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UNITED NATIONS: U.N. Rules Out Creation of a Standing Army

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 1996 (IPS) - The United Nations has virtually given up its efforts at creating a standing army.

“I don’t think we can have a standing U.N. army,” says Kofi Annan of Ghana, the newly-elected U.N. Secretary-General, “The membership is not ready for it.”

The original proposal for a blue-helmeted U.N. army that could be deployed at a moment’s notice to global troublespots came from Canada and the Netherlands and has been floating around in the U.N. system for about four years.

But the United States lobbied hard against the proposal since U.S. forces carried out an ill-fated raid in support of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia in late 1993. The administration of President Bill Clinton has since leaned over backwards to reassure Republican lawmakers about his opposition to a more powerful United Nations.

Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has accused the world body of trying to establish a standing army commanded by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali himself, while other Republicans backed legislation that would prohibit U.S. troops from taking part in U.N. military or peacekeeping operations.

But U.N. spokeswoman Sylvana Foa said there was a misconception that member states sending troops for peacekeeping under U.N. command were abdicating their sovereignty to the world body.

“What came out in some of these statements and in the foreign policy platform (in the U.S. presidential elections) showed that sadly many people are ill-informed about how the United Nations works,” Foa said.

“No country commits soldiers to a peacekeeping operation if they don’t want to, and the U.S. can veto any peacekeeping operation. Even if it votes for the operation, it doesn’t have to send soldiers to fight in it,” she noted.

Annan said there are also far too many financial and legal issues involved in the establishment of a U.N. army which makes the concept a non-starter.

“But short of having a standing U.N. army, we have taken initiatives that will perhaps help us achieve what we were hoping to get out of a standing army,” he said.

Annan, who takes over as the new U.N. Secretary-General come January 1, says the real problem with U.N. peacekeeping has been rapidity of deployment.

“We are now encouraging governments to set up rapidly deployable brigades and battalions that could be moved into the theatre (of war) quickly, should the governments decide to participate in peacekeeping operations.

He said Denmark already has set up a 5,000-person brigade that could be deployed fairly quickly. The headquarters elements of such a force could be deployed within 48 hours and the bulk of the force within a month.

“If we can encourage 12 or 20 member states to do this, we should be able to reduce considerably the time it takes us to deploy troops in the field,” he said.

Although 62 countries have expressed a willingness to participate in the U.N. standby arrangement, only five have so far signed formal agreements: Jordan, Denmark, Ghana, Malaysia and Austria.

Under the terms of the agreement, these five nations have pledged to provide a significant number of troops, including specialized units, within a short time-frame, if called upon by the United Nations to help launch a new peacekeeping mission.

Standby arrangements were created in 1994 as a means to fill the three-to-six month gap between the authorisation of a peacekeeping mission by the Security Council and full deployment by standard recruitment methods.

Boutros-Ghali complained last year that one of his biggest problems was the long delay — running into several months– in raising troops for peacekeeping operations.

The delay is mostly due to insufficient logistical capabilities on the part of member states willing to contribute troops.

Boutros-Ghali has said that a standby military force would make it relatively easier for him to obtain troops — geared for U.N. operations — as soon as the Security Council has authorised a new peackeeping mission.

Major-General Maurice Baril, U.N. military adviser for peacekeeing operations, said that under a “standby arrangement” the United Nations could eventually raise a military force of about 70,000 ready for action.

Since different national troops now come with different types of equipment, a U.N. peackeeping mission could be reduced to a logistical nightmare.

But Baril said that the proposed standby brigade will have standardised equipment and be specifically trained for peacekeeping.

The United Nations is also hoping to set up a regional centre for training peacekeepers. And Denmark has volunteered to take a leading role in training.

The new U.N. forces, to be formally designated the U.N. Stand- by Arrangements System, was orginally proposed by Boutros-Ghali in his 1992 “Agenda for Peace:” a blueprint for preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping.

Under article 43 of the U.N.charter, Boutros-Ghali has the authority to ask the 185 member states to designate military units to be deployed in the event of a crisis in order “to maintain international peace and security.”

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