The MacKenzie Proposal: Peacekeeping Reform & Grand Strategy

January 18, 2001

Comment: #402


[1] Nicole Winfield, "Reform Sought in U.N. Peacekeeping," Associated Press, January 17, 2001 (0223 EST)  Excerpts attached.

The long simmering debate over the question of whether the United States has become over-committed to semi-permanent peacekeeping operations may erupt with a vengeance in 2001. The change in national leadership provides a timely discontinuity that could be used to put our messy peacekeeping house into better order, before events suck Mr. Bush and his colleagues into repeating the ad hoc commitments of the 1990s.

At least two major uncertainties could trigger the great sucking sound in the near future:

  • Lawlessness in Kosovo and the Albanian agitation southern Serbia might worsen dramatically in the Spring as political support increases for integrating a now democratic Serbia into Europe, as well as for the return of displaced Serbs to Kosovo. Such an evolution could trigger instability, because it would come at the expense of reduced political support for Albanian aspirations, which include an independent Kosovo at a minimum, but also, perhaps, a Greater Albania, consisting of the Presevo Valley in Southern Serbia, (Serbia's transportation lifeline to Greece and the Mediterranean), Northwest Macedonia, and Albania, as well as Kosovo.

  • While deploying peacekeeping forces to the West Bank or Gaza is currently unthinkable, calls for such deployments might emerge if (when?) Israel's growing sense desperation spins out of control and fuels an escalation in its onerous occupation policies. Such an action could trigger worldwide demands to protect the most basic human rights of the resident Palestinians, as well as Israel's right to exist. In these circumstances, separating the warring parties with peacekeepers (and money) might come to be viewed as the only way to contain the growing crisis, at least in the short term. Other uncertainties include Africa, with its welter of conflicts about which we know very little. Or Kashmir. And so on.

Few would argue with the general proposition that deploying military forces to restore order in restive regions will be necessary from time to time, but the devil is in the details.

In the past, U.S. leaders have tended to stumble into these details, with no appreciation of how they related to national interests, or even how long troops might be required (Bosnia). Consequently, when the cost in blood rises, as it did in Somalia (1993) and Lebanon (1983), missions that once seemed important become suddenly unimportant, and the U.S. politicians head for the exits.

Peacekeeping is also controversial because many people, including a large number of military officers, believe sincerely that this mission is a diversion that weakens combat capabilities over the long term.

Fueling the controversy further is the politically-charged question of who should command U.S. peacekeepers, if, as is usually the case, they are part of a larger multilateral force. While the U.S. has placed its peacekeeping forces under command of its NATO allies (Bosnia and Kosovo), leaders have refused to place substantial peacekeeping forces under a general United Nations command, notwithstanding their rhetorical support for the U.N. deployments. (Other developed nations also chosen to limit their contributions.)

The result has been often confusing chains of command and internal frictions when U.S. forces are deployed (Somalia) and has led some critics to claim the burdens of these U.N. missions are not being shared equally among the nations of the world. According to Nicole Winfield (Ref 1 below), only 21% of the 38,000 peacekeepers now deployed worldwide under the auspices of the United Nations come from members of the Security Council, including the United States. She reports the assignment of missions is biased, with ill-trained armed soldiers from poorer countries, like Nigeria, Bangladesh, India and Ghana being assigned to the dangerous missions, while peacekeepers from the developed countries tend to be assigned to less dangerous areas as unarmed military observers, civilian police or logistical staff.

Some advocates of a human-rights based foreign policy, international law, and globalism might be tempted, therefore, to argue that this distortion calls for an even greater commitment of U.S. troops and resources.

Major General Lewis MacKenzie (Canadian Army ret) takes a refreshingly different view of this debate in the following article. Mackenzie argues that the "middle powers" should take on the responsibility for international peacekeeping, while the United States retains its military in reserve for the bigger jobs.

A Crucial Job, But Not One for a Superpower

By Lewis MacKenzie (Canadian Army Ret'd, USAWC '83)
Outlook The Washington Post
Sunday, January 14, 2001 ; Page B03
[Reprinted with author's permission]

BRACEBRIDGE, Ontario -- The Duke of Wellington is reputed to have said, "Great countries don't fight small wars." As the next stewards of the world's remaining superpower, officials in the incoming Bush administration would benefit from serious consideration of the famed British statesman's words.

If George W. Bush's campaign rhetoric and Cabinet choices are any indication, the president-elect is not inclined toward the kind of muddled interventionism or ill-fated peacekeeping that has characterized American foreign policy in recent years. Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a leading opponent of using the military to solve diplomatic and humanitarian problems. But the real test for Bush will come when the first inevitable international crisis bursts forth on CNN. It might be in the Congo, southern Sudan, East or West Timor, Kosovo (again!) or a score of other locales with festering problems. But wherever it occurs, persuasive and emotional cries for U.S. intervention will reverberate around the world.

It will be difficult in many cases to decline. But that's what the Bush administration should do. The United States should not risk further erosion of its war-fighting capabilities; it should not allow its military forces to be drawn into small wars and peacekeeping missions that, history has shown, can last years or even decades (U.N. peacekeepers went to Cyprus in 1964, and a force is still there).

If the U.N. and its member nations believe that peacekeeping is important, it is time for the world's lesser powers -- what I would call the "middle" developed countries -- to participate in greater numbers. I would include Canada, my home, in this group, as well as many European nations.

As a member of the Canadian armed forces, I was involved in several U.N. interventions and peacekeeping efforts, and I have become a student of what succeeds and what fails. During the previous decade, the United States was coerced into taking a leadership role in several U.N. missions primarily because middle powers were not able -- or not prepared -- to provide the military resources necessary to cope with the challenges of a Somalia or a Bosnia.

In 1992, for example, the U.N. was unable to muster even 10 percent of the forces it needed to restore a semblance of law and order in Somalia. The subsequent U.S.-led multinational operation there was highly successful and achieved its objectives. Unfortunately, the follow-up U.N. mission was marred by the chronic problems that haunt all large U.N. operations: inadequate resources and intelligence information, convoluted command-and-control arrangements, and imprecise and unrealistic goals. When 18 U.S. servicemen died in the fighting there, the American people started to pay attention. And they didn't like what they saw.

Soon after the hasty U.S. withdrawal from Somalia, and after a few years of U.N. humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, European leaders cried out in unison, "We can't maintain our presence in Bosnia unless the U.S. gets involved on the ground!" Twice I testified before U.S. congressional committees and said that the United States should not touch peacekeeping in Bosnia "with a 10-foot pole." At one hearing, I was asked if I thought U.S. peacekeepers would be home within a year of deployment to Bosnia. I replied, "If I were you, I would start training your grandchildren as Bosnia peacekeepers." I haven't been proved right yet, but President Clinton's promise of "home by Christmas" has certainly been proven wrong -- five times.

Frequently, when I lecture at U.S. military institutions, I am asked, "Does too much peacekeeping erode the Warrior Ethic?" For years, I said no -- that well-trained and well-led soldiers will make the transition from peacekeeping to combat in a heartbeat if that is what the situation demands. But now, based on the experience of my own country, I no longer give that answer. Canadians have discovered that peacekeeping does harm the Warrior Ethic -- not so much in the minds of the soldiers, but in the minds of the public.

In the past few decades, successive Canadian governments have habitually referred to Canada as a "peacekeeping nation" because we have participated in almost every U.N. mission since the first in 1948. The more our leaders emphasize this secondary duty for the military (secondary to protecting the country) the easier it is to justify spending less money on essential equipment, training and personnel -- based on the erroneous but readily accepted premise that peacekeeping units can get by with cheaper versions (and much less) of just about everything.

Political leaders in my country now go out of their way to isolate the public from the nasty side of peacekeeping. I would wager that fewer than 1 percent of the Canadian people realize that 20 Canadian soldiers have been killed and more than 100 wounded while acting as peacekeepers in Bosnia. The return of a Canadian soldier's body is not usually a media event attended by our elected representatives or our commander in chief.

In one instance in the Balkans, Canadian peacekeepers were required to use deadly force against Croatian soldiers who were in the act of murdering civilians. My government sat on the story -- it eventually was reported -- out of fear that the Canadian people might be shocked to discover that peacekeeping sometimes requires killing to do the job properly.

As a relatively minor middle power, Canada can experiment with its military without threatening international peace and security. As a retired Canadian military officer, I certainly do not like the unwarranted reductions that have been inflicted on our armed forces over the last decade, but it is the government's right to do so until it is convinced otherwise. The United States, as the leading nation of the free world, does not have that luxury.

Since the disasters in Rwanda and Srebrenica, a number of developing nations with inadequately trained troops and inferior equipment have provided the bulk of the world's peacekeeping needs -- in exchange for generous payments of hard currency from the U.N. It is not being unkind to say that many of them are not exactly role models at home in the enforcement of human rights. This is not a model that can succeed.

The United States needs a U.N. that is capable of operating complex peacekeeping operations. Otherwise, it will be forced to take on the role of rescuer by default. The United States can partially pay its U.N. dues by providing support for these peacekeeping missions: logistics from existing U.S. bases, intelligence data, communications assistance. We middle powers should handle the peacekeeping duties while the United States maintains a deterrence force capable of fighting and winning a major war anywhere, any time.

With respect, I suggest that the new American administration make clear to the developed nations with the capacity to provide well-trained and well-equipped peacekeeping units that the Duke of Wellington was right -- and that the mostly free ride they have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War is over.

Lewis MacKenzie was commander of U.N. troops during the 1992 siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian war. He retired from the Canadian army as a major general in 1993. 2001 The Washington Post

The Mackenzie Proposal would produce a markedly different division of international labor from that now practiced by the world's developed countries, including the United States. While he makes this argument from a military perspective, his idea also hints at a possible framework in which the United States might evolve a quieter, more constructive grand strategy for the 21st Century.

As the world's greatest economic and military power, the United States suffers from the natural temptations of any great power. But in our case, these temptations have been enlarged by a confused mix of Woodrow Wilson's messianic idealism with a post-cold war sense of triumphant capitalism. The result is an idealistic sounding foreign policy resting on an ill-defined, not-so-idealistic mercantile soup known loosely as global capitalism. Moreover, by viewing the United States narcissistically as the world's indispensable power, our foreign policy elite has produced a post-cold war policy that aims to impose our values on others. It is only natural that such universalistic pretensions would produce a pervasive pattern of meddling and over-commitment, and in turn, lead inevitably to an a hoc form of selectivity that would be resented by others as cynical, self-serving, and hypocritical. One need only contrast the soaring rhetoric in 1999 about peacekeeping, human rights, and the international rule of law in Kosovo to the utter absence in 2000 of comparable rhetoric about the West Bank to see how empty our universalistic pretensions now appear to others around world.

Placing the big stick quietly in the background along the lines of the MacKenzie Proposal would be naturally accompanied by a less meddlesome, less noisy foreign policy. Such a policy would be likely to have the added benefit of reducing some of the larger grand strategic frictions identified so clearly by Mikhail Gorbachev (see Comment #400).

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

AP International - AP-NY-01-17-01 0223EST

Reform Sought in U.N. Peacekeeping

by NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press Writer




Troop-contributing countries not on the 15-member Security Council say they are often merely asked to provide bodies while the council decides when, where and how to deploy the peacekeepers.


''Troop-contributing countries put at risk the lives of their soldiers in the service of the United Nations ... strikingly more than do members of the council,'' said Indian Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma. ''These members should at least take the lead in ensuring that troop contributors have an effective say in the conduct of peacekeeping operations.''


''While we are prepared to serve with others, anywhere and everywhere, we are not prepared to be the servants of others -- obeying blindly, unquestioning,'' said Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein.

He noted that council members do contribute to some U.N. operations -- but not to the risky ones. ''One cannot but help feel there is something desperately wrong and immoral about all of this,'' he said.

While council members currently offer 8,012 of the 37,733 troops deployed to U.N. operations, most of them are unarmed military observers, civilian police or logistical staff. Riskier missions are largely staffed by poorer countries, such as Nigeria, Bangladesh, India and Ghana.

AP-NY-01-17-01 0223EST