As leaders in world capitals this weekend review UN planning documents for a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, they are weighing whether the stated goals are clear and achievable and whether the rules of engagement will allow them to accomplish the mission and protect their forces.
Diplomats involved in the negotiations acknowledged that efforts to create a peacekeeping force were lagging in part because of the reluctance of governments to introduce troops into a part of the Middle East with deep, unresolved political and religious conflicts.
But they said there were also hurdles beyond that concern, particularly in France, which surprised diplomats by pledging only 200 soldiers to the new force. About 50 French military engineers arrived in Lebanon on Saturday to prepare for their arrival.
Terrorist attacks drove US and French troops from Lebanon once before, in 1983.
The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because deliberations over the force were continuing, said that another issue slowing the formation of the peacekeeping mission was the experience of the failed Balkans effort of the 1990s, when European and other foreign troops wearing the blue helmet of the UN were shackled by an unwieldy chain of command that split responsibilities between national commanders and UN officials in New York.
Further, their exact mission was never made clear in that violent sectarian conflict, resulting in an ineffective and humiliating effort that failed to halt forced expulsions and mass murder and rape.
Lesson from the past
"We have to learn from the mistakes of the past, and so we do not want to revive two precedents," one French official explained in a telephone interview late on Friday.
"First was the UN forces in Yugoslavia, where in fact they were completely caught in a war in a passive way. We want to have something a little more aggressive in this regard," he said.
"We also want to avoid what happened in 1983," the official said. "We are definitely willing to keep our support for Lebanon and help the Lebanese regain sovereignty. But we cannot put our soldiers in such a harm's way that it will become a mission impossible."
To persuade governments around the world to offer up troops for Lebanon, the UN dispatched two documents -- one a "concept of operations" for the Lebanon mission, and the other the "rules of engagement" declaring how forcefully international troops may carry out the mission -- in advance of negotiations that are resuming next week over generating forces for the mission.
The first 3,500 reinforcements are to be deployed by Sept. 2.
Building a force is about more than just numbers. It is about capabilities: the right kind of troops, and how quickly they can get there with adequate training, equipment and the ability to sustain themselves on the ground.
The documents call for a force including mechanized infantry, reconnaissance and engineering battalions, military police companies and helicopters with night-vision capabilities for observation and search-and-rescue missions, according to diplomats and military experts who have studied the proposals.
Perhaps of most importance, the reinforcements are to support the Lebanese armed forces as they establish an area between the Israeli border and the Litani River that is free of armed personnel and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and the UN.