A Way to Stop the Killing

Author: John Monczunski

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda that killed more than 800,000 people in three months undoubtedly was the most heartrending and frustrating tragedy to occur during Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s tenure as secretary-general of the United Nations. Sadly, that genocide was merely the latest then in a long line of ethnic cleansings and mass murders.

“After the Holocaust, the world said, ‘Never again.’ And we keep saying ‘never again’ even as more and more genocides occur,” Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Robert Johansen observes. The litany of slaughtered innocents has continued unabated: Cambodia, Yugoslavia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda. And now, apparently, Darfur.

Johansen and a coalition of former diplomats, U.N. officials and scholars, however, believe that a permanent, rapid-deployment force could go a long way to stopping that litany. As envisioned by the coalition, which calls itself the Working Group for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service, the unit would consist of an individually recruited multinational force of 15,000 highly trained peacekeepers. It would have a military component, but its main contingent would be a police force, because, as Johansen notes, keeping civil order is paramount in such situations. Also it would include personnel trained in human rights, judicial and penal issues.

The proposal, detailed in a recently published 104-page book edited by Johansen, responds to criticisms of previous failed U.N. deployments. For instance, to solve the notorious record of slow deployment, the service would be composed of individuals recruited worldwide rather than troops from member nations. Governments often have been reluctant to put their own personnel at risk, especially if they have no stake in a particular situation, Johansen observes.

As a result, it sometimes has taken up to six months to assemble and deploy a U.N. force after its authorization.

“We avoid that problem because individually recruited people would be highly motivated for the work and not reluctant to deploy,” the senior fellow in Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies says.

The modest size of the proposed United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) was suggested specifically to allay concerns of those who fear an overly strong United Nations. The Working Group believes a rapidly deployed force of up to 15,000 peacekeepers would be large enough to be effective yet not so large as to be intimidating. Even the name, “United Nations Emergency Peace Service,” has been carefully crafted to allay fears of U.N. intimidation, avoiding the military term “force.”

“This is not a panacea,” Johansen cautions. “It would not work in all cases, and it would not take the place of other larger U.N. peacekeeping efforts.” He believes, however, that it would be effective in such places as Rwanda, or perhaps Darfur, “where the swift introduction of highly trained personnel might have prevented a situation [from careening out of control].”

The idea for a permanent U.N. force is almost as old as the United Nations itself. The first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, in fact, proposed a small, dedicated force to deal with conditions in Jerusalem in 1948. Unfortunately, the notion has been perennially resisted by the major powers, who believe a “too strong” United Nations would diminish their own freedom of action, and by weaker nations, who resent international intervention in their internal affairs, says Johansen, who first wrote on the concept more than 20 years ago.

He believes, however, that a convergence today of political forces has made the idea more feasible. “The emergence of international terrorism has made it obvious that you don’t want failed states because they become a sanctuary for big trouble,” he says. “And major powers may now prefer to have a U.N. force involved rather than their own personnel.” In addition, he says, “within developing countries there is a growing recognition that it may be better to have U.N. involvement rather than a solution mediated by biased parties.

“For example, the problems in Rwanda have caused huge consequences for all its neighbors, and many of these problems continue today, such as the destabilization of the Congo.”

Another trend making the proposal more feasible is world opinion’s heightened sensitivity to human-rights issues. Finally, citing a study by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the Notre Dame professor says there is more evidence that the proposed force would be cost-effective. Examining U.N. deployments in the late 1990s, including Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia, the study found that $130 billion could have been saved had there been early deployment of forces. The Working Group estimates that the startup cost for UNEPS would be $2 billion and cost $900 million annually to operate, depending on deployments.

“My own feeling,” Johansen says, “is that once this force is established and has a good reputation it will be easily seen not to threaten the legitimate interests of anyone and [it would] be money well spent to expand it.”