September 1, 2006

U.N. semantics

There has been lots of talk of the jockeying going on regarding the formation of the beefed up international UNIFIL force that will join the Lebanese army to patrol southern Lebanon when Israeli forces withdraw. The main topic of discussion at the moment seems to be simply numbers: who is going to supply the troops? First France was to take the lead; Chirac then backpedaled before putting forward about half of the initial estimate. In France's place, Italy has stepped in with a significant contribution, and so on.What struck me as a mistake was some specific wording that occurs in the new Resolution 1701, which when I checked, is present in many other Security Council resolutions, including the new Darfur resolution passed yesterday. When dictating the size of a peacekeeping force, the language always states: "up to X troops," which seems to me, leaves room for easy failure. 1701 calls for a UNIFIL forces "up to 15,000 troops." With the tally still below 6,000, it seems like the U.N. could state the terms have been met despite a serious discrepancy.If Security Council resolutions are supposed to be binding, wouldn't it be more useful to use language like, "no fewer than 15,000 troops"?The "up to" language needs individual nations to take the initiative. The United Nations as a body, however, was founded so that there was an institution to harness international will so that individual initiative didn't have to be relied on. "No fewer than" might help.