The Urgent Need to Save Lives with Force

For a solid decade, Nato members have been debating whether to expand the alliance’s role to handle military operations beyond its borders. At the same time, several Nato members have been training armies outside the North Atlantic region, notably in Africa, to help them address their own regional crises. These efforts, sparked by conflicts such as wars in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, have produced modest benefits. Nato now runs the stabilisation mission in Afghanistan and some African forces are marginally better prepared to contribute to regional peacekeeping missions. But they have not gone nearly far or fast enough. With Afghanistan generally floundering and disasters still unfolding in Congo and Sudan, it is high time they did. Such urgency is underscored by the prospect of intervention in Sudan if its government does not meet the August 29 deadline set by the United Nations Security Council to curb militia abuses in Darfur.

The world needs to recognise that humanitarian military interventions are here to stay—and will place far greater demands on military forces than most governments have been willing to recognise. Countries should restructure their armed forces accordingly, not at the kind of modest pace that Europe has followed for a decade. The argument is strong enough on humanitarian grounds alone. But in the era of global terrorism, such intervention also has an important strategic dimension. That is because failed states can provide refuge for terrorists. In addition, western reluctance to assist beleaguered Muslim populations can breed further hatred of the west—and thus more recruits for al-Qaeda.

There is no time to wait for the US armed forces to take the lead in addressing these challenges. Regardless of who wins the US election in November, the US military will remain highly constrained given its commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. A Kerry administration might be willing to do more than the incumbent, and John Kerry has already raised the possibility of a US role in any international intervention in Sudan. But such efforts are unlikely to be sufficient.

Today’s pace of humanitarian crises is not unique. Responding to the world’s worst wars and genocides would have, by our estimates, required 100,000 -200,000 peacekeeping troops for most of the past 15 years. With or without the Iraq operation, it would never have been fair to expect more than 25 per cent of those troops to be American. To face future challenges, the Europe Union should aim to have 150,000 to 200,000 deployable troops, as a recent study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation concluded—not the 65,000 that EU leaders are aiming for. It means the US and Europe need to get serious about funding their recent Group of Eight initiative to train and equip 75,000 African peacekeepers. The world’s current focus on Iraq must not obscure the urgency of the need—even if that means straining some European forces and pushing the African Union to its limits.

In Sudan, Congo and Afghanistan, the imperative for urgent action is clear. Here and elsewhere, the international community has tolerated horrendous crimes against humanity. To address future crises, Europe—and its armies—are part of the answer. Although most European forces are badly structured for peacekeeping and intervention missions, they have some spare capacity that could even now help stabilise Congo, Sudan and Afghanistan—good alternative missions for countries unwilling to do more in Iraq. Some of America’s main allies say they are doing all they can. But in 1999 and 2000, they deployed more forces on difficult missions than they have since then—sending 60,000 troops overall to Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Today, even counting smaller missions in places such as Haiti and Liberia, the total is closer to 50,000. Specifically, major US allies have about 20,000 soldiers in Iraq, another 20,000 in the Balkans, 5,000 in Afghanistan and about 5,000 in smaller UN operations. In addition, since 2000, European countries have adopted “headline goals” of deploying and sustaining some 65,000 troops overseas. That figure does not include some key allies, notably Turkey, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea. To have any meaning, major US allies as a whole should be capable of deploying at least 75,000 troops abroad.

Our assessment of existing capacity backs up this rough estimate. In addition, the African Union is considering sending several thousand troops to Darfur. While this number is insufficient, Turkey’s military could, perhaps, complement them, creating a combination of African and Muslim forces that would lessen likelihood the that intervention would create a focal point for jihadists.

Overall, then, western allies should send some forces to Darfur to assist the African troops, and send 10,000 more to Afghanistan and at least 5,000 to Congo. Then, planners must systematically construct the capacity to handle these missions more quickly and effectively—and in a way that will not leave the international community hostage to decisions made in Washington for the urgent global task of saving lives with force.