Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Bitter Lessons of UN intervention - Can I do better?

The early 1990s were an incredibly hopeful time for keen young adults like me. The Berlin wall had fallen, the Soviet Union collapsed and the ideological conflict with accompanying doom scenarios of global nuclear war had disappeared like snow before the sun.It really felt like a new chance had come for working united to end poverty, hunger and war. I even wrote a song or two expressing that naieve belief.

A lesser known edition of the famous book

We were soon to be disappointed. The disappearance of ideological conflict gave room for ethnic strife and unscrupulous warlords in failed states. The international community proved powerless to end it, even made it worse by intervening half-heartedly and then pulling out when things got tough.

So for me Yugoslavia, Somalia and Ruanda are the moral anchors when it comes to intervention by UN or NATO troops, and I am sure also for many of the leading politicians today. They are not much older than I am.

One of the most impressing and depressing books I've ever read was Deliver Us From Evil by William Shawcross. The book paints a depressing picture of the attempts of the international community (more or less reluctantly led by the United States) in the 1990s to effect the new world order that seemed to be in its grasp.

It is clear that after 9/11 the perspective has changed. There is something like a new world order emerging and not many people in the West like what they see. It has kept them from intervening for humanitarian reasons. And the experience in nation building seems not to have taught the U.S. very much in its so-called war on terrorism.

But there have been a few repeats in Western Africa and recently in Libya and Mali. Syria could go live any minute. The feeling that somethingmust be done is still alive, even if more muted than 15 years ago.

So what am I thinking a week before joining in the Crisis in Binni megagame? The game focuses on a humanitarian crisis in a fictional African country riven by civil war. Factions of warlords fight each other and probably refugees are stampeding in some unfortunate direction. The international community is waiting to jump in with a minimu of preparation and a maximum of photo opportunities.

I'm thinking how can I do a good job as a U.S. military commander. I'm not the one setting the goals of the mission, but I should try to get as clear a picture of my resources, so I can help my diplomatic counterpart, and my counterparts in other UN contingents to achieve those goals.

I will need to think of the security of my troops, try not to chose sides, try not to get into a messy situation. And all this with only a theoretical experience in AirLand Battle and fighting doctrinal wars over manoeuvre warfare. Most helpful.

So what advice have you guys got for me?

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