French fig leaf will leave UN effectively naked

Yesterday evening, it appeared that the French were going to step up to the plate and lead the beefed up UN force in Lebanon. This was unquestionably a positive development. No other country has the military capacity and the relative trust of both sides needed to pull off the mission. A substantial French deployment would ...

607449_UNIFIL5.jpg
607449_UNIFIL5.jpg

Yesterday evening, it appeared that the French were going to step up to the plate and lead the beefed up UN force in Lebanon. This was unquestionably a positive development. No other country has the military capacity and the relative trust of both sides needed to pull off the mission. A substantial French deployment would ensure that this would be a robust military presence - not the usual UN rent-a-force.

But this morning it appears that the French might make a purely symbolic contribution. The Wall Street Journal is reporting chatter that the French intend to dispatch only ten officers and 200 engineers. The UN is desperately trying to get the French to change tack, realizing that such a gesture would doom the mission.

In other bad news for the force, the Germans have confirmed that they will not send troops. While one cannot help but understand the German sensitivity about dispatching soldiers to Israel's borders, a German presence would have reassured the Israelis. (Germany was one of only four EU nations to oppose demands for an immediate cease-fire.) Meanwhile, the Turks are understandably dragging their feet about committing themselves to the mission.

Yesterday evening, it appeared that the French were going to step up to the plate and lead the beefed up UN force in Lebanon. This was unquestionably a positive development. No other country has the military capacity and the relative trust of both sides needed to pull off the mission. A substantial French deployment would ensure that this would be a robust military presence – not the usual UN rent-a-force.

But this morning it appears that the French might make a purely symbolic contribution. The Wall Street Journal is reporting chatter that the French intend to dispatch only ten officers and 200 engineers. The UN is desperately trying to get the French to change tack, realizing that such a gesture would doom the mission.

In other bad news for the force, the Germans have confirmed that they will not send troops. While one cannot help but understand the German sensitivity about dispatching soldiers to Israel’s borders, a German presence would have reassured the Israelis. (Germany was one of only four EU nations to oppose demands for an immediate cease-fire.) Meanwhile, the Turks are understandably dragging their feet about committing themselves to the mission.

All of which begs the question: How on earth will UNIFIL get up to a 15,000-strong presence? What is unfolding now is all too typical of the way that resolutions are passed at Turtle Bay to great acclaim, but then when it gets down to actually getting something done, everything breaks down. The failure to commission a full-strength force to southern Lebanon will be another blow to the UN’s already dented credibility as a peace-making body. It is essential that the member governments of the UN prove that its resolutions are worth the paper they’re written on. 

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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