The idea has been strongly pursued by both Kofi Annan and Tony Blair. And there are signs that it is slowly gathering ground.
If that is the case, it’s more a sign of the absence of other ideas than of the merits of this particular one.
It is often forgotten than there is already an international force there. Even Sweden was part of UNIFIL until the early 1990’s when we decided to pull out and put a battallion into Bosnia instead.
UNIFIL has probably done some good in the smaller scale, but it’s effect on the greater scheme of things has been distinctly limited.
It’s moment of ultimate humiliation was in 1982 as the Israeli army attacked towards Beirut right through the UN lines.
Any additional force would have to be far more robust, far more numerous and with a far more credible mandate.
I fail to see this as a UN force, and the EU Battle Groups are not really designed for these sorts of missions, apart from the fact that they are not big enough. I fail to see much of a realistic alternative to the deployment of the NATO Reaction Force to the area.
It has the numbers, the training and equipment as well as the command structure to give it at the least a fighting chance.
But it needs to be augmented with some US forces. I would not recommend any government to send its forces in there without the US being present on the ground as well. We know only too well what might happen otherwise.
And so far the US isn’t really part of the NATO Reaction Force.
It will certainly be argued that NATO is already stretched very thin. Kosovo will not become easier in the immediate future – possible the other way around. And the ISAF force in Afghanistan is already struggling with too low numbers and critical shortages.
Even more difficult will be the mandate of a force.
Should it go in and just disarm Hezbollah – something the Israeli army failed to do during its 18 years of occupation of the area? Should it go there are prevent a population driven away by the Israelis from the southernmost parts from returning to their homes?
The question vividly illustrate how difficult it will be to find the answers.
I fail to see a force going in without some sort of agreement that also includes, directly or indirectly, Hezbollah. If the Israeli army is reluctant to take on Hezbollah on the ground, it is difficult to see that anyone else will be overly keen to take on that mission.
Such an agreement would probably have to include an arrangement for gradually bringing the regular Lebanese army into these areas. But one should be under no illusions that this can happen fast, and that there accordingly will be a quick exit for an international force.
Attention is now under Condolezza Rice as she will travel to the region. Her past efforts there have however had a tendency towards quick fixes that disintegrate fairly fast thereafter.
We will have to look for signs of whether it will be more serious this time.
And the best sign to look for would be to see whether she is prepared to commit US ground forces to any international force in Southern Lebanon.
If not – it risks becoming just words in the wind.