NRC Handelsblad, the Netherlands
Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 October 2004
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"Explosion of UN missions, Western countries absent"

Chief of UN Peacekeeping Guéhenno about new peak in operations

The number of UN Peacekeeping missions is growing suddenly. The western countries however, also the Netherlands, hardly contribute, says UN top executive Guéhenno.

By our editor

NEW YORK, 2 Oct. The United Nations are experiencing a new peak in peace operations, and in the office of Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno work pressure is visible. His secretary comes in three times during the interview. The last time, by the end, she hands over the phone to the French UN executive. “It must be the SG”, says an advisor of Guéhenno later, meaning the Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “It is a madhouse here.”

Last year, the number of UN peacekeeping missions increased explosively from thirteen to seventeen, and may, according to the UN, break the 1993 record of 78.000 people. Moreover, world leaders are gathering in New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the UN, and Guéhenno is meeting many of them to ask for help. “Is there one organization with less then 700 staff at Headquarters that runs so many difficult missions at the same time, with more then 60.000 people? We are on the way to 70.000, including more than 12.000 civilian staff”, says Guéhenno in his room on the 37th floor of the UN Headquarters.

Annan is warning that the number of missions is more than the UN can handle.
“The most difficult thing is to run so many operations at the same time. The past year we have set up missions in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Haiti and Burundi. A rather terrifying task. At least eight operations are complex: Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Congo and Burundi; and Kosovo, Afghanistan and Haiti.”

Annan says that 30.000 extra men are needed, e.g. for an extension of the Congo mission from 10.800 to 23.900 men.
“Yes. We still find battalions, especially in South Asia, where they have giant and very good armies. But we have too little intelligence, resources for electronic war fighting, armed helicopters, medical supplies, engineering units and special troops. We also need more French speaking troops and police.”

Your problem is that most of the developing countries are involved in the UN missions, and the developed countries work via NATO and rarely via the UN. In August, the biggest UN-troop suppliers were: Pakistan (8652 men), Bangladesh (8221), Nigeria (3577), Ethiopia (3445), Ghana (3185), India (2937). Western countries do not even average 600 men: France (563), Great-Brittan (563), Ireland (489), The United States (430) and Canada (265).
“This is inadequate. We need a lot more. If UN Blue Helmets only come from a certain part in the world, our position weakens because it does not give a strong political signal: there is no strong involvement of the international community. In Liberia for example, we have more than 15.000 men, including Europeans like Irish and Swedish men, who work closely with African and Asian men. This is a strong signal. In Congo, on the contrary, there is no UN unity from Europe for the moment. A real weakness.”
“We are glad that NATO participates in peacekeeping. But that should not mean that the involvement to the UN decreases. The UN Blue Helmets are the answer of the international community to Africa. And Africa really matters. That is why we are increasing our cooperation with the EU. We want a presence of the EU in Africa right now, with Blue Helmets.”

The Western countries lost their interest in UN peacekeeping missions and let the developing countries run the risks?
“That danger exists. The industrialized countries have to be aware of what will happen if they do not pay attention to safety in whole parts of the world. Their own safety depends on the substantial support they give to poor and unstable countries that need support. For them it is of the utmost strategic importance not to let countries fail. Look at the attacks of 9/11 and the consequences of a failed country like Afghanistan in the 90’s that was being hijacked by a terrorist group.”

The fact that developed countries do not work via the UN, has also to do with the traumas of the 90’s: Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda?
“That is partly the case. The developed countries don’t take enough into account the changes in peacekeeping. Our best operations are those such as East-Timor with a correct transition of a multinational power, conducted by Australia, to a peacekeeping operation. The Australians stayed at the time. If a very quick intervention is needed in an emergency situation, a multinational force is better than an UN force of Blue Helmets, because it can
be organized a lot quicker. But once the multinational force is present, it has to be changed into a Blue Helmets operation. This brings continuity.”
“An important lesson of the 90’s is that we need to have the right mandate. The industrialized countries are often concerned about the command chain of the UN. That is why we strengthened the military division. We also clarified things for the troop commandants so that their hands are not tired.”

The Netherlands is 78th on the list of one hundred UN troop suppliers and supplies 16 men in an army of about 60.000 men: 4 civil police men in Cyprus and 12 military observers in the Middle East. (According to the Defense Ministry, the Netherlands once had an average of about 1.200 men in the UN mission in Bosnia for years and about 1.300 in the short-term UN missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Now, the Netherlands have 2.437 men, mainly in the NATO missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan and the Iraq operation.)
“That is not enough. The Netherlands can provide a big contribution to UN peace- keeping operations. We would like to have more Dutch troops. And I really do not ask for 8.000 men.”

What is your message to the Netherlands?
Grinning: “Come as Blue Helmets. We need you. The Netherlands could also provide other important contributions. They could deliver maritime units for Congo, for patrols at the Great Lakes. There is no real border control and that requires a maritime power. This is very difficult to find, but the Netherlands can do this.”

Does the peak of peacekeeping missions prove the indispensability of the UN?
“The UN peacekeeping mission, as third independent party and mediator, is not a magic formula, but it can help. In a polarized world it is very important to have an organization that goes beyond the break lines of that world.”

Is the UN Peacekeeping not becoming a department for Africa, while NATO is in Afghanistan, goes training in Iraq and is asked by you to give logistical support to the African Union (AU) in the Darfur region in Sudan?
“The current explosion of peacekeeping missions indicates a few situations where fighters are tired and where there is a chance for peace. This happens often in Africa.”

Does the UN do enough in Sudan?
“There is still an insufficient feeling of urgency. The African Union needs amongst others more logistical and material support. And there is a need for a political process, negotiations between rebels and the government.”

The AU is only sending observers. What was learned from Rwanda? In 1999 Annan pled for the humanitarian intervention, if necessary without the Security Council. But now, because China is blocking a harder resolution, there is not even a deadline for the Sudan Government, that supports the Arabian militias in their violence against the black African population.
“We keep the pressure on the government and the rebels. And that pressure is constantly being revised.”

You do not fear a repetition of Rwanda?
“Of course I do! That is why Secretary-General Kofi Annan talked to all leaders in the past few weeks. And that is why the UN was the first to ring the bell. The situation in Sudan is extremely bad, there is enormous suffering going on.” '


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