen's accusation that all of our interventions are "imperialistic," "hegemonic," and "self-interested." (He starts out by accurately stating that foreign and domestic opponents of a US intervention will claim that such interventions are hegemonic, but then he seems to come around to this view himself.) The United States has been the world's leading economic power since at least 1918 and the leading military power since at least 1945. As a result, for more than half a century (and arguably for 80 years), every US interaction with another country has involved the substantial power advantage of the United States over the other party and could be portrayed as a US effort to dominate others. Peace operations could not possibly be different, and we should be used to this by now. This, however, does not mean that every US peace operation is in fact hegemonic or perpetrated against the will of "the locals." To take an obvious example, the United States has stationed troops in the Sinai for decades to monitor the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The peace they have been keeping is in the best interest of both Israel and Egypt; both nations welcome the US presence; and neither side regards the peacekeeping force as evidence of US imperialism. Contrary to Colonel Owen's claim, Egypt and Israel do not feel that the peacekeepers represent a "reduction of their sovereignty." The US troops do not "mak[e] the locals behave"; instead, they help the Egyptians and Israelis do what they already want to do-remain at peace.

The locals on both sides of a conflict sometimes welcome peace operations. Even more importantly, the policy makers of rich, powerful countries respond to claims that they are being hegemonic and imperialistic. Colonel Owen dismisses the fact that many of the troops conducting peace operations come from Pakistan, Botswana, and other clearly nonhegemonic and nonimperialist nations by noting that they could operate only with the assistance of richer, more powerful countries. But he misses the point. The key question is not, Could small, poor, weak countries project forces around the world without the help of big, rich, powerful countries? Rather, the question is, Why do big, rich, powerful countries want to include the forces of small, poor, weak countries in their peace operations? To take the example with which Colonel Owen is most familiar, why should the 32,000 troops of the Bosnia Stabilization Force be drawn from about 40 different countries? Including contingents from so many nations increases the expense of these operations and vastly decreases their military effectiveness by causing enormous command, control, communication, linguistic, and logistics problems. These problems are compounded by the fact that different nations often give their troops rules of engagement (ROE) that are different from those promulgated by the nominal combined-force commander. The richer countries put up with this added expense and decreased military effectiveness precisely because doing so makes it harder to demonize these operations as hegemonic and imperialistic. If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia and several Asian countries and several African countries and so forth, are all willing to send troops to enforce the peace somewhere, then that peace is more than just the imperialism of the United States or the West or even the rich and powerful. It is something like a global consensus. In order to achieve such a consensus, rich and powerful nations have to negotiate with the less rich and less powerful to gain their cooperation, and, in so doing, the rich and powerful sacrifice money, military effectiveness, some of their self-interest, and their hegemony.

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