Michael Rose: Without a clear mandate, the UN troops in Lebanon are heading for disaster

Exclusion zones, like safe areas, are notoriously difficult to police. Unifil could soon come to be seen as a brutal force of occupation
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The Italians are sending 3,000 troops. The French and Spanish have signed up. The Turks, Nepalese and even the Chinese may be persuaded. Geoff Hoon says the British may support the peacekeeping mission in the Lebanon by sending a ship.

As a display of international abhorrence of the violence of recent weeks, this is admirable, but many countries are still reluctant to send troops to join the UN force in the Lebanon in support of Security Council Resolution 1701, and with good reason. For the UN mandate remains typically vague, using euphemisms such as "...there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon". It makes no specific mention of how the UN peacekeeping troops are supposed to disarm Hizbollah, an organisation that has repeatedly stated that it will never disarm as long as Israel remains in the occupied territories.

The French are reported to have said that they can disarm Hizbollah by establishing an exclusion zone in south Lebanon. But as they will remember from their time in Bosnia, exclusion zones, like safe areas, are notoriously difficult to police and any attempt to deal with violations will inevitably result in armed confrontation.

The same problem applies equally to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). What happens if the IDF decides to repeat the recent commando raid deep into Lebanon that took place well after the UN-brokered ceasefire? The Israelis, of course, claims that their action was defensive. The UN disagrees. Will UN troops be expected to fire at Israelis if similar raids are carried out in the future or not? The fact that these fundamentals are still being argued over suggests an alarming lack of clarity from which disasters will surely spring.

Although an important principle is that UN peacekeepers should act impartially against those who are in violation of a mandate, it is extremely unlikely that troops of the UN (chief paymaster, the US) would be permitted to fire on Israeli soldiers. But if Unifil acts only against Hizbollah, it will look to Arab and other Muslim countries as if the UN is being sent to the Lebanon to complete the unfinished business of Israel - ie the disarming of Hizbollah. For it is quite certain that the Lebanese army has neither the political will nor the military means to accomplish what the IDF has so conspicuously failed to do.

Therefore, the authority for Unifil "to take all necessary measures to ensure that its area is not used for hostile acts of any kind" is quite meaningless unless troop-contributing nations in Unifil are politically and militarily prepared to fight a protracted insurgency war with Hizbollah. Yet as it stands, Unifil lacks the combat capability, command and control arrangements, intelligence apparatus, equipment, training and necessary cohesion to fight such a war.

To fulfil the terms of a peace enforcement mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UN troops would be obliged to carry out a range of extremely oppressive measures against the Lebanese population. These would include cordon and search operations, the arrest and internment of suspects, interrogation, and control of all routes into the area south of the Litani River. Since the majority of the people living there are sympathetic to Hizbollah, Unifil would rapidly come to be seen as a brutal force of occupation fighting on behalf of the state of Israel and its American ally. A national resistance based on Hizbollah would begin; foreign fighters would arrive and Lebanon would rapidly start to look like Iraq or Afghanistan. It would also risk widening the conflict, drawing in any number of Muslim sympathisers.

In the 1990s, Western world leaders led by Clinton took a similarly illogical and ultimately untenable position with regards to the UN mission in Bosnia. While not wanting their own countries to become involved in a war to restore Bosnia's territorial integrity, they were quite happy to put pressure on the UN to abandon its humanitarian mandate in Bosnia and take punitive measures against the Serbs that were tantamount to war. The result was chaotic, with nations such as Britain calling in Nato for more force to be used in Bosnia, with their ambassadors in the UN at the same time calling for less force.

Yet, the UN in Bosnia had never been mandated for war fighting. As the commander of the UN mission there I had been prepared to use much higher levels of force than any peacekeeping mission hitherto, but I had always refused to allow my peacekeepers to be misused as war fighters, as had happened in Somalia.

The lesson that can be drawn from Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and now Lebanon is that peacekeeping and nation-building cannot be carried out in a political muddle or vacuum. Nor can it succeed without the consent of the majority of the people involved. Before any peacekeeping troops deploy on the ground, not only must the political end game be agreed, but all the necessary intermediate steps must be signed up to as well by the warring parties - including withdrawal from the line of conflict, the establishment of a buffer zone, the disarming of all combatants and the inspection and enforcement measures that will have to be put in place in order to guarantee the entire process.

If Western leaders genuinely believe that by fighting Hizbollah, the state of Israel is also fighting its war on global terrorists, then instead of trying to use UN peacekeepers to do their difficult work for them, they should form a military alliance with Israel and declare war on all its enemies including Syria and Iran. This is an absurd proposition which would never receive the support of their people at home but it serves to illustrate the hypocritical and illogical nature of the present approach towards the UN mission in the Lebanon. As John Major famously observed with regards to the United State's ambivalent position on the war in Bosnia, you cannot defend the high moral ground using the lives of other nation's soldiers.

My predecessor in Bosnia, a French general called Philippe Morillon, wrote a book about his experiences commanding the UN forces in 1993. It was called Mission Impossible. Let us hope the memoirs of his successor in Lebanon do not have a similar title.

General Sir Michael Rose was commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1994-95.