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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 913

U.N. Force Looks More European, Less Multinational

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

The Hague, 30 August (IPS): The conventional wisdom at the United Nations is that there are six -- not five -- veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

The official veto wielders, according to the U.N. charter, are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

But the sixth member state exercising virtual veto powers is Israel, which continues to remain under the protection of the United States.

Even successive U.S. administrations have perhaps lost count of the umpteen number of times Washington has deployed its veto to oppose any condemnation of Israel -- right or wrong -- in the 15-member Security Council (10 of whom are rotating non-permanent members elected for two-year stints).

"Israel gets what Israel wants," says one Arab diplomat, pointing out that it is a political sacred cow within the precincts of the world body.

Currently, Israel is resisting the offer of troops from Muslim nations -- particularly Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia -- for the newly-energized U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which is tasked to monitor the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel following the recent 34-day war.

"And Israel may well have its way," adds the Arab diplomat.

So far, Bangladesh has offered 2,000 troops and Indonesia and Malaysia about 1,000 troops each. Israel, however, has ruled out all three countries on the ground that none of them has diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv.

Visiting the Dutch capital Monday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda said his country's troops are ready to be deployed at short notice -- "perhaps in one or two weeks."

After a round of bilateral talks in The Hague, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said: "It is very important that countries like Indonesia participate in this (U.N.) force so as to make clear that it is not just a West European force, but there is worldwide participation."

But Israel has decided to pick and choose which Muslim nations should provide troops for the U.N. force -- and which shouldn't.

Israel says it is willing to accept troops from three other Muslim nations -- Egypt, Jordan and Turkey -- because it has either "friendly" or "diplomatic" relations with the three. Of the three, only Turkey has offered to provide troops. But it has made no firm commitments so far.

If no Muslim country has substantial troops, the U.N. force is in danger of being an all-Western or a predominantly-Western UNIFIL.

James A. Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, says Israel should not be able to dictate the terms of the peacekeeping force, which is to operate entirely on Lebanese soil.

"But, after all, this is small potatoes compared to the bigger problem -- Israel and the United States for decades have prevented resolution of the crisis in the region and vetoed some 40 resolutions of the Security Council," Paul told IPS.

Israel is at present an occupier of three states on its periphery, he said. "And whether or not an Indonesian contingent joins UNIFIL is not really the main issue."

The issue is: when will Israel end its illegal occupations and decide that friendly relations with its neighbors are the best form of security? And when will Washington stop using Israel as its military proxy in the oil-rich Middle East? he asked.

So far, the concrete Western offers are from Italy (2,500 troops); France (2,000, which includes 200 troops already with the existing UNIFIL); Spain 1,200; Poland 500; Belgium 300 and Finland 250.

The United Nations wants to beef up the existing UNIFIL (which has about 2,000 troops) to a high of 15,000 troops. But the present commitments still fall short of the target.

Briefing reporters in Beirut Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "The European countries are in the process of contributing nearly 9,000 troops, and I am working with other countries to supplement this force."

He also said he expects to have troops from other, Islamic, countries. "I am pleased to say that we are beginning to really deploy. France is in the process of deploying, Italy is going to begin soon."

In the first phase, he said, "We want to get in as quickly as possible with 3,500 troops, and then move to the second and third phases."

Asked about Israeli resistance to Muslim troops, Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown told reporters last week: "Well, as a number of people have said, the final word on what is acceptable is ours, and these troops are deployed in Lebanese territory, not Israeli territory."

But still, "As a matter of good form in peacekeeping you want a force which is broadly acceptable in its composition to both sides, which is why we have talked about this European-Muslim core to the force, and I think the issue is balance."

"The more we can fill this force out with a number of key nationalities providing major pillars or legs to it, the more the Israelis can be persuaded to look at its overall composition rather than focusing singularly on particular contributors," Malloch Brown said.

Asked about the scope of the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, Annan told reporters: "First of all there are not supposed to be any arms in the south (of Lebanon) and I hope that everyone will respect the 1701 resolution (adopted by the Security Council to end the war) and the rules of engagement."

According to the resolution, he said, there should be no other arms in the south, except that of the Lebanese army and the international forces. The Israeli troops will be gone and so they will also leave with their weapons."

"Down the line as we have indicated there will have to be disarmament but that is something that the Lebanese government and the people are going to resolve," he added.

There has to be a national consensus and a political agreement. If they come across weapons which are being used in a threatening way, the U.N. force may need to intervene said Annan.

But other than that they are not going to go house-to-house searching for weapons; this is not their responsibility, he added.

He also said he was confident most Lebanese, if not all of them, would want to see a society free of weapons.

"Most Lebanese would want to see a situation where the only authority in the land and the only gun in the land is under the control of the government. So let's not kid ourselves and pretend that the only way to disarm groups of militia is through force," he said.

"Look around you, look into history, I can give you lots of examples. And, some of the armed groups that you have unarmed are now in respectable governments," he added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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