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UN’s Lebanon Force in Limbo

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: August 23, 2006


With the still-fragile cease-fire along the Lebanese border into its second week, there is general agreement that swift action from the international community is needed to fill the security vacuum. Yet there is little accord on how to proceed. President Bush on Monday called for the quick deployment of UN peacekeepers. Such a multinational force may be slow in coming: Many of the European nations expected to contribute troops are balking at the nebulous mission (BBC). France, which was expected to lead the peacekeeping effort, has pledged a mere 200 troops, saying it might commit more once some well-defined rules of engagement are established. The Associated Press received a draft of the proposed rules, which are predominantly defensive but do allow for offensive action. In lieu of French leadership, Italy has volunteered to lead the UN force, pledging up to 3,000 troops—about a third of the total expected contribution from Europe—provided Israel abides by the ceasefire (MSNBC). This Backgrounder looks at the checkered history of multinational interventions in the region.

At the center of the diplomatic wrangling is UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which has been criticized as vague and unrealistic (Toronto Star). To clear up some of the confusion, the United States plans to introduce another resolution, which it says will explicitly call for the disarmament of Hezbollah (AP). The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's David B. Makovsky says the failure to disarm Hezbollah as stipulated in Security Council Resolution 1559 contributed to the recent outbreak of violence. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer writes, "For all its boasts, Hezbollah has suffered grievously militarily," and could easily be cut down to size if a robust peacekeeping force were present.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen has warned a violation of the cease-fire could further dissuade nations from contributing to the peacekeeping effort (LAT). If the United Nations does not get the 15,000 troops it wants, the mission's success may increasingly depend on the fledgling multiethnic Lebanese army. As this new Backgrounder explains, history shows such armies have the potential to knit nations together.

There is also the question of what role Syria and Iran should play in the peacekeeping process. Dennis Ross, the Clinton administration's top Mideast negotiator, writes in the Washington Post there is little hope the terms of Resolution 1701 will be realized without involving Syria in its implementation. CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein tells Iran must also be involved if the cease-fire is to stick. But the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's David Schenker disagrees, saying such a move would "sell Lebanon down the road" (Daily Star). UN peacekeepers may be asked to patrol the Syria-Lebanon border in order to prevent shipments of weapons from reaching Hezbollah, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said such a deployment would constitute a "hostile act" (The Age). That might not be such a bad thing, says CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot, who thinks Israel should wage a preemptive war against Syria.

Beyond the diplomatic disputes lies the question of how to go about rebuilding post-war Lebanon. On Sunday, the Arab League met to discuss how it can contribute to reconstruction (al-Jazeera). Several nations have already pledged large sums to offset the estimated $3.6 billion cost of rebuilding, including $800 million from Kuwait, $500 million from Saudi Arabia, and $230 million from the United States. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is wasting no time in rushing to the aid of those Lebanese whose homes were destroyed (Spiegel). Pledges of support are all well and good, but according to a Daily Star editorial, reconstruction will require a significant overhaul of the state because "the shattered state cannot be glued back together into the same pre-war shape and form."

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