The UN’s Mandate Gap

The United Nations peacekeeping operations now underway in Lebanon offer a big opportunity for the UN to demonstrate its relevance and impact on the world stage in the 21st century. If only those member states who claim to be the UN’s biggest supporters put their money where their mouths are.

Many world leaders, particularly those in Europe, decry the Bush administration’s undermining of the UN, especially since 2003. Yet leaders in France, who expressed outrage when the US sidestepped the UN and invaded Iraq without the international community’s blessing, stunned the world in August when they backed down from their promise to send 2,000 peacekeepers to intervene in southern Lebanon, and instead only committed 200.

Fortunately, France has reconsidered, Germany will provide limited naval assistance, and Italy has stepped up to contribute 3,000 peacekeepers. In addition, China has recently pledged 1,000 troops. But Europe’s response, like the US response in other cases, highlights a critical issue for all supporters of the UN and international institutions more generally. If we cannot do what it takes to make them more effective, we will increasingly find that nations will bypass them altogether.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 “calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire.” It thus set the stage for UN officials to establish the “Rules of Engagement” (ROEs) for its peacekeepers, which dictate when and under what circumstances UN troops can fire their weapons to defend themselves. But as the current UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) well knows, defending yourself is not the same as protecting yourself from hostile fire in the first place.