NATO takes over entire Afghanistan misson

NATO today took over full responsibility for the troops of all Alliance member states currently in Afghanistan:

Officials say the move will make the force more efficient, as it seeks to secure Afghanistan for reconstruction.

Some 10,000 US troops have come under the command of Gen David Richards from the UK.

The addition of US troops brings the total number of troops under Nato command in Afghanistan to about 31,000.

This is good news, and represents a major step forward for NATO.  A successful mission in Afghanistan (which is still not guaranteed) will boost the organisation’s credibility.

The cynic in me does wonder, though, just how effectively a British general will be able to ‘command’ US troops in practice.  I’m sure many of NATO’s member states will be watching with interest to see how well the US adapts to putting such a large number of its troops – who are currently engaged in combat missions – under the command of a foreign general.

Nation building and counter-insurgency

The BBC had this to say in the aftermath of the Nimrod aeroplane crash in Afghanistan:

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood said: “A lot of people hoped that it would be a peace-keeping, nation-building mission instead it is an active, counter-insurgency campaign.”

The implication, left hanging, is that counter-insurgency activities cannot be a part of a nation-building mission.  

The problem is, sometimes nation-building missions are more difficult than we would hope.  There will always be groups opposed to a nationa-building mission’s success, and sometimes they be well enough backed, and well enough organised to present a formidable opposition.  

At this point, nation building missions have to take stock and retrench somewhat, moving more into ‘nation-defending’ missions which try to preserve what little there is of a fragile government, while its opponents are defeated.  These kinds of missions are, of course, likely to require a far greater use of counter-insurgency tactics.

Russia to send peacekeepers to Lebanon?

It looks like a debate is going on in Russia at the moment about whether to send peacekeepers to Lebanon. A couple of politicians are sounding quite enthusiastic, but Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov is talking the idea down a little:

“We are examining the situation, so far we are not clear on the peacekeepers’ status and rights, what they will do there, what mandate they will have,” Ivanov said as quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. However, “giving such humanitarian aid would fully answer our country’s interests,” Ivanov added.

Personally, I’d quite like to see Russia become more involved in multi-national UN peacekeeping missions, rather than their usual unilateral missions, which serve only prop up tin-pot dictators on their borders.

I wouldn’t mind seeing China kitting out a few more of its troops with blue helmets, either.

These are two of the world’s major powers, two of the five permanent security council members, and can field two of the world’s best equipped and trained armies. It’s about time they started pulling their weight on the international scene.

And I think the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon might be just the place to do it. It’s high profile mission but one that is, frankly, not really expected to achieve all that much. The involvement of Russia and China would balance out claims that the UN force is too pro-Israel (because, whatever some people think about France, the man on the Arab street still views them as a ‘Western’ country). And their presence would go some way to appeasing Hizbullah, which isn’t going to be thrilled to see a peacekeeping force made up almost entirely of European Union member states.

Syria rejects UN peacekeepers in Lebanon

This statement from the Syrian President is, frankly, bizarre – a major miscalculation of the international mood:

Bashar Assad, said the stationing of UN troops in the border area of Lebanon would be a hostile move against Syria.

“This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position,” President Bashar Assad told Arab TV.

Nobody’s doubts that Syria isn’t thrilled at the prospect of a beefed up UN peacekeeping force on it’s Western border, to complement the US force on its Southern border in Iraq.

But to actively come out against the very idea of a peacekeeping force being stationed in what was, until last week, an active warzone seems to be coming out firmly against the idea of peace in Lebanon.

Even the most slimy of dictators usually manage to pay lip service to the idea of peace, even if they surreptitiously continue to try and undermine it.

Italy, Lebanon, and the need for strong peacekeepers

It’s heartening to see that, as France reneges on it’s earlier offer, Italy has offered to contribute up to 3,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon

This comment, however, is a little worrying, showing how little some European states really understand what peacekeeping is all about:

Italy’s foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema… said his forces would not go in unless Israel respected the ceasefire. “From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

Keeping the peace is not a safe job, and anyone who expects it to be so shouldn’t be contributing troops to UN missions.  True, there does need to be a reasonable expectation that there is a peace to keep, but D’Alema’s comment seems to me to betray that the primary concern of the Italian governments is to ensure the safety of their troops over and above the success of the mission.     

Most cease-fires are tenuous at best – both sides will be jumpy, and will be ready to react to the slightest provocation, whether real or imagined.  Because of this, it is an absolute requirement of any peacekeeping troops that they be calm, and that they be prepared to step in early – at risk to themselves if need be – in order to calm tensions and separate the parties of small incidents before they escalate.

Both Israel and Hezbollah will be well aware of the circumstances of Italy’s withdrawal from Iraq.  True, it’s not an exact parallel with a peacekeeping mission, but both will perceive that Italy’s government may crack under pressure, if it thinks the peacekeeping mission is likely to be costly to itself.

Italy will need to be absolutely resolute if it wants to lead this mission to any kind of successful outcome.  They must make it clear – by using force at the appropriate time if necessary – that they will not be pushed around, or pushed out of Lebanon.  If they aren’t prepared to do that, they shouldn’t be in Lebanon.