Leading article: The UN needs a permanent force

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The Independent Online

"I have to acknowledge," says the head of the UN peacekeeping operation, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, "the forces we have do not have the kind of very specialised capacity ... that makes absolutely sure that there will be zero civilian casualties in a densely populated environment."

In one sense, this is just a cop-out. What else have the UN peacekeepers been doing the last fifty years if it has not been ensuring security often in built-up areas? To say that it doesn't have the specific experience smacks uncomfortably of evading responsibility. But in another sense, Mr Guéhenno has put his finger on the nub of the UN problem. The international community wants it to sort out the messes in the world, but it is so far unwilling to give the organisation the kind of resources and permanent force that would enable it do the job. The West, and particularly America, wants a UN with responsibility but not power.

Each time the UN is called on to fulfil a mandate to keep the peace, it has to make up a task force from scratch, often calling in troops from the former colonial powers (as in Africa and Haiti) who have the knowledge but often the baggage of the past that goes with it. The UN's mandate in the meantime often hamstrings it from the kind of intervention, in Rwanda or Srebrenica for example, that could avert tragedy. When it does take the initiative, as in the Ivory Coast and this week in Haiti, it lacks the experience or resources to do it well.

This September, members of the UN meet to consider its future and its reform. Although the development of its peacekeeping forces and training is not top of the agenda, it is time the UN seriously considered the establishment of a permanent force of expert peacekeepers instead of the present ad hoc arrangements.