Saturday, July 28, 2007

The U.N.'s Global Army and Institutional Autonomy

Scandal has always been the lubricant for major structural change. The United Nations has had its share of scandals in recent years. Among the more troublesome scandals has been that touching on the gross misconduct of U.N. Peacekeeping troops. Allegations of criminal activity by U.N. troops have been alleged, and are being investigated, all over the developing world, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Cambodia and Ivory Coast.

And the solution? Create a standing army independent of the Member States that supply the troops and subject to the direction of the United Nations through some mechanism to be determined. Thus says the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak. See U.N. Requires Better Peacekeepers, BBC News Online, July 28, 2007. Mr. Nowak made two points. The first, and least surprising: the selection process for peacekeeping troops and their oversight need substantial revision to be made more strict. Mr. Nowak suggested that the problems in peacekeeping have grown since military participation has been democratized and broadened. This was expressed as "concerns about the quality, training and ethics of peacekeepers were growing as developing nations with questionable human rights records were being asked to contribute troops." U.N. Requires Better Peacekeepers, supra. Among the problems: sexual crimes by Moroccan troops, and torture by Nepalese. U.N. Requires Better Peacekeepers, supra.

And indeed, there is a substantial rule of law element in this comment suggesting a growing maturity and autonomy within the institutional structures of the U.N. The comment reflects a view that the U.N.'s operations, especially its military operations, might no longer be viewed strictly as intergovernmental in character. As such, the operational unit itself, as an autonomo0us collective, rather than the governments which contribute to the operation separately, ought to be responsible for the conduct of military operations. As the Catalan professor Jaume Saura suggested recently, "whenever international humanitarian law is otherwise applicable, and whenever international organizations actually have the capacity to implement it, UN peacekeepers must observe this body of law. " Jaume Saura, Lawful Peacekeeping: Applicability of International Humanitarian Law to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, 58 Hastings Law Journal 479-532 (2007) at 480 ("there is little doubt that the United Nations as a legal entity will bear international responsibility and will be obliged to make reparations for any injury caused by such breach"). Such institutional autonomy, were it to be effective in form or substance, shifts power from the states which make up what had been a purely intergovernmental association even as it changes the character of the association.

The second, and perhaps more interesting solution follows from the inclination toward autonomy reflected in th first: "Mr Nowak said one solution was finally to give the UN its own professional standing army." U.N. Requires Better Peacekeepers, supra. This proposal is not new. There have been periodic calls for some sort of professional military establishment under the control of the U.N. All such proposals have met strong resistance from the United States. See Experts Call for UN to Take Sides, BBC News Online, August 23, 2000. By 1997, several developed states had proposed some form of international autonomous military force. See Frederick Bonnart, Opinion: It's Time for a Standing U.N. Rapid Reaction Force, International Herald Tribune, January 22, 1997. For resources in favor of such deployment, see Global Policy Forum, UN Standing Force.

From the U.N.'s perspective the second idea is logical. As the institution has sought to assert greater autonomy (though lately not very successfully at times), it has sought those institutional trappings that might permit it to project power independent of the ember States that constitute its community. Peacekeeping has become a larger portion of the UN's business since the 1990s. The spread of political violence, and the increasingly accepted notions of a rule of law system that bind states in their conduct with each other, has tended to shift responsibility for the management of political violence and the settlement of disputes from individual states to the "community of nations." Of course there have been telling lapses (the invasion of Iraq in 2003 stands out). It stands to reason that the institution responsible for these sorts of things would seek greater autonomy. That appears to be the nature of evolving transnational governance institutions in this century. See Larry Catá Backer, Principles of Transnational Law: The Foundations of an Emerging Field, Law at the End of the Day, March 9, 2007.

But in a world of economic privatization and globalization, states concede substantial power, at least as measured from the perspective of the political ideologies of the first half of the 20th century. A military unit would permit the United Nations to project power like a state. That would necessarily produce a greater shift of power from states to the community of states operating independently of its members--and indeed against the interests of some of its members some of the time. This is a concession of power and autonomy that neither the United States nor the People's Republic of China would likely greet as a positive development. But the newly empowered civil society stakeholders have a different view. Derogations of state power might well serve their interests by shifting power both incompletely and away from the state. International private actors, from multinationals in need of transnational stability for their business to international civil society organization, like Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch, seeking to implement their global vision in a word order in which their participation is augmented, might be more amenable to an international military force overseen by the U.N. The realities of globalization, and shifts in power balances within the international community, tied with a greater acceptance of a rule of law regime for international governance and of the need to manage conflict by consensus make clear that we have not heard the last about a global military force.

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