Saturday, June 28, 2003

Building a Second Tier Force

Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times is reporting a new Rumsfeld initiative at the Pentagon: the organization of a standing peacekeeping force. "The force would operate outside the United Nations and NATO and would include thousands of US troops trained and permanently assigned to peacekeeping work." Charles Pena, of the Cato Institute, is quoted as saying: "We're not terribly good at peacekeeping, so I don't know why we would be training people to be peacekeepers." Well neither is the United Nations, Mr. Pena, but you missed the best part of Schrader's article:  "Mr Rumsfeld's proposal would probably be opposed by the US Army, which has resisted efforts to have its troops drawn into peacekeeping duties." That's the clue to this ballgame right there.

Donald Rumsfeld's drive to recreate the US Armed Forces into a lighter, next-generation combat machine raised the problem of what to do with all the legacy equipment and personnel. Schrader's article answers part of the question. The unwanted stuff is going into a second tier standing peacekeeping force. Pena and most commentators are wrong to think of this as a wholly new development. It is nothing more than an institutionalization of the existing peacekeeping arrangements in Afghanistan and Iraq and the creation of a dumping ground for all the losers of the Rumsfeld reorganization.

For example, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan is made up of troops from over a dozen countries. Although sanctioned by the UN Security Council, it is under NATO command. The peacekeeping mission in Iraq will involve even more nations than Afghanistan. So it makes perfect sense to replace the palimpsest of ad hoc arrangements with a definitive new peacekeeping command.

One of the principal defects of the UN peacekeeping system was it's lack of professional staff work. There was simply no headquarters which would anticipate and prepare for contingencies, unless the travesty in New York were regarded as serious. What peacekeeping needed was the equivalent of the regional global commands into which the US Armed Forces has long been organized, which would anticipate and prepare contingency plans to which operating assets could be "chopped" or assigned as needed.

This initiative will be opposed, not so much by the left, but by the old warhorses in the Pentagon facing what amounts to a professional demotion.