After nearly two weeks of paltry commitments and unrealized promises, it now looks as though Europe is finally stepping forward to commit to providing at least several thousand troops to man the UN mission in Lebanon. To learn why the stakes tied to this mission are as high for the UN as they are for Israel and Lebanon, read this.
France, after initially stepping forward to lead the force, then backing away and offering only an incremental 200 men, has now made good on something close to its original pledge, proferring 2000 troops and volunteering to lead the force. It did so after Italy moved into fill the gap, offering thousands of troops and proposing to take command. Tomorrow there’s an EU meeting where Paris and Rome will duke it out, and further commitments are expected to be forthcoming.
– The rapidly deteriorating situation in Southern Lebanon now stands a chance of being brought under control. Confidence that the international mission will come together quickly will push Israel into a posture of greater restraint.
– Petty intra-European rivalries may have done the trick to get the continent past the set of Balkan ghosts that make EU capitals reluctant to participate in dangerous and amorphous peacekeeping missions. It makes you wonder whether a European rapid reaction force under centralized command by Brussels would ever actually be deployed. That said, this is a positive step: the U.S. cannot shoulder this mission – we badly needed others to come to the fore and lead, and it appears they now will.
– The French say that their decision to pull the trigger on a bigger commitment was based on their confidence that the rules of engagement being finalized for the force are sufficiently robust. The blue-helmeted soldiers will reportedly be authorized to shoot to protect themselves, defend civilians and – critically – to disarm Hezbollah. This will make the mission potentially one of the most robust in recent UN history. A key question is how Hezbollah reacts: do they cooperate with the international forces so as to avoid global opprobrium? will they be able to maintain the appearance of non-interference while rebuilding their capabilities behind the scenes? Will they simply bet on outlasting any muscular UN force, calculating that Europe’s appetite for long-term troop commitments to the region will be limited. My guess is yes to all of the above.