PHILADELPHIA -- Rampaging Indonesian militia torch West Timor headquarters of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), hacking to death with machetes three U.N. staff members trapped in the radio room. Among them: U.S. citizen Carlos Caseras.
In May, U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage in Sierra Leone. Clearly, the United Nations is losing credibility and respect, whether as an armed keeper of the peace or as protector of its own unarmed humanitarian workers.
Credibility? At least last week's Millennium Summit in New York focused a spotlight of hope on the United Nations as more than 150 world leaders gathered to discuss problems of poverty, peace, and disarmament. President Clinton also called for reforms in funding the U.N. and in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Heads of state having returned home, the U.N. can now turn to business, with the butchery in West Timor putting reform of peacekeeping operations at the top of the agenda. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan needs to resubmit the proposal made eight years ago by his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to establish a permanent and sizeable U.N. Multinational Peacekeeping Force. Nothing was done.
Since then, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and both East and West Timor have all provided bloody proof that such a force is desperately needed. Proactive U.N. planning will save more lives than delayed and inadequate ad hoc reactions.
An effective permanent U.N. rapid reaction force would include at least 200,000 combat troops (plus related support personnel), incorporating the specialized weaponry and recognized combat capabilities of selected participating nations. Combat units from U.N. member states would serve mandated terms on a rotating basis.
Following additional intensive language and communications training, these units would rehearse typical U.N. peacekeeping missions. When requested by the Security Council, the UNMPF could then enter a disputed area, announce its purpose, cite consequences of interference with its mission and meet harassment or attack with immediate and compelling retaliation.
The force could be composed this way:
Ground forces: infantry, artillery, antiaircraft and armored units.
Tactical air support: cruise missiles and other precision guided weapons, attack helicopters, land- and/or carrier-based aircraft plus high-altitude protective combat air patrols.
Naval support: at least one major aircraft carrier (French or U.S.), an ancillary task group, including attack submarines with cruise missile capability, plus mine-sweepers (essential in the U.N. liberation of Kuwait). Advanced diesel submarine acquisition by navies of smaller countries mandates inclusion of strong anti-submarine warfare units.
Logistics: significant sea-lift capacity in the form of preloaded fast cargo ships; tactical and heavy-lift air transports and helicopters; plus naval assault transports, oilers and air-cushioned landing craft.
Farsighted preliminary planning is critical. From the start, the U.N. General Assembly will need to:
Agree that a sizeable force-in-being is required to deter or combat both crimes against humanity and aggression;
Fund the force with proportional dues from U.N. member states;
Create a command structure answerable to the Security Council, with written agreement from participating nations that the force's combat units will be detached from jurisdiction of their respective national governments and be obligated to follow orders from assigned U.N. military commanders;
Designate training areas and adopt appropriate training procedures; compose a mission statement clearly defining conditions for use of such a force and establish appropriate political and military guidelines for its use.
Establishing a permanent UNMPF will require units from previously hostile blocs to work toward common goals -- Indian with Pakistani, Syrian with Israeli, U.S. with Russian. Although funding and fielding this force pose fiscal and organizational challenges, consider past costs in lives and destruction caused by absence of such a deterrent.
Fifty years ago, the U.N. had to cobble together its response to Kim Il-Sung's invasion of South Korea. Last year, the U.N. -- with its NATO surrogate operating awkwardly outside the parameters of its own founding charter --cobbled again in Kosovo.
Long-term costs of the U.N.'s pre-planning inertia are still mounting. Today, hard on the heels of the Sierra Leone fiasco, West Timor sends a desperate message: it's time to revive Mr. Ghali's call and create a permanent and sizeable UNMPF.
Theodore L. Gaillard Jr. writes about defense issues. His articles have appeared in newspapers around the country, as well as in defense publications.