Peacekeeping


Ehrenreich

 

It’s a conundrum that
routinely paralyzes the left: The news brings us the horrors
of postmodern warfare–concentration camps in Bosnia, mass
slaughter in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands homeless in Zaire.
On the one hand, we want to do something. On the other
hand, as thinking people possessed of some historical memory,
we have reasons to distrust the one instrument available for
accomplishing this something – the U.S. armed forces. What if
they start killing the locals, as they did in Somalia? What
if they start getting killed themselves? So while
commentators in the New Republic and the New York
Times
bray confidently about the urgent need to intervene
or not, we dither, change the subject, and feel inwardly like
fools or moral failures.

Both our impulses, though, are
dead-on right. Peacekeeping is the right thing to do; it’s
just that the military is the wrong thing to do it with.
Militaries exist for one reason–to make war–and to expect
them to stop wars is logically akin to hoping a flame-thrower
will extinguish a burning building. If peacekeeping is to be
one of our nation’s major missions in the world, then we’re
going to need a genuine peacekeeping force.

The odd thing is that no one
seems to have thought much about what a peacekeeping force
might look like and how it would be different from the
existing military. Yet if peacekeeping is essential to
national security, which is how the Pentagon claims to see
it, you’d think it would be worthy of some tough-minded
strategic cerebration. Historically, nations do not fare well
when they try to fight the wars of the present with the
armies of the past–pitting mounted knights against massed,
gun-bearing infantry, for example. Since everyone from
generals to former anti-war protesters seems to think
peacekeeping is a good thing to do, why not do it right?

There is one way in which the
ideal peacekeeping force would resemble the current military:
They would be armed. Nothing fancy like SAMs or F14 fighter
planes, but enough hand-held firepower to, say, dissuade a
belligerent from raping his neighbor or torching her home.
Ideally, the U.S. would launch a huge R&D effort to
develop a technology of peacekeeping: Magnetic devices that
disable every gun in the region, for example, or see-through,
city-sized shields that repel artillery shells. But until the
new technology is ready for use, our peacekeepers will need a
modicum of good old-fashioned firepower–if only to protect
themselves.

Other than that though, a real
peacekeeping force would bear little resemblance to any
conventional armed forces. For one thing, the emphasis would
be on the humans rather than the hardware. Each individual
peacekeeper would need intensive training and education in
peacekeeping skills, starting with a rudimentary ability to
speak the relevant languages. Remember the Somalian
intervention, where it turned out the U.S. military had a
maximum of one member capable of communicating with
Somalians, and as a result, leaflets dropped by U.S. planes
turned out to say something deeply offensive in Somali? How
many of our troops in former-Yugoslavia speak Serbo-Croatian?
Yet, until we have an army of talented mimes, how can we
expect to make peace among people we can’t even say
"hi" to or "where are the land mines
buried?"

Language skills are just one
part of the educational investment we’d have to make in each
individual peacekeeper. What about mediation skills?
Construction skills, to help in housing refugees and
rebuilding infrastructure, along with some working knowledge
of sanitation? First aid and primary medicine? In fact, it’s
hard to think of a craft or discipline that would not come in
handy to someone trying to put a break on genocide or
war-induced famine and plague. Ideally, peacekeepers would
have at least a four-year college education covering
anthropology, psychology, history, philosophy (all, of
course, taught from a rigorous multicultural perspective),
epidemiology, and all aspects of communications technology.
Too expensive, you say? Then just compare the cost of
educating a few thousand peacekeepers to the price of a
single fighter plane.

If the existing military wants
to play a role in peacekeeping, it will of course have to
undergo a complete cultural make-over. Basic training
wouldn’t be six weeks of continual hazing aimed at
deconstructing the human personality, but a crash course in
understanding and getting along with others. Obviously, drill
sergeants who harass their female underlings would have no
place in a peacekeeping force, along with anyone who displays
a taste for white supremacy or similar anti-peace ideologies.
The whole millennia-old military culture of guts and glory,
male-bonding and machismo, would be about as useful in this
"army" as crossbows and broad swords are in the
conventional one.

There is one old-fashioned
military value a peacekeeping army would want to revive,
however, and that is a willingness to die for the sake of the
mission. Unlike almost any army in history, the U.S. military
has, for the last half-dozen years, diligently avoided
putting itself "in harm’s way." This is
understandable: Why should anyone die to "punish"
Saddam Hussein or for some equally twisted official purpose?
In fact, why should anyone ever want to die for the sole
purpose of killing and maiming others? But peacekeepers (who
would needless to say have to be volunteers) would enter the
service knowing that they might, indeed, end up risking their
lives so that others will live. Otherwise, the business of
protecting the peacekeepers themselves – with ever more
cumbersome weapons technologies–would swallow up the
peacekeeping mission.

So here’s a goal for the
left–or, ecumenically speaking–people of conscience
generally: A massive shift of resources from war-making to
peacekeeping, preferably administered by some Department of
Peace totally removed from the Pentagon. Some may argue for a
multinational force under the auspices of the UN, but each
country may have good reasons for wanting to develop a
peacekeeping capacity of its own. Imagine what this country
would be like, for example, after a few decades of serious
and well-funded peacekeeping. We’d have a growing population
of "peace veterans," and they wouldn’t be
militia-freaks or VFW-style chauvinists or post-traumatic
wrecks. They’d be an army of organizers, a cadre of community
leaders.