Leading article: France must honour its pledges and protect this fragile ceasefire

Share

When France and the United States finalised the draft document that was to become UN Security Council resolution 1701, the agreement contained an unspoken deal. According to this, France would supply as many as 3,500 of the 15,000 blue-helmeted peacekeepers to be stationed in southern Lebanon; it would also stand ready to command the force. French confidence, it was anticipated, would encourage others to offer troops. At this point it seemed that the raising of the requisite force might be the least contentious aspect of the operation.

France was the obvious choice to assume the responsibilities this crucial mission would entail. Its long-standing ties with Lebanon gave it a unique familiarity with the region and the intricacies of its history. France's tradition of support for the Palestinian cause and its fierce opposition to the Iraq war gave it a credibility in the Muslim world that the British, in particular, lacked. Quite coincidentally, too, the French hold the command of Unifil - the existing UN force in southern Lebanon - which was seen as providing the core for the new, much larger and more proactive presence.

Regrettably, between last weekend and this, France seems to have lost its nerve. It now seems that a mere 200 French troops will be on offer - in addition to a similar number at present serving with Unifil - with perhaps another 2,000 or so on standby in the region but remaining under French command.

The potentially catastrophic result is that not only the peacekeeping operation, but the fragile ceasefire itself could be threatened. Without the expected lead from France, few other countries have yet come forward to offer significant numbers of troops. Some of those that have may, because of their foreign policy stance, raise objections from Israel. The desired international balance of the new force may prove hard to achieve.

French misgivings are not totally without foundation. The country's previous involvement in Lebanon ended in 1983, with the loss of 58 troops at the hands of a suicide bomber. Its experience of serving in the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia was similarly costly. France is also right to want very specific rules of engagement. A force that is powerless to fulfil its mandate is as bad as no force at all. The Middle East in general, and this border in particular, offer as many examples of this sort of failure as anyone could require.

France has its own domestic political considerations, too. There will be hard-fought presidential and parliamentary elections in France next spring. The last thing President Chirac's ruling UMP needs is to be handicapped by an expensive and unpopular involvement abroad.

Yet France should think again. The new UN mission is clear. It is to enforce a buffer zone in southern Lebanon that should enhance the authority of the Lebanese government throughout the country and allay Israel's fears about its security. In one respect, it is an effort to tackle the same old problem that Unifil was deployed to resolve almost three decades ago.

The times, though, and the larger force envisaged, make this a very different proposition. And France surely has an obligation to help implement the Security Council Resolution, which it was prepared to sponsor. This was not just a piece of paper to be taken back to Paris as a diplomatic trophy. No other country is as well qualified or equipped for the operation that awaits.

There are risks and costs associated with every exercise in peacekeeping. This time the far greater risk is that the UN, and the international will it represents, will be discredited before the mission has even begun. The question then is whether the UN would ever be given another chance.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style