Another great UN contribution to peace and security

by Avi Bell

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both slam France today for what the NYT calls its “bait-and-switch tactics” in pushing for a robust 15,000-strong French-led UN force in south Lebanon to end the fighting and disarm Hezbollah, and then turning around and pledging only 400 troops to contribute to the force. The WSJ adds some unflattering remarks about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for being so gullible as to take at face value French pledges of assistance. The Sunday Times beats them both by observing that “[t]here are few more regular — or entertaining — sights than French statesmen indulging in grandiose statements of political and philosophical intent, and then proceeding to do absolutely nothing…. [T]he French are past masters at saying one thing and doing quite another. And they are all the more reliable for that.”

While I admit to being a little surprised about the brazenness of the French volte-face, I’m not surprised at all to see that UNIFIL – the UN force that’s been “temporarily” posted to maintain the peace in south Lebanon since 1978, through civil war, PLO and Syrian occupation, terrorist attacks, de facto Hezbollah takeover and Israeli invasions – is going to fail once again to maintain the peace.

(Apropos maintaining the peace, former peace negotiator Dennis Ross has an inadvertently comical piece in the Washington Post in which he urges engaging Syria in order to create an “enduring cease-fire” in south Lebanon like the enduring cease-fire Ross negotiated in 1993, and then again in 1996 when the enduring 1993 cease-fire broke down. With apologies to Mark Twain, it seems that bringing lasting peace to south Lebanon is the easiest thing in the world to do. Dennis Ross has done it thousands of times.)

UN forces have an abysmal record regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and UNIFIL may hold pride of place (although I would vote for UNEF withdrawing from the Sinai in order to pave the way for the Six Day War in 1967). UNIFIL forces not only sat passively by when Hezbollah used UN-marked vehicles to kidnap three Israeli soldiers October 7, 2000 in an event that served as the prelude to this year’s July 12 kidnapping, they filmed the event and then lied about it, hiding the tapes from Israel. And Kofi Annan, after a friendly meeting with Hezbollah chieftan Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in 2000, pronounced that “[t]he cooperation [with Hezbollah] has always been good and we want to maintain it.”

Now, although disarming Hezbollah, especially south of the Litani River, is perhaps the key part of Security Council Resolution 1701, Kofi Annan has hastened to explain that disarming Hezbollah is not part of the “direct mandate” of UNIFIL; rather, UNIFIL will back up the Lebanese army, which, according to the Lebanese government “won’t be deployed to south Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah.” Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown later clarified that “I think we have been very clear on that, [UNIFIL] is not going to be a force … of offensive effort to disarm Hezbullah.”

What then is UNIFIL going to accomplish with the handful of troops at its disposal? Given the prominence in the force of states like Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh that do not recognize Israel, and the refusal to take any action to disarm Hezbollah or prevent its rearmament, UNIFIL is likely to preside over a cease-fire as enduring as any of Dennis Ross’s. That is, it will patiently observe as Hezbollah redeploys back into south Lebanon, brings in new weaponry from Iran via Syria, and trains for its next attacks on Israel.

Get ready for the next round of fighting as soon as Hezbollah and its masters in Tehran feel ready.

4 Responses

  1. First, as to the role of UNIFIL, I would recommend Paul Kennedy’s article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, most of which is here:

    ‘So, is the U.N. good for anything? Could we, as U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton once claimed, lop off 12 stories of the U.N. headquarters building in New York (containing the offices of the secretary-general and his staff) and not notice the difference? What does the U.N. do that helps humankind?

    Amid personnel scandals, the oil-for-food fiasco and a constant barrage of neoconservative attacks, that’s a fair question. And anyone who holds a belief in the value of the international organization should be ready and willing to answer it. The easy way out would be to point to the many instances in which U.N. representatives have done well: negotiating the Central American peace accords of the early to mid-1990s; supervising elections in countries recovering from war; rebuilding infrastructure; advancing the international human rights agenda, establishing intellectual property rights, the law of the sea and climate accords; fostering cultural cooperation; gathering statistics and the like.

    But that would seem an evasion to the many observers who focus on the grinding struggles along Israel’s borders or the war on terrorism. To them, the $64,000 question is: What can the U.N. do once and for all to settle the Lebanon crisis and assist the parallel Palestine-Israel peace process? And if the answer is “not much,” then the critics will feel justified in their more general dismissal of the utility of international organizations.

    So, any defense of the U.N. has to be very careful in explaining what the organization can do, and what it cannot. It is, for example, useless (and ignorant) to blame the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) observer force for not disarming Hezbollah when its Security Council mandate expressly forbade it from taking such military action. And it is silly to blame the secretary-general for failing to exert powers that he does not possess — he is, after all, the “servant” of those two difficult masters, the General Assembly and the Security Council. The U.N.’s performance can only be measured against its existing capacities and authority, not against some mythical, nonexistent strengths. So let us ponder two basic truisms concerning the world organization, the first becoming increasingly obvious to U.N. supporters and detractors alike, the second a far more subtle and cynical point.

    The first truism is that the United Nations is not, and never has been, a large and centralized actor in world affairs. Despite its charter being based loosely on parts of the U.S. Constitution, and despite all the founding rhetoric about “the Parliament of man,” its creators insisted that it be nothing more than an assembly of sovereign nation states.

    It is, if you like, a sort of holding company, with governments as the shareholders, and with some of those shareholders — the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council — having much more voting power than others. True, all signatories to the U.N. Charter agree to surrender some sovereignty, but always with reservations. There is no U.N. army and no U.N. Treasury Department, both signs of statehood. And, for all the charter’s proclaimed purposes to deter aggression and halt massive human rights abuses, the language about using force is very cautious and guarded. Very little about the U.N.’s peacekeeping powers is clear-cut. Everything depends on the circumstances.

    This is why it has been and will be so difficult for the world body to bring lasting peace to Lebanon. First, the five permanent veto members have to agree on what is to be done — or, at least, not disagree. Second, U.N. peacekeepers may be very constrained. The resolution authorizing “all necessary action” is actually quite vague in its instructions about where and when force might be used by blue-helmeted troops if Hezbollah-Israeli fighting resumes. Above all, even a large U.N. operation would find it impossible to crush Hezbollah, let alone the Israeli Defense Forces, should either side resume belligerencies. When the foe is weak, the U.N. can be strong (Sierra Leone, East Timor). But if the players are willful and powerful, it can only hope for a fragile peace to continue. More than that we cannot expect.

    And the subtle, cynical truism? The United Nations is a scapegoat for the failures of the leading governments to agree or to act. After all, it was not the U.N. that failed the peoples of the Balkans in the early 1990s; it was the quarrels between the United States on the one hand, and Britain and France on the other, about bombing as an alternative to heavy troop commitments, as well as Russia’s veto threats on Serbia’s behalf. It was not the U.N. that bungled the “catch Gen. Aidid” operation in Mogadishu in 1993, but the U.S. Central Command, which went ahead with that ill-fated venture without even informing local U.N. authorities. It is not the U.N. that has stopped a peace-enforcement mission from being sent to Darfur, but the objections of African states and the possibility of a Chinese veto.

    Yet, as every secretary-general has discovered, it remains convenient for the major powers to blame the world body for their own failures to cooperate. And this, as some weary U.N. officials suggest, may be one of the organization’s most important roles — for if there was not a United Nations to blame for inaction in the face of disaster, then the finger might point directly at the various governments themselves. Horrors!

    This suggests, then, the limitations of what the U.N. may be able to achieve in bringing stability around Israel’s battered borders. We certainly should not expect too much. If Hezbollah keeps the peace and wisely focuses on rebuilding south Lebanese townships, then Israel will also sit still, immensely suspicious but also baffled by the inconclusiveness of the last month’s fighting. International aid will pour into Lebanon and various U.N. agencies will assist in the rebuilding, under the aegis of a UNIFIL force beefed up by much larger numbers of blue helmets. If the cease-fire holds, this operation could go on for years, even decades. Why, future historians might even term it a success!

    But if radical Muslim splinter groups resume firing rockets and Israel responds (as it usually feels bound to) in a sledgehammer way; if the permanent veto members quarrel about who is to blame, then the many promising U.N. activities on the ground in Lebanon will end, international staff will be withdrawn and the downward spiral will resume. Still, there will be one consolation. We will all be able to blame the United Nations for being ineffectual, weak-toothed, anti-Israel or anti-Arab, and thus of no good to the world community. It really is quite convenient that we possess such a scapegoat. If we didn’t, we would have to invent one.’

    It is unrealistic to expect Hizbullah to disarm, given their record of defending Lebanon during most of the 20 or so years Israel occupied the country. I expect at most one could hope for the incorporation of its armed forces into the Lebanese army. My thoughts on these matters concur with some points made by Professor Anthony D’Amato is his analysis of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 not long ago in Jurist, to wit:

    ‘Hezbollah’s attack on 12 July 2006 was a border incident that under international law does not amount to an armed attack against a nation. Violent border incidents occur between India and Pakistan almost on a daily basis. If either side regarded these as armed attacks, the two sides right now would be engaged in total war, perhaps even using nuclear weapons. Constant border incidents also occur between a number of nations in Africa. None of these are regarded in international law as a casus belli. Israel’s immediate and massive retaliation, however, was arguably an act of aggression. Nevertheless, this paragraph PP2 casts the blame on Hezbollah. Since it is not an operative paragraph (OP), but merely a preparatory paragraph (PP), its inclusion was a probably a sop to Israeli sensibilities.’

    ‘The only reasonably conceivable reason Hezbollah has agreed to this Resolution is that it has been assured, by secret agreement with the government of Lebanon, that its members will not be disarmed, arrested, or prosecuted. My best guess is that the agreement calls for members of Hezbollah to be smoothly integrated into the armed forces of the Lebanese government.’

    no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government,

    ‘No problem if Hezbollah becomes a governmental force instead of a foreign force.’

    ‘It is clear from all these provisions of OP 11 that something decisive must have happened between Hezbollah and the government of Lebanon in the past few days. I have no evidence of any such thing. But purely from inference, it seems to me that the two have joined forces for the following reasons: (a) Israel’s ill-advised indiscriminate bombing campaign in Lebanon, reminiscent of Operation Barbarossa in World War II which turned the citizens of Russia against the German armies, has elevated Hezbollah to the heights of popularity among the Lebanese people; (b) half of the Lebanese army is composed of Shiites, who are of the same faith as Hezbollah; (c) many of the senior officers of the Lebanese army are members of Hezbollah; (d) Hezbollah is already a minor party that is officially part of the Lebanese government; (e) Hezbollah is already more powerful than the Lebanese government and its army; (f) Hezbollah is increasing its power due to training, funding, and arms shipments from Iran and Syria; (g) one may reasonably assume that many Hezbollah fighters will now enlist in the Lebanese army, thus averting “disarmament” while simply changing their uniforms.’

    ‘Israel’s best defense, in my humble opinion, is to return to strict adherence to international law, to move its Wall from Palestinian property and either dismantle it or erect it on its own property, and to cease and desist from land-grabbing. For what is vital to me, a non-Jew, is Jewish morality, its teachings on justice, its immense contribution to civilization, the music of Gershwin and Weill that daily runs through my mind, and even its incomparable humor. These must survive. War is not the way.’

  2. Professor Bell,

    Is there an e-mail address you can make available? I have a document (in Word) I put together on the Israeli/Hizbullah conflict I’d like to send to you.



  3. My contact information is available on the Bar Ilan Faculty of Law and Fordham Law School websites.


  4. Well, if, as Seamus posits, Hezzbollah and the Lebanese govt have “joined forces” then when the next round of hostilities begin, given Hezzbollah’s propensity to follow its puppet master’s directions from Iran, Lebanon not be seen to complain about the destruction brought down upon it, or any “humanitarian disaster.” War may “not be the answer”, but neither is a cynical false peace. So long as Hezzbollah is committed to the destruction of Israel there will not, and cannot be peace.

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