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Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, a Commando Unit to Quickly Stop Genocide is Proposed, by Sir Brian Urquhart

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 16 -- To have 12,000 soldiers ready to deploy in 48 hours to zones where genocide is beginning: that is the proposal made by UN eminence gris Sir Brian Urquhart and others in a new 100-page book, "A UN Emergency Peace Service."

    The cost of the force is estimated at $2 billion to start, and then $900 million a year. The personnel would be recruited one-by-one; the proponents envision them drawn from individuals who might be queasy about serving in a national army, but would embrace an international force whose interventions would be legitimized by the UN. But by whom at the UN? The response to this Inner City Press question was essentially, "the Security Council." But since it was the Security Council, and in particularly the current hegemon loudly crying for reform, which blocked the expansion of the UN force in Rwanda in the Spring of 1994, why would having these UNEPS troops on standby solve the type of sordid real politik that allowed the Rwandan genocide to accelerate?

Rwanda per UNHCR

   The proponents, including the book's main author Robert Johansen, posit that Security Council members opposed expanding the force in Rwanda because they didn't want their own national troops to go.  But how many U.S. troops are part of the UN's MONUC in DR Congo?

   Often the games in the Security Council go beyond the Black Hawk Down syndrome. One of the proponents, at Friday's press briefing at the UN Correspondents' Association, admitted that the force would never go in to stop abuse in Tibet, for example. Nor, one can surmise, in Chechnya, or Xinjiang, or probably even Uzbekistan, given its Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership. Myanmar? Who knows.

            Inner City Press asked what the proposed force would do for example about arresting the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, or about freeing the seven UN peacekeepers, nationals of Nepal, who have been captives of Peter Karim in Ituri for 19 days now. The proponents didn't answer.

    On the one hand, the report's main author called UNEPS a "law enforcement unit. On the other hand, a Bosnian journalist's question about Serbian war criminals still on the law was answered by a prediction that UNEPS would not get involved where NATO has not for whatever reason succeeded.

   The proponents were heading up to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to meet with Hedi Annabi since Jean-Marie Guehenno is in Sudan. Mr. Guehenno's location gives rise to other questions: when would a UNEPS have gotten involved in Darfar? What would it do now? These are the questions the proponents should prepare for, and address with specifics in advance. The recent comments of Tony Blair, reportedly interested in a high UN post, about the responsibility to protect, are all fine and good. But the Devil, as well as sleeping in Rwanda as the local wisdom has it, is also in the details.

   There were allusions to opponents of the idea: as simply two examples, the author David Rieff, who was not mentioned at the briefing, and Romeo Dallaire, who was. According to the proponent, Mr. Dallaire does not currently support the idea, but might be brought around. There's another launch planned for Vancouver; there'll be discussion there of an inter-related emergency warning system.  That was Inner City Press' finally question: suppose this UNEPS existed, when would it have gone into Rwanda? When Romeo Dallaire informed UN Headquarters that the government was distributing machete or studded clubs? Or only after President Habyarimana's plane had been shot down? Or after the Belgian peacekeepers were killed?  No answer was given, except that having such a force might play a role in stopping future genocide. A laudable goal, and hence a proposal to watch.

            Inner City Press asked Sir Brian Urquhard if he wanted to comment on the John Bolton and Mark Malloch Brown dust-up. Sir Brian gracefully declined.  In his conclusion he slyly touched on the debate, saying that the failure in the past to create a standby UN intervention force was a more serious reform than is currently being so loudly discussed. It's also worth noting that the current Deputy Secretary General's speech included the relatively lower cost of UN peacekeeping operations to U.S. incursions as one of the reasons the UN is needed. More nitty gritty, Sir Brian mentioned that he had not been in the UNCA Club for twenty five years; he perused what he called the "memorabilia" on the wall. Asked about the book series on the intellectual history of the United Nations, in which he is much quoted, Sir Brian said he planned on reading the books soon. On his way out he told Inner City Press that he just can't comment on the dust-up but that one of the arguments for the UNEPS is that the UN has for too long been portrayed as impotent. "Why not have a first rate force?" Why not, indeed.

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