The Washington Times
Commentary, 24 March, 1996

Andy Messing / Kevin Volpe

Multinational Force Field Complications

United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his 1992 manifesto "An Agenda for Peace," outlined his plan for increasing U.N. peacekeeping capabilities. While Mr. Boutros-Ghali did well in addressing necessary logistical and financial reforms, he failed to consider the variable that has the greatest impact on the success of U.N. operations: the multinational makeup of a peacekeeping force.

Now with the alleged rape of an American female soldier by two Czech soldiers in Bosnia, the United States must recognize the effect that the actions of soldiers from certain countries have on an operation. By continuing to allow forces at lower levels of training and discipline to work alongside our soldiers, we become guilty by association, making it difficult for U.S. troops to complete their mission and ultimately putting their lives at risk.

Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." To paraphrase in the case of U.N. operations, "All global politics is regional." Of the 20 U.N. troop elements assigned to Haiti, the security force included non-regional forces from Bangladesh, Nepal, Jordan and Russia. Such countries did not have the same vested interest in the operation's success as the United States and other Western Hemisphere nations. Their soldiers had little English, French or Creole skills, differed in the quality of military-police capabilities, and in some cases held contrasting attitudes on socio-political issues, which was reflected in their actions. On one occasion, a U.N. operations center failed to act on information about a 2,000-kilogram drug shipment through southern Haiti, frustrating our Drug Enforcement Agency because of the lost opportunity.

The United States sent elements to Somalia from both India and Pakistan. The Indian soldiers, being Hindu, could not command respect from the Muslim Somalis.

Weapons were literally taken from the hands of the Indian troops, who eventually resigned themselves to staying within their own base areas.

Meanwhile, Pakistani peacekeepers, though Muslim, looked withdisdain on the Somali people and committed various human rights violations, including beating women and children. Such actions were the reason Mohamed Harrah Aideed's gunmen ambushed and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The subsequent authorization for UNOSOM to take "all necessary measures against all those responsible for the armed attacks," brought about the tragic firefight in which 22 U.S. soldiers died.

While some U.N. elements perform remarkably, the contributions of other countries are unacceptable. Their training is considerably lacking, having little knowledge in dealing with civilians or conducting security operations within an urban environment. They bring substandard equipment that is not appropriate for the required tasks. This affects their ability to coordinate movement, fire and communications with their more capable counterparts, and translates into mission failure.

Many nations volunteer units to U.N. operations for less than altruistic reasons. Peacekeeping missions represent commericial opportunities. The United Nations pays countries approximately $900 a month for each soldier. For third world nations, this translates into a profit, and turns good causes into mercenary arrangements. Compounding that, some U.N. forces are known to plunder other countries' equipment and host country citizens' property. One U.S. military officer stated that U.N. forces "come light and leave heavy," compared to U.S. forces who do the opposite.

U.N. operations allow various countries to send undesirable soldiers out of their territory. Errant troops were often more interested in the host country's brothels, beaches and U.S. sponsored P.X. stores than in the mission at hand.

Some countries even sent soldiers with HIV and other diseases, ridding their borders of such problems, but putting the burden on the U.N. medical centers, run primarily by U.S. forces.

It is not surprising that U.S. soldiers, like Army Spec. Michael New, who refused to wear the U.N. uniform as part of a peacekeeping task force in Macedonia, are questioning being part of U.N. missions. Mr. New stated, "I swore allegiance to my country, not the United Nations." He felt that putting on the light blue helmet and armband meant associating himself with those who conduct themselves less than honorably. In a nation-building operation where the most important task is winning the trust of the populace, the United States cannot afford to be involved with such atrocious behavior.

The United Nations is too concerned with its own public relations to bring these problems to light. If U.S. peacekeepers are to operate multinationally, we must insist on the vetting of joint elements and take the lead in conducting pre-mission security and assistance training. This, because of the credibility and security of U.S. soldiers, should be our paramount concern. Participating in U.N. missions allied with poorly trained and equipped troops with a different focus only serves to further existing problems, setting back the cause of peace.


F. Andy Messing Jr., a former special forces officer who has been to 27 conflicts worldwide, is executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation. Kevin J. Volpe is a research assistant at the foundation.