Panel Hits U.N. on Military Planning

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - The United Nations must set up international brigades of ready soldiers and professionalize its military planning or it is doomed to repeat recent peacekeeping failures, a U.N.-appointed international panel reported yesterday.

In a harsh evaluation of recent peacekeeping failures, the 10-member board of experts said the organization must respond more rapidly to emergencies and replace idealistic theories with more realistic expectations.

In a slap at the world body's permanent bureaucracy, the experts - from countries including the United States, Russia, Britain and Japan - said the Secretariat "must not apply best-case planning assumptions to situations where the local actors have historically exhibited worst-case behavior."

They also warned that blue-helmeted troops must be properly equipped and authorized to defend themselves from hostile forces.

Among its more dramatic recommendations, the report said U.N. member states should establish several brigade-sized forces of 5,000 troops, each which could be deployed to trouble spots within 30 to 90 days.

It also said the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York should be staffed with well-trained military professionals and equipped with modern information technology.

The report did not estimate the cost of its recommendations, but they could be expected to substantially boost the present peacekeeping budget of $2.2 billion. The United States is assessed one-third of peacekeeping costs but has unilaterally reduced its contribution to one-quarter and is seeking to cut it further.

The 58-page report, commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the wake of ill-fated missions in the Balkans and Africa, warned against confusing the organization's vaunted impartiality with a "failure to distinguish victim from aggressor."

In a nod to failures in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sierra Leone, the report said if "one party to an agreement clearly and incontrovertibly is violating" the terms of a cease-fire, "continued equal treatment of all parties by the United Nations can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the worst may amount to complicity with evil."

The panelists also urged permanent U.N. officials to be more forthcoming with the national representatives on the Security Council.

"The Secretariat must tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear," wrote the experts in a likely reference to council members' complaints that they were not properly advised of warning signs before the genocidal rampage in Rwanda in 1994.

"The panel's analysis is frank yet fair; its recommendations are far-reaching yet sensible and practical," said Mr. Annan - himself a former head of peacekeeping - in his introduction to the report.

The Clinton administration also welcomed the report, saying much of it echoed its own concerns about peacekeeping operations. U.S. officials noted that the experts stopped short of calling for a standing army, a sensitive issue for many members of Congress.

"It raises all the right questions," said James Cunningham, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said the administration had already discussed the report with Capitol Hill staffers.

He did not indicate, however, that the United States would be willing to spend more on peacekeeping, or to relax its insistence on a continued zero-growth budget for the overall organization.

"Funding will be a problem we'll have to deal with later," Mr. Cunningham told reporters yesterday. "We'll look and see if there are other places in the U.N. system where we can identify savings."

American policemen participate in U.N. missions, but no U.S. soldier serves under a U.N. commander. However, 89 nations have contributed 37,300 military and civilian personnel for 14 current U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world. …