At a recent appearance promoting his new memoir, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan answered that he would institute a standing force within the United Nations when asked what one reform he would make to the U.N. to make it more effective in responding to crises. The goal would be a contingency of a size that it would rapidly deployable early in crises, with the goal of “showing force, so to not have to use force”.
My eyebrows were roughly through the roof at this point, as this is the kind of rhetoric that U.N. conspiracy theorists salivate over, and I was surprised his comments didn’t generate more buzz, in the room or in the blogosphere. As it turns out, the reason that there was little reaction is that the position is nowhere near new. Annan has been advocating the upgrades to the U.N.’s force deployment capabilities for over a decade now.
Clamoring for a UN Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) in some shape or form has been constant since 1945, coming from governments and NGOs alike. In the face of Annan presenting this opinion so clearly once more, with no hedging about whether it would be under the command of the United Nations, I was left wondering what such a force would look like.
To that end, and as we head into the U.N. General Assembly, I’ll be exploring different angles of the concept’s feasibility (because yes, it’s feasible, but no, it won’t invade Texas) and its effects on peacekeeping operations. In the interest of not having a 10,000 word blog post, I’m going to break this article up into a three part series: Legal Standing, Operational Feasibility, and Institutional Effects.
Before continuing, let me clarify what I mean by “peacekeeping operations” in this context. I’m working off the definitions of Michael Doyle and Nicolas Sambanis in their 2006 book Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations. Doyle and Sambanis describe four types of peacekeeping operations: Observer, Traditional, Multidimensional, and Enforcement.
1. Observer missions – restricted to observing actions such as a truce, troop withdrawals, or a buffer zone. Always deployed with the consent of the parties to the conflict. Examples are the UNMOT and UNMOP missions in Tajikistan and Croatia.
2. Traditional missions – also deployed with the consent of the parties, but with somewhat extended mandates such as policing a buffer zone and assisting in negotiating a peace agreement. Examples are the UNPRESEP mission in Macedonia 1995-99 and the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon.
3. Multidimensional missions – referred to as `second-generation operations’, the mandates, also consent based, are extended with activities intended to go to the roots of the conflict, such as economic reconstruction, institutional transformation (reform of police, army, judicial system, elections). Examples are the ONUSAC mission in El Salvador 1991-95 and the UNMIT mission in Timor-Leste (2006- ).
4. Enforcement missions -`third generation’ operations that do not require the consent of both parties, and therefore must draw on the authority of UN Charter articles 25, 42, and 43 to apply force to protect the activities of the operation. Examples are the UNPROFOR mission in former Yugoslavia 1992-95 and the UNMIS mission in Sudan (2005- ).
Throughout this series, I’ll be primarily concerned with Enforcement, as those are the missions a Rapid Response Force would be most useful in engaging in, but I will also mention the others periodically.
Of the three considerations I’ll be going through when determining the feasibility of an upgraded U.N. force projection mechanism, the legality of the measure is the most clearly defined. The Charter of the United Nations provides the basis for the Security Council’s primacy in the realm of providing international peace and security. Indeed, under modern international law, the use of force by states is supposed to be presaged by either approval by the Council or invoking the right of self-defense under Article 51.
Though the actual use of force to restore peace is often outsourced to other organizations such as NATO or ECOWAS, via either Chapter VII use of force mandates or Chapter VIII’s regional bodies provisions, the Council was originally envisioned to be able to muster force to use directly. Further, under Articles 43 and 45 of the Charter, Member States were expected to have forces, particularly air forces, on standby for the use of the United Nations at the need of the Security Council:
- All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
- Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.
- The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.
In order to enable the United Nations to take urgent military measures, Members shall hold immediately available national air-force contingents for combined international enforcement action. The strength and degree of readiness of these contingents and plans for their combined action shall be determined within the limits laid down in the special agreement or agreements referred to in Article 43, by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.
In theory, the process would have worked whereby the Council determined a threat to the peace, declared it as such under Chapter VII, Article 40, and called up these air forces to act as a rapid response under Article 42, the “use of force” provision within the Charter. After the initial rapid response use of air power, the other forces detailed in Art. 43 were to have been deployed to finish the job. The Military Staff Committee mentioned in Article 45 will be discussed more later, but would be an important requirement to resurrecting the idea of providing the Council with a Rapid Response Force.
In actuality, the Permanent Five disagreed on the meaning of the clauses of Articles 43 and 45 almost from the beginning. Like most issues relating to interpretation of the Charter in the early days of the U.N., the split came in two flavors: between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union, and between the Permanent and non-permanent members.
The Soviets believed that each of the Permanent Five should provide forces to the United Nations of an equal number and equal composition of land, air, and sea forces. For members like the United Kingdom, still devastated in 1947 from World War II, the idea of putting up the same number of forces as the U.S. or U.S.S.R. was preposterous. The idea, of course, was that the United States and Soviet Union, already the clear superpowers, would only need to contribute as much to international security as those weaker members of the Council.
The dispute was never resolved, and the agreements of Article 43 were never concluded, or even started to my knowledge. This collapse of early support for the idea of a rapid response force, however, has not altered the contents of the Charter. In his Agenda for Peace in 1992, then-Secretary-General Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali urged:
“the bringing into being, through negotiations, the special agreements foreseen in Article 43 of the Charter, whereby Member States undertake to make armed forces, assistance and facilities available to the Security Council… not only on an ad hoc basis but on a permanent basis.”
At any time, the United Nations could undertake an initiative to begin and sign agreements with the current Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) to have contingencies of their forces on standby for an RRF.
In fact, the building of an RRF would be even more strictly speaking ‘legal’ than current peacekeeping operations of the Traditional and Multidimensional model, as they would fall squarely in line with Chapter VII unlike the former’s nebulous existence as what have been called “Chapter VI and a half” missions. These models, particularly the “Traditional” model, were the development of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in the wake of the Suez Canal crisis, and not featured anywhere within the Charter.
So why does all of this matter? The enactment of a Rapid Response Force would bring clarity to the authority of the Council to authorize states or ad hoc coalitions to engage in enforcement measures – in short, it would be clear when the Council is acting on its own authority or whether it has delegated that authority to others. A strict reading of Article 42 only provides the Security Council with the ability to use force via the Article 43 arrangements, not the power to authorize the use of force by states (except when extending permission to Chapter VIII organizations’ actions until the Council can act – but even this mechanism implies the Council will be able to take action eventually). In practice, Article 42 has been read in conjunction with Article 48(1), which makes the decisions of the Security Council binding and requires states to carry them out. While a U.N. Rapid Reaction Force would not override that reading, it would allow the Council to more clearly delineate when they are acting under their own authority and when they are conferring that power onto other states, organizations, or coalitions.
Utilization of an RFF would also push to the side many of the legal concerns regarding sovereignty when enforcing decisions of the Security Council. As the deployment of an RFF would necessarily be under the Chapter VII, Article 42 powers of the Council, along with the requirement for states to comply, the oft-quoted need for the host country to permit entry would be overridden. Whether this would be able to be achieved on the ground is for a later section, but the very idea that a military force, no matter the size, could under the authority of the Security Council enter into a country regardless of government protests, has given states pause, no matter what the Framers of the Charter had in mind. For this reason, the vast majority of U.N. enforcement missions have depended on host country permission for access, including the original Congo crisis of 1960, unlike coalition missions as in Libya or Iraq.
Likewise, the concept does face a barrier in that no state has yet to conclude an Article 43 agreement, suggesting such agreements may be difficult to conclude even if the practice were accepted in theory. At present, the legal mechanism for the Security Council acquiring forces for official U.N. missions, such as MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is an individual Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with each TCC. The document is fully binding on all parties, and can be taken up for arbitration at the International Court of Justice if disputes on its implementation can’t be resolved at the local level.
While MOUs could be used as a framework for an overarching Article 43 agreement, given the fight to get each of these MOUs signed, it would likely be a difficult struggle to reach an accord by which states agree to relinquish operational control of whole units to the United Nations and whomever controls these forces – a question that will be delved into more deeply in the Operational section.
Should some particularly charismatic future Secretary-General, one in the Hammarskjold mold, find a way to draw countries into Article 43 agreements, a U.N. RRF would rest on extremely solid legal footing. The difficulties would come more strongly in the operational use of such a force and the reverberating effects such a development would have on the United Nations as an institution.