Edward Gibbon wrote, “As long as the same passions and interests subsist among mankind, the questions of war and peace, of justice and policy, which were debated in the councils of antiquity, will frequently present themselves as the subject of modern deliberation.”

To a career soldier there is something incongruous in the business of “peacekeeping.” Offensive action is a principle of war, and the need to submerge that instinct in a bland neutrality calls for more than ordinary self-control. That Canada has come to play a leading role in this novel activity derives from the initiative of Lester Pearson when he was Secretary of State for External Affairs at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. When he suggested using lightly armed forces to keep belligerents apart, the concept of United Nations peacekeeping was born. Since then, Canada has participated in every U.N. peacekeeping mission as well as supporting non-U.N. missions such as the multinational observer force in the Sinai Desert, two missions in Indochina and Vietnam, and the European Community’s military monitor expedition in the former Yugoslavia.

It was there, after the United Nations assumed a protection role in 1992, that Canada’s Major General Lewis MacKenzie was sent as UNPROFOR’s chief of staff. Now retired (at his request) and running his own communications company in a suburb of Toronto, Lew MacKenzie exhibits all the characteristics of the professional infantry soldier: literate, practical, inventive, courageous, and, fortunately for all who want to see the U.N. improve its operations. both outspoken and articulate. Last year, HarperCollins (Canada) issued a paperback edition of his 1993 book. Peacekeeper: The Road to Sarajevo, which one reviewer rightly called “a first-rate primer for anyone trying to make sense of the continuing barbarity in the former Yugoslavia. . . . MacKenzie has a storytelling knack that eats up the pages.” MacKenzie’s book is a faithful guide to what happened, but its core value consists in the conclusions he draws, especially as they relate to American policy and attitudes toward the United Nations.

When I spoke to him last September, he was busy moving (“Our thirty-first move” will strike a chord with serving and ex-service readers), but he took time to enlarge upon the views he had expressed not long before to the United States Congress. There, he remarked that “dealing with Bosnia was like dealing with three serial killers—one had killed fifteen, one had killed ten and one had killed five.” This was at the time when NATO air strikes were in progress. In his view, the strikes and the United States-brokered plan for Bosnia “offer only one thing: the demise of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a nation and the emergence of two entities dominated by Serbia and Croatia.”

MacKenzie’s advice to the United States—that it refrain from committing ground forces to U.N, “peacekeeping” missions—has a solid historical base. In 19?6, when the rise of Hitler threatened the peace again, Winston Churchill reflected on the United States’ entry into the Great War on April 6, 1917—what Major General J.F.C. Fuller called “the most fateful day in European history since Varus lost his legions.” Churchill told William Griffen, editor of the New York Enquirer: “If you hadn’t entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany . . . and if England had made peace early in 1917, it would have saved over one million British, French, American and other lives.”

History repeats itself, but rarely in the same way. In the late 1990’s, wars are as prevalent as ever, but they are local and factional, and the force that stops them from spreading is not the United Nations, nor any perceivable lessening of mankind’s imperfections: it is the fact of the United States’ preponderant military power, of the various factions’ understanding that it can be deployed anywhere in the world with remarkable speed and efficiency, and their consequent desire to avoid at all costs the risk of its being deployed against them rather than their opponents.

This, MacKenzie points out, is the key both to United States policy and to a successful bolstering of the U.N.’s capacity to temper the excesses of mankind’s interests and passions. He said, “I tried to explain this in the last chapter of my book, which is why I called the chapter ‘Message to America'”:

Peacekeeping is no place for U.S. front-line soldiers. If America is foolhardy enough to put troops on the ground in Bosnia-Herzegovina, they will be used as bargaining chips. There’s no point in warlords killing Canadians or Swedes. It doesn’t make the headlines and there’s really nothing Canada or Sweden can do about it. But if Croats killed U.S. soldiers, and made it look as if the Serbs did it, or if Serbs killed some and made it look as if the Muslims did it—then they’d get the world’s attention. In other words, most of us who serve on peacekeeping missions come from countries that cannot project military power at a strategic level. But of course the Americans can do that and the belligerents know it. So they will try everything they can to get the U.S. to intervene on their side. That’s why it would be wrong— and certainly unfair to American soldiers—for the U.S. to get itself involved in U.N. Chapter 6 peacekeeping missions; they would face a much higher degree of risk than the rest of us simply because they would be pawns in the belligerents’ games.

Chapter 6 missions deal with “the pacific settlement of disputes.” In them, U.N. soldiers do not use force except in self-defense, all parties to the conflict consent to U.N. involvement, and the U.N. force is completely impartial. (When MacKenzie first went to Zagreb, he was welcomed by a former Toronto resident who was then Croatia’s Minister of Communications and who greeted him with the news that he had called the Croatian community in Toronto the night before to say that they were now in good hands; there was a Canadian general in UNPROFOR. MacKenzie recalls saying, “Thanks, I’ll be as fair as possible,” while reflecting that it would be hard to persuade the belligerents that the U.N. forces were U.N. first, and Canadian, Russian, Nigerian, or whatever, a distant second.)

Chapter 7 missions come under “action with respect to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression,” examples being the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the Coalition Force/U.N. operation in Somalia, where U.N. forces take sides and use as much force as necessary to win while keeping their own casualties to a minimum.

In MacKenzie’s view, the United States has the opportunity to harmonize its political misgivings about the U.N.’s usefulness with its traditional instinct to serve the cause of peace. The misgivings stem legitimately from evidence of bureaucratic bunglings at the United Nations, and a resulting reluctance to get enmeshed in them or to help subsidize the perpetrators. On the other hand, the United States military is superbly capable of mounting and executing at short notice precisely the kind of mobile operation which could fill gaps in U.N. peacekeeping missions that now are bleeding the U.N.’s effectiveness.

For example, logistical support. Many countries fail, or are unable, to send their components self-contained. With UNPROFOR, Nepal’s battalion arrived with no vehicles. Eventually these were supplied bv Germany, but without the necessary spare parts and maintenance personnel. Within UNPROFOR, there were six different headquarters, all of them deficient for months in items they needed to function. Then again, while the role of officer observers became increasingly important, they lacked the vehicles and radios that were critical to the job. As MacKenzie wrote: “Lives were put at risk as the observers were forced to go on patrol one vehicle at a time, when pairs of vehicles were absolutely necessary for safety.”

Another serious gap in logistical support is caused by the U.N.’s obligation to rent ships and aircraft as cheaply as it can, which makes any coordinated—and militarily effective—effort almost impossible. Often, UNPROFOR had troops and equipment arriving unannounced at places up to 300 kilometers apart.

Intelligence gathering also, especially from satellite imagery and monitoring data and voice transmissions, is a much needed, but sadly neglected, function. For the first three months at Sarajevo, UNPROFOR had to depend on the BBC’s World Service for intelligence!

In short, if it chose to, the United States could give the U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts the logistical muscle they lack now by supplying it in kind rather than in cash and at the same time keeping what MacKenzie calls “an audit trail” to ensure that operations were carried out with the economy of effort which should govern all military endeavors. He concludes: “It is not the United States’ responsibility to police the world for the U.N. when the going gets rough. But, regrettably, it could become America’s destiny by default if the U.N. does not adapt to its new and challenging role.”