The virtual collapse of the UN humanitarian assistance and peace operations in Bosnia, and the failure of a special mission dispatched to negotiate peace among contending clan groups in Somalia, have compelled the UN to face reality. The United Nations is at system overload as it attempts to shoulder its main post-Cold War challenge the maintenance of peace in an increasingly turbulent world. This is exacerbated by a growing reluctance of nations to provide "blue helmet" volunteers to serve in volatile situations where the prospect of casualties cannot be ignored. Indeed, despite the energetic leadership of Under Secretary-General Kofi R. Annan who directs the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the organization has increasing difficulty in acquiring properly trained and equipped forces in time to intervene in conflict situations and humanitarian crises.
Reserve UN Forces
Recognizing the serious nature of the problem, Boutros-Ghali presented a special report to the Security Council An Agenda for Peace (1992) that called for member states to place on reserve for UN use standby national forces. In a subsequent article published in Foreign Affairs, he acknowledged that peace operations were expanding beyond traditional UN boundaries to include disarming of warring factions and national stabilization measures in "failed states". Boutros-Ghali called for systemized standby arrangements "by which governments commit themselves to hold ready, at an agreed period of notice, specially trained units for peacekeeping service." He has requested that a registry of national forces be established including military and police personnel and equipment that governments would be prepared to make available at short notice. Through this approach, national commitments would serve as building blocks to be used to "construct peacekeeping operations in varying sizes and configurations."
Since the tendering of the Agenda report, the UN has suffered the twin sticker shocks of rising costs to maintain 70,000 peacekeepers in far flung field operations and disturbing casualty figures (one peacekeeper killed, on average, every two days in 1994). The organization remains unable to deploy units to meet crises in a timely fashion. And, contingents frequently encompass forces with vastly differing competencies, training, and equipment. The painful debacle of Rwanda in mid-l994 exposed these infirmities and has intensified the search by the UN leadership and key member states for alternative approaches. In the interim, the UN headquarters military staff has been substantially augmented, a manned operations center has been established and arrangements have been made for improved information flows.
The United Nations has a standby force agreement with almost 50 member states, including the United States, each having pledged to make military forces or equipment available for future peace operations. Most potential contributors, however, reserve the right to reject such calls by the Security Council and almost all did so during the Rwanda crisis. One diplomat has characterized the standby force approach as comparable to "a traveller's check with only one signature." Nevertheless, the secretary-general, in a report to the General Assembly and Security Council (January 3, 1995), urged consideration be given to a "strategic reserve" of battalion-sized forces national units to be placed at the disposal of the Council for future peace operations.
In addition to the unwillingness of the major powers to offer a blank check on the availability of their standby reserve forces, a number of other obstacles exist. Not the least of these is the absence of agreed military doctrine and political guidelines in operations-less-than-war (i.e., activities falling between traditional nonviolent peacekeeping and coercive enforcement measures). In addition, establishment of effective command and control within a diverse multinational force represents
a major challenge. …