Perspective: The Need for an International Force

Without doubt, peacekeeping has been one of the most important activities of the United Nations. Since 1948, the UN has launched some 50 peacekeeping missions, sending blue-helmeted soldiers and observers to trouble spots around the world.

While not every mission has been successful in stopping the violence it has sought to address, there is little question that UN peacekeeping has significantly acted to slow, stifle, or prevent war in many of the world's most conflict-prone regions.

Yet the peacekeeping regime, forged as a practical response to the political deadlock in the UN Security Council during the Cold War, has severe limitations. All peacekeeping missions begin with the consent of all parties to a conflict, stopping short of the non-consensual military "enforcement" option envisioned in the UN Charter.

As well, every peacekeeping mission to date has been an ad hoc affair, with military units begged and borrowed from UN member nations, a process that often takes from three to six months - during which an exploding conflict can cost thousands of lives.

Recent world events suggest the time has come to reexamine the original vision of the UN's founders and discuss the ways and means by which a ready international force might be assembled and made a credible instrument of international conscience.

The UN's founders understood that the collective and unified use of force might sometimes be necessary to maintain or restore international peace. Chapter VII of the UN Charter states that the Security Council may take "action by air, sea, or land forces" and that "all members of the United Nations" should "make available" to the Security Council "armed forces, assistance, and facilities" for the "purpose of maintaining international peace and security."

While the Charter stops short of explicitly establishing a standing army for the UN, the clear implication is that the nations of the world, acting together, have the unquestioned right and responsibility to "enforce" peace and security.

The concept of collective security was not new in 1945 when the UN was founded. The Covenant of the League of Nations included provisions for the collective use of force and the concept was widely discussed at the turn of the century.

Indeed, one of the first explicit calls for the institution of collective security at the global level came in the mid-1800s from Bahá'u'lláh, who wrote to world leaders saying: "Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice."

The worldwide Bahá'í community has promoted this concept, supporting the efforts of the League of Nations and the United Nations in the view that only through collective security can a sustainable, universal peace be established.

In fits and starts, through various activities ranging from peacekeeping to a handful of actual "enforcement" actions (such as the Korean War and the Gulf War), the international community of nations has likewise pursued the ideal of collective security, even if its execution has been less than perfect or universal.

Over the last decade, in issue areas such as environment, development and human rights, the world community of nations has proved it can forge a global consensus when the needs are great and the principles are clear.

It is time, then, to discuss seriously the ways and means of increasing and institutionalizing the world's capacity to use force when necessary to maintain peace and security or protect the lives of innocent people from violence and the oft-resulting humanitarian catastrophe.

There are a number of critical advantages offered by an international force that is capable of quick, unified and meaningful action to maintain or reestablish peace.

o First and foremost is the increased capacity for rapid deployment in a crisis situation. The problem of slow deployment is widely recognized and the UN is currently working to bolster the readiness of peacekeeping forces by asking states to hold military units on a "standby" basis. But it would be better yet to have a force that the UN could call on immediately, without the time-consuming hesitations that the use of national forces, even on a standby basis, entails. In the future even the loss of a single life because the international community did not act quickly enough will be viewed as unconscionable.

o The ability to deploy rapidly would contribute greatly to such a force's credibility. The mere existence of such a force would in itself imply the readiness of the world community to intervene when necessary. Such a mechanism would surely give pause to the agents of aggression, whether a recalcitrant government, a violent rebel group, or an immoral militia.

o Over time, the existence of a credible international force would serve to hasten the processes of general disarmament and promote accompanying cuts in military spending. The peoples of the world, feeling that their borders were safe from external aggression, would need only national police forces - not national armies - for protection.

The disadvantages arising from the creation of an international force lie primarily in the minds of those who dwell on the sorts of political problems that led to limitations of the peacekeeping regime in the first place - or those who cling to outmoded concepts of national sovereignty and security. In our age of interdependence, national security is synonymous with international security, and national interest is synonymous with global human development.

Further, the success of the peacekeeping regime is in many ways the best argument for the establishment of an international force. The UN has proven, through its cautious and carefully negotiated deployment of peacekeeping missions, that it has the capacity to handle with sensitivity the difficult political issues involved in the use of collective military force. Indeed, much of the groundwork for managing military units has been worked out in the peacekeeping regime and an international force could evolve gradually out of existing arrangements for peacekeeping.

Of course, the creation of such a force would need to be carefully thought out and negotiated. Such a force would need to be composed of individuals from as many nations as possible; it would need to be independent of national interests; and it would need to be fully funded to the extent that its missions are not compromised for lack of money.

To be effective, such a force would need to be backed by a revitalized sense of political will, based on unity. Certain reforms of the UN, such as a restructured Security Council, would also add to the effectiveness of such a force. As well, improved arrangements for peacemaking, social and economic development, human rights education and other efforts to promote international cooperation must go hand-in-hand with any reforms of the current global security regime. Yet all trends point only towards a greater interdependence of nations and the accompanying requirement for a greater level of international institution building.

In the final analysis, the primary argument for the creation of an international force is one of principle. For although international policies must be based in part on practical realities, they must also have a firm basis in moral principle.

The overarching principle of our age is the oneness of humanity; its logical corollary in the political realm is the principle of collective security. And, in the same way, the logical corollary of collective security is that it must be served by a credible and capable instrument of will. That instrument, in our age of interdependence, is an international force capable of enforcing the moral voice and legally construed will of the international community of nations.