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The Wrong War at the Wrong Time

Military Might Does Not Insure Stability

by JACK SHANAHAN Vice Admiral, US Navy (Ret.)

Recent polls show that an increasing majority
of Americans are growing weary of absorbing the lion’s share
of responsibility for running the world. They sense that the
current administration’s use of military force as the primary
instrument of statecraft goes against American tradition in conducting
our relations with other nations.

While there was a "clear and present
danger" from terrorists across the globe and a need to confront
them, the Bush Administration’s obsession with Saddam Hussein
took us into the wrong war at the wrong time.

As a result, terrorists are free to act
at will on a worldwide basis while the U.S. searches for a way
out of the Iraqi morass and while most of the rest of the world
watches from the sidelines.

If we haven’t learned already, hopefully
we will by the time we extract from Iraq, that military power
does not automatically translate into political and economic
stability. We need urgently to find new approaches which, if
they cannot solve a crisis, at least will allow us to manage—with
the help of others— the problems that are surfacing as part
of an entirely new set of circumstances.

The U.S. is today the world’s sole superpower.
If it is our goal to maintain this status quo, like it or not,
the U.S. needs to use our considerable political, economic, moral,
and military influence to develop and shape a permanent "stand
alone" peacekeeping mechanism within the United Nations.

The United Nations has indicated that
it is willing to take a more active role in the fight on terrorism,
on conflict resolution and to carry out more peace operations.
The outbreak of ethnic fighting in the former Yugoslavia brought
extensive if not always successful U.N. involvement and mediation.
Elsewhere, in the Far East, in Africa, and in Central America,
U.N. supervised peace agreements have contributed to the return
of stability and encouraged regional participation in finding
solutions to regional problems.

While we and the UN should study past
operations for "lessons learned", we must carefully
avoid becoming mired by the past. The Cold War with its deep
east-west antagonisms is history. The future promises closer
cooperation among the five permanent members of the Security
Council, a promise already realized for many UN operations. Terrorism
threatens all five permanent members and so provides a pragmatic
basis for cooperation. This cooperative spirit suggests that
the Security Council, if provided adequate and experienced staff
support, can increasingly assume responsibility for peace operations
as alternatives to unilateral military action.

What the UN does not need, nor should
it have, is a standing military force. What it does need is a
series of initiatives from member nations that gives the UN,
under the direction of the Security Council and implemented by
the Secretary General, an effective peace keeping and peace enforcement
planning capability-in effect a contingency force headquarters.
Toward this end, member nations should undertake steps to:


· establish, within the Department
of Peace Keeping Operations, a legitimate contingency planning
staff to include standard staff support functions of intelligence,
communications and logistics in lieu of current ad hoc procedures.


· establish Regional Peacekeeping
Areas (RPKA). Nations within each RPKA, because they have vested
interests and posses unique knowledge and understanding of the
region’s political, economic, military and cultural undercurrents
and influences, would establish their own contingency planning
staffs similar to that of the UN. Such staffs would be empowered
to call on, deploy and serve as the headquarters for earmarked
forces designated by regional states for peace operations.


To insure that one or two locally dominant
states cannot use the RPKA for their own (as opposed to broader
regional) benefit, RPKA interventions could be restricted to
those approved by the UN Security Council.


In many parts of the world the forerunner’s
of RPKAs already exist: the OAS in the Americas, the EU in Europe,
the OAU in Africa, ASEAN in Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation
Council in the Persian Gulf. Because most of these bodies were
established without a military security element as part of their
charters, some revisions to and expansion of regional "sovereignty"
would have to be negotiated.


· earmark a variety of military
units to be available for each region. Nations would indicate
the numbers and types of armed forces each would be willing to
commit to peacekeeping (under Chapter VI of the UN Charter) or
peace enforcement (Chapter VII of the UN Charter) operations
if called upon by the Security Council. Without at least this
level of involvement, RPKA contingency plans would be a sham,
the UN (and regional organization’s) would be seen as "paper
tigers", and support plans for communications, intelligence
and logistics would be all but meaningless.


· identify a limited number of
member nations which could be called upon to provide or augment
a wide range of specialized support in the event a region cannot
muster these types of units. Specialized support functions which
come to mind are satellite communications and reconnaissance,
special intelligence, air and sea lift units, airfield control
detachments, fresh water (osmosis) units and training facilities.

If the U.S. really wants to protect its
national interests without finding itself overcommitted or having
to go it alone, we cannot avoid being a major leader in building
a more effective UN. Such a role does require unstinting political,
financial, and military support for UN peace operations. It also
demands the determination to work closely with other nations
in building flexible yet viable new structures for international
security. If we were to throw our considerable efforts into this
approach, within a few years the burden of meeting a broad range
of threats would be more equitably shared. With lower threats
would come lower military spending throughout the world and an
increase in resources available to address acute and growing
domestic challenges.

If the UN is to fulfill the promise it
held out to the world 58 years ago, it is imperative that the
U.S. take the lead in fostering UN organizational reform and
regional responsibility. We have the political, administrative
and military expertise to move the world; all we need is the
will to do so.

Jack Shanahan,
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a member of Business Leaders
for Sensible Priorities. He can be reached at: shanahan@counterpunch.org