Vital Force: A Proposal for
(Preface, Table of Contents and Executive Summary only)
Project on Defense Alternatives
The Complete Publication Available in Print
As the United Nations Security Council has found cause to expand the frequency and scope of peace operations in the post-Cold War era, long dormant ideas have reemerged for creating a UN military command, organizing a system of reliable standby forces, and establishing a standing UN military force. These ideas have also quickly encountered skepticism.
At the Project on Defense Alternatives we noted a disturbing aspect of the ensuing debate. The political issue of whether UN member states could forge the collective will necessary for clear and decisive action had become interlaced and confused with a set of questions about the facilities the United Nations would need to become a more effective instrument. We set as our task in this study to define the requirements for successful UN peace operations and to articulate the necessary components of institutional renovation and reform. In this way, we hoped to illuminate the reasons for past failure and the requirements for future success.
We conceived this study in 1992. Since then the political fortunes of the UN have taken a hard turn. Severe problems encountered in operations in Somalia and Bosnia have led to a crisis of confidence. In this light, a comprehensive statement of requirements for new era peace operations is needed more than ever, to remind the world community -- from individual citizens to great power leaders -- of what action is required if peace operations are to proceed in a responsible manner. We remain hopeful that nations will come to appreciate their stake in multinational peace operations and other cooperative security efforts. The alternative scenario -- which entails increased uncertainty, insecurity, and, possibly, the reemergence of hostile power blocks -- is one the world cannot afford.
Virtually every aspect of United Nations peace operations has been criticized in the wake of the increasing demands put on the existing apparatus for such operations and the difficulties encountered in the field. Concern has focused especially on problems affecting the authorization, planning, and execution of peace operations:
A number of proposals have been put forward in recent years for the development of a more capable UN peace operations system. Although these proposals differ in their assumptions, especially about what changes are practicable, there is some significant convergence on several initiatives that should have a place in any program of reform. The reform and reconstruction platform put forward here builds on many of these points of consensus; however, it does not seek to accommodate itself to the immediate political impediments to reform. Rather, it takes a longer-term view in which the prospects for progress are more favorable. This approach reflects not so much assertive optimism but rather recognition of the need to attend to geostrategic requirements in the design of a development program, shielded from the confusing and discordant noise of current politics. The resulting alternative offers a criterion of sufficiency and serves as a reference point for reform. Without such a criterion it is impossible to differentiate problems that are inherent in the conduct of multinational peace operations and those problems that arise due to tractable political constraints.
The essential components of the UN reform and development program described herein are:
This program addresses several key questions: First, in what types of operations should the United Nations involve itself, and how? Second, what types of new leadership and management bodies does the United Nations need in order to successfully execute these operations? And, finally, what arrangements for providing the United Nations with military assets are necessary to substantially improve the success probability of its operations?
The UN involves itself in three general types of operations involving military units: peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and full-fledged defensive wars or wars of "counter-aggression." For purposes of the proposal, peacekeeping and peace enforcement (which may involve some intermittent combat) are treated as subsets of "peace operations." Defensive wars are set apart as distinct from peace operations because of their special requirements, although they may, like the Gulf and Korean wars, be conducted formally under the authority of Chapter VII of the UN charter as "peace enforcement actions."
With regard to multinational operations, the reform program distinguishes between those directed by the United Nations and those authorized but not directed by the United Nations. The former are coordinated and managed at the highest level through the offices of the UN Secretariat. The latter are managed by a member state, an independent coalition of member states, or a regional alliance.
The program reflects the view that the UN Secretariat should develop a competence to provide initial planning, continuing support, and operational guidance for the full spectrum of peace operations -- that is, both peacekeeping and peace enforcement (which in our lexicon excludes full-fledged wars). Based on the experience of the last seven years we take as an initial statement of need an effective capability to plan, manage, and conduct between eight and fifteen peace operations simultaneously, involving a global total of between 20,000 and 120,000 troops, and including some meaningful capacity for rapid deployment. In the case of UN-authorized defensive wars, the program assumes that the United Nations will delegate all operational responsibility to regional organizations or to member states.
The program envisions giving the Security Council access to military assets in three ways: through : (I) ad hoc assignment of national units for specific operations which is the status quo, (ii) a system of "standby units" held by member states but, to varying degrees, answerable to the Security Council's call, and (iii) a standing UN legion composed of UN personnel and administered by a department of the Secretariat. The proposal assumes that all or any of the three means may be used to assemble a force for UN-directed operations.
The proposed UN legion should not be viewed as a means for supplanting traditional peacekeeping forces in the conduct of operations for which they are suited. Nor is the proposal meant to obviate the provision of peace operations forces by UN member states, on either a standby or ad hoc basis. Indeed, in the foreseeable future member states will remain the source for most UN peace-keeping units. In this light, the legion's role appears as complementary, focusing especially on the requirements for rapid deployment and for additional peace enforcement assets.
A High-level Military Advisory and Cooperation Body
In order to assist the Security Council in the development of precise and appropriate mandates for peace operations we propose the establishment of a Military Advisory and Cooperation Council (MACC). The body would also help the Security Council to interpret developments in the field and assess alternative courses of action should events require it. This body need not be a new legal entity; the functions and organization described here could infuse a revived Military Staff Committee (MSC).
All permanent members of the Security Council (SC) would have a full seat on the MACC/MSC with non-permanent SC members at least allowed to send observers. The Security Council should also grant full seats on the MACC/MSC to those nations who are routinely contributing military personnel and services to UN peace operations.
The MACC/MSC would maintain a Coalition Operations Section to assist the Security Council in monitoring UN-authorized operations conducted by member states acting outside the institutional framework of the Secretariat. The Coalition Operations Section would form a task force early in the development phase of a UN mandate for an authorized coalition action. This task force would attach small teams of officers to the lead country's central headquarters and the coalition's field headquarters. These teams would assist coalition planning staff in accurately interpreting the mandate and would serve as the coalition command staff's conduit back to the MACC and Security Council. The MACC/MSC would also serve as a "facilitator" of security cooperation by the member states. This function comprises several discrete tasks: assisting UN member states and the proposed UN Department of Peace Operations in the development of joint doctrine and in the design of joint exercises; developing and monitoring "quality and compatibility standards" for earmarked member-state military units; facilitating multinational force communication and liaison in the field by supporting the development of structures for this express purpose.
To perform these diverse tasks, the MACC/MSC would maintain three additional subordinate units:
The Office of Multinational Doctrine and Training would organize multinational working groups to develop joint doctrine covering various areas and issues in military science -- especially those pertaining to peace operations; it would coordinate a multinational staff college for mid-level officers with the aim of inculcating multinational doctrine on peace operations, increasing military-to-military contacts, and increasing cross-cultural awareness of differences in doctrine; it would form joint exercise advisory/observer groups to assist member states and the proposed UN Department of Peace Operations in planning joint exercises and deriving "lessons learned;" it would also form training support groups to develop manuals, courses, and training regimes covering areas of MACC/MSC doctrinal consensus, especially regarding peace operations.
The Office of Force Assessment and Inter-operability would serve to codify and monitor standards covering equipment, readiness, and training for those units that member states may contribute to UN peace operations. It would also maintain a multinational asset database, providing details on the quantity, quality, character, and capability of those units that member states might be willing to deploy for UN peace operations. Finally, the Field Communication and Liaison Corps would provide a modular "central nervous system" for wider multinational military cooperation among member states and the United Nations. The Corps would mainly comprise "provisional" standby units of UN member-state militaries who may participate in UN peace operations. Its aim would be to facilitate field communication and liaison down to the company level (groups of 100-200 troops) among disparate national contingents. The field liaison system would have two principal elements: first, a commercial communications network able to handle radio and cable traffic, both voice and digital, and with some capacity for secure transmission; second, command liaison teams who are expert in the use of the network, fluent in one or two command languages, and practiced in cooperation among themselves.
In the proposed system, every nation contributing to a UN peace operation would attach communication and liaison teams to their contingent. The teams would serve to horizontally link cooperating, interdependent, or physically adjacent units of different national origin at various levels. They would also link vertically. Their role would be to facilitate communication and coordination across barriers of language and military culture. The size of the teams would correspond to the size (and complexity) of the units that incorporate them. Teams of three or four persons would be adequate for companies and battalions, teams of seven or eight for brigades, and teams of twelve or more for divisions or division-size forces.
These teams would be the only member-state units required by the proposed system to be in a formal "stand-by status" -- and even then only in a provisional way: the units would be required to deploy only in the case of their nation's participating in a multinational UN operation, and only in a quantity that corresponds to the size of their national contingent.
Proposed Renovation of Secretariat Structures
Commensurate with maintaining and expanding the UN's practice of both peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, our proposal renames the Department of Peacekeeping Operations the Department of Peace Operations (DPO). A reformed UN Department of Peace Operations would have several main components:
Each of the three proposed divisions would report to its own Assistant Undersecretary. These deputies would, in turn, report to the Undersecretary for Peace Operations, as would the Office of Budget and Management and the Office of Information and Research.
The Office of Information and Research would maintain a research staff divided into regional sections, a field investigation unit, and a 24-hour situation room.
The Joint and Combined Operations Division would serve as the "home base" headquarters for all UN-directed peace operations. It provides the institutional site for staff task forces combining personnel from both UN services and from the services of member states participating in UN-directed operations, as each operation warrants.
The JCOD would divide into two offices: the Office of Field Operations, which would also serve as a planning unit, and the Office of Field Support. These offices would serve to draw together and coordinate officials from the planning, logistics, and operations units within the UN's Uniformed and Civilian Services and from comparable units of member-state militaries participating in UN operations.
The Office of Field Operations would, like the Office of Information and Research, divide into regional sections. Under these sections would be teams responsible for individual, ongoing operations who would link to their counterparts in the Office of Information and Research. This linkage could take a physical as well as organizational form in the constitution of "operational desks" for each operation. For each operation undertaken through the UN system, a staff task force would form that cuts across the offices of Field Support, Field Operations, and Information and Research.
The Uniformed Service Division and the Civilian Services Division would administer the development and maintenance of UN field assets. The Uniformed Service Division would have two subordinate "commands": Support Command and Forces Command. The Civilian Services Division would have four subordinate services: Civil Affairs, Electoral Support, Constabulary Service, and Observer and Mediation Service. Both Civilian and Uniformed Services would have their own offices of Logistics and offices of Plans and Operations.
Each of the services would command field personnel who are full-time employees of the United Nations. In their design, the two service divisions resemble the agencies of UN member states that might contribute assets to a UN operation with one critical distinction: the assets of the UN service divisions are permanently at the disposal of the Security Council for use in peace operations. They have no other competing function or orientation.
A UN Legion for the New Era
Among the current impediments to conducting effective peace operations, none is easier to see and harder to comprehend than the failure of UN member states to fulfill their pledges of support to mandated operations in an adequate and timely fashion. Member states have routinely failed to meet the levels of need estimated by the Secretariat. This failure has involved both the quantity and quality of pledged tactical and support troops. Qualitative shortfalls in deployed units have involved issues of appropriate skills and training, discipline, compatibility with the field force as a whole, and equipment and supplies on hand.
A review of recent UN operations makes clear the operational significance of these failures, especially the problem of timeliness in the initial deployment of troops and the problems of overall force size, quality, and capability. Failing to deploy a field force soon after a mandate and operational plan have taken shape will unhinge even the best planning and contribute to a divergence between political mandate and operational reality. Arranging for standby national units has been proposed as one solution to this problem, but such a system by itself or in combination with ad hoc provisioning, could not close the existing gap between requirements and capability. Pulling together a multinational assemblage of military units on an ad hoc basis takes time -- which is inimical to rapid deployment. A degree of uncertainty regarding overall force quality is unavoidable with a rapidly assembled UN force; this adds to operational risk, which is already considerable for early entry forces. If the goal is a truly rapid, multilateral capability to deploy for peace operations, there is no good substitute for a UN standing force.
The UN should develop a peace operations legion that can meet rapid deployment requirements and that can add a highly-skilled, well-equipped, cohesive, and reliable complement of troops to three or four multinational peace operations simultaneously. In all cases the UN contribution should be sufficiently large to have a determinate effect on the conduct of operations. In one or two of these simultaneous operations the UN legion should be prepared and able to play a leading or "backbone" role. Based on an analysis of the 1988-1995 high-tide period for peace operations, we calculate that a UN capability to deploy and continuously maintain 15,000 troops in the field could meet these goals. Had such a UN capability existed during the period 1988-1995 it would have substantially facilitated the achievement of UN mandated goals in Cambodia, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, Somalia, Rwanda, and the republics of the former Yugoslavia.
In order to ensure operational effectiveness in situations of potential combat, the tactical units of the field force should closely resemble typical "middle weight" military units in their equipment and capabilities. These criteria should be applied with reference to a prototypical "worst case" threat for peace operations -- which means a military or paramilitary opposition employing, at best, mid-level technology and exhibiting low- to mid-levels of organization and professionalism.
Among the basic requirements for the more difficult and dangerous types of peace operations are dedicated anti-armor assets, substantial indirect fire assets, and combat engineer capabilities. Generally speaking, the capacity of the UN field force to defend itself will rest heavily on the baseline resilience, combat capability, and mobility of its tactical units -- which should be at least as good or better on average than that of the belligerents' units -- and on the clear superiority of its C3I facilities theater-wide. Overall, the field force's margin of superiority will usually derive from its better training, discipline, leadership, intelligence, and communication.
In the proposed system, the military field units of the UN standing force would reside in two commands: Support Command and Forces Command. In addition, the legion would have base, general staff, and central support elements. Forces Command would comprise approximately 22,625 officers and troops; Support Command, about 15,775 officers and troops. The base, general staff, and central support elements would add approximately 5,350 personnel. Thus, the proposed UN standing military would comprise approximately 43,750 personnel in all. Of this total, 32,650 would be "deployable," allowing the legion to field up to 16,350 troops continuously, including some service support personnel for non-Legion civilian and military units. The proposed UN legion would constitute a military establishment somewhat larger than Denmark's or Norway's, but smaller than Portugal's or Singapore's. It would be approximately 2.5 percent as large as the present US military.
The tactical field units of the UN Forces Command would include:
The concept of "modularization" informs the legion's design. It is organized under four large brigade headquarters and with a quantity of units consistent with four brigades. Nevertheless, the units would only occasionally deploy in brigade-size packages. Instead, the legion would deploy multi functional force packages ranging in size from 500 to 15,000 troops, as the situation demanded.
Ground combat force mobility would be based on modern variants of wheeled vehicles ranging from lightly armored personnel carriers to tanks in the armored cavalry. In peace operations where local consent is uncertain, the capacity to quickly redeploy and extract UN forces will substantially reduce their vulnerability and help keep the operation from falling hostage in a political-strategic sense. Hence all infantry have some organic means of mobility -- none are simple foot infantry.
Cavalry units are present in the design in a much higher proportion than would be expected for a typical mobile force of this size. These units are equipped to fulfill the function of lightly armored strike forces. In addition, there are dedicated antiarmor units optimized for defensive operations against hostile tank forces.
A variety of combat support elements complements the primary units. To permit maximum flexibility, these are mostly of company (or battery) size or can deploy as such. We include in the force design armed scout helicopter squadrons which can serve to provide troops with light fire support, in addition to performing their primary, scout role. Equipping the helicopters of one of these squadrons with antiarmor missiles would allow it to assume a secondary antiarmor role as well. There is also a troop transport helicopter squadron providing a optional mode of transport to some of the motorized infantry units. Similarly, several antitank companies, light cavalry companies, and artillery batteries could train for air mobility.
The design includes a relatively high number of special intelligence and engineering assets and more artillery than has been the practice in peace operations forces. This weighting serves to enhance the capacity for protection and agile defense. Salvo-firing mortar units provide an efficient means of concentrating firepower in defensive operations. Reconnaissance and Surveillance platoons, which are equipped with remotely piloted vehicles, augment the tactical intelligence gathering capacity of the force. The Field Communication and Liaison teams provide a flexible means of facilitating either the incorporation of UN units into a member state's field force or inclusion of member-state units in a force led by a UN field headquarters. Also noteworthy are the legion's dozen Field Security sections. These are small, two-vehicle units designed for escort duty and site protection.
Service support units of the Support Command provide field support in several areas of need: transportation, field supply, maintenance and repair, medical services, and general services (such as postal, commissary, and kitchen). The goal guiding the design is a field structure able to sustain an operational force of 24,000 persons (UN and non-UN) -- roughly comparable to two US divisions -- and also assist in the support of up to 5,000 civilian operatives.
Capacity for Rapid Deployment Missions
A typical rapid-deployment task force might include a light mechanized infantry battalion, one self-propelled mortar battery, and one light cavalry troop (company). Personnel for such a task force would initially number approximately 1,200 troops, including some headquarters and general field support personnel. Deploying this hypothetical task force would require less than 100 C-141 transport aircraft sorties. Given a "fleet" of 18 C-141s (and double crews), the task force could confidently deploy to a site 5000 miles from its base within six days.
Bases, Personnel, and Central Staff Organization
The United Nations would lease in perpetuity from member states three or four basing sites, which would be chosen to facilitate global reach. The tactical and support field units would co-locate at the legion's bases along with the central logistics depots, medical facilities, and some training facilities. Each base would also host one or two of the field brigade headquarters. Central logistics would include large storage depots, vehicle parks, and repair facilities. The central medical staff would attach to hospitals near the home bases and would also run base clinics and health programs, oversee special medical training, and facilitate the acquisition and delivery of medical logistics.
All personnel would be volunteers recruited through a UN program operating in cooperation with member-state recruitment systems. Field officers would be recruited through this system as well, drawing on those leaving national service. Officers could also rise through the ranks of the legion. Some central staff positions could be filled by officers seconded from member-state militaries or serving a tour of duty under the full command of the UN legion chief of staff. The UN legion would maintain its own small corps of training personnel, although the legion should also draw substantially on the training programs and assets of member states. The legion's training program could also dovetail closely with that of the UN Military Advisory and Cooperation Committee.
The Central Staff would include the Assistant Undersecretary for Uniformed Services who would directly oversee an Office of Budget and Management and the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff would oversee five offices: Personnel and Administration, Development and Acquisition, Doctrine and Training, Plans and Operations, and Logistics. Attached to the Office of Doctrine and Training would be the Training Corps.
The Chief of Staff would exercise direct authority over the central staff offices, the bases, and, through two Vice-Chiefs of Staff, over the Forces and Support Commands. Brigade commanders, who are the equivalent of US war fighting commanders, would assume command of units in the field. When in the field their immediate superior would either be the Secretary-General or a designated Special Representative of the Security Council.
Estimated Cost of the Legion
The cost of maintaining the proposed legion, once it is fully developed, would be less than $2.6 billion per year (1995 USD). Additional, incremental costs associated with field operations would not exceed an average of $900 million per year, assuming full utilization of the force: 15,000 troops in the field continuously. Hence, given full utilization, the total average annual costs for the legion would equal less than $3.5 billion -- that is, less than 0.5 percent of global defense expenditures.
A deployable UN field force of the proposed size and type would have given the world community a capacity to increase peace operation deployments by nearly 25 percent in the recent peak year of 1994. It would have allowed adequate rapid deployment in all of the major operations of the 1988-1995 period and it would have contributed to the most demanding of those operations a well-trained, well-equipped, cohesive "backbone" force designed specifically to meet the challenges of multinational peace operations.
Under current practice, individual member state preferences put idiosyncratic limits on unity of command, operational resources, and the quality of forces available to the UN. No amount of change to UN procedures and structures by itself can overcome the deficit and confusion caused by these policies. Member states must make a collective decision to address the problems of peace operations in a committed manner. Our proposal serves to illustrate a practical way forward to a more effective UN -- a way available when the political will emerges.
"Vital Force: A Proposal for the Overhaul of the UN Peace Operations System" Project on Defense Alternatives, Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, Originally posted on 22 October 1995 Journal of Humanitarian Assistance http://www.comw.org/pda/rmono4.htm
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