Letter: The grim nature of peacekeeping today

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The Independent Online
Sir: That Italy should be seeking a greater role in commanding UN forces in Somalia should not be surprising given the scale of its deployment in Mogadishu and its historical interest in the region. Nor should it be discouraged.

In the Lebanon operation of 1982-83, the Italians proved highly successful peace-keepers, clearing their operational region of armed gunmen, protecting refugee camps and providing basic humanitarian assistance with unobtrusive efficiency. Whereas French and, especially, US forces soon became partisan and were eventually targeted with the suicide bombs that led to their withdrawal, the Italians managed to retain working relations with all sides in a brutal and confused civil war. Are these not precisely the challenges facing forces in Somalia?

So far the United States has set the tone, self-important inactivity interspersed with attacks of sporadic ferocity. By targeting a single warlord, the US command has - deliberately or not - become an active player in Somali power politics. The Italian commander, General Loi, by contrast, has developed not just channels of communications with all the major factions but a surprising level of support among the people of Mogadishu.

Recent peace-keeping and peacemaking operations have shown that there are only three certainties. That an operation needs a single commander. That this should not be an American if the mission calls for discretion and restraint. And that the UN cannot and will not police a region for ever: the successful strategy will be one that builds a lasting constituency for peace rather than destroying one warlord so that another can take his place. Perhaps it is time for Italy - one of the leading industrial nations, after all - to play a matching role in dealing with the problems of the world.

Yours faithfully,


Lecturer in International


Department of History

Keele University

Keele, Staffordshire

13 July