NATO can handle heavy peacekeeping

By Doug Bereuter

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved Resolution 1511, which provides a mandate for American command of the multinational coalition force in Iraq. As a follow-up, the Bush administration should give serious consideration to a greater role for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Iraq. In particular, the administration should examine the possibility of NATO command for that force.

NATO’s decision earlier this year to provide planning, force generation, logistics and communications support to the Polish-led multinational unit in central Iraq – one component of the coalition force – was an excellent first step toward a greater alliance role there.

In July, I introduced in the House a Senate-passed amendment calling on the president to “consider requesting formally and expeditiously that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization raise a force for deployment in post-war Iraq similar to what it has done in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo.”

My amendment passed the House without opposition, as had the Senate version. That may be in part because the Congress recognizes that NATO is the only organization today that has the military capabilities and the experience needed to take on tough peace and stabilization operations.

We have learned some lessons from the mistakes of the Balkans in the early 1990s, when the failure of U.N. peacekeepers left the U.N. with no choice but to turn to the United States and NATO to enforce the Dayton peace accords.

The success of its forces in the Balkans was a tribute to NATO’s ability to transform itself to meet new security challenges after the Cold War.

Kosovo, a semi-autonomous part of Serbia, was an especially demanding operation, as a peace agreement certainly had not yet been reached when NATO undertook military action against Serbia. Only NATO had the military capability to force Belgrade to end its campaign of ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces in Kosovo and to accept an international peace enforcement mission there.

A more recent example is the decision by the North Atlantic Council in August to have NATO assume command, coordination and planning of the International Security Assistance Force. Its current mission in Afghanistan marks the first time that NATO has undertaken an operation outside of Europe or North America. Earlier this month, NATO agreed to expand that force beyond the Greater Kabul region into other parts of Afghanistan, a step long overdue.

The European Union, meanwhile, has plans to develop its own military capabilities. In 1999, the EU announced creation of the European Security and Defense Policy which aimed to develop a European Rapid Reaction Force by the end of this year.

If that force becomes fully operational, the EU will be the logical institution to assume peacekeeping in the Balkans from NATO, as some EU countries have proposed.

In the future, the EU should assume the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and perhaps in Kosovo too, but we must be careful not to jeopardize the stability that NATO has brought to the region by having the EU assume these missions before it is ready to meet their challenges. Both Gen. James Jones, NATO’s top operational commander, and Lord Paddy Ashdown, the U.N. High Representative in Bosnia, have stated that EU troops are not yet prepared to take over from NATO forces.

Kosovo is an even more difficult case because it legally remains a semi-autonomous part of Serbia, despite the overwhelming desire of its ethnic Albanian majority for independence. Therefore, NATO should retain command of NATO peacekeepers at least until the final status of the entity is resolved and possibly beyond.

While the United Nations has a role to play in traditional blue-helmet peacekeeping, NATO is the organization best suited for commanding more demanding operations.

NATO has the experience, the organization, the military capabilities and the robust rules of engagement needed to compel adversaries to accept, or at least conform to, a peace agreement. At the same time, it would be desirable for the European Union to fulfill its commitments to have its own peacekeeping capability.

This would reduce the demands on the United States and NATO and allow Europeans to take far greater responsibility for their own back yard.

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