The Gurkhas are just what is needed for the base of a U.N. force: Gurkhas could be the heart of the world's first real police force
Time and again, the United States has pledged help to strengthen peacekeeping capabilities in Africa and elsewhere.
Fierce fighting raged in Darfur, leaving 200,000 dead and 2 million homeless. There are also continuing conflicts in Angola, Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia, not to mention similar flare-ups in East Timor and Haiti. After its tragic experience in Vietnam, the U.S. has shown little inclination to intervene militarily in regional conflicts abroad. Instead, it is looking for opportunities to back off on some of its ongoing overseas commitments.
The U.S. cannot and should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, the United Nations should play a greater and more assertive role in dealing with conflicts that can escalate to imperil the stability of an entire region. The U.N. should be in a position to organize, maintain and deploy in a crisis a sizable force anywhere in the world.
The idea of a U.N. standing force to intervene where fighting threatens isn't new. It was included in the organization's charter in 1945, but was never carried out because of the Cold War. With the demise of the Soviet Union, it needs reviving now along the old lines of traditional military contributions from members. The idea may yet win more adherents, but today's circumstances show that a new approach is needed.
Instead, the U.N. should have a permanent fighting force in readiness, loyal to its flag and to no state, that would be supplemented by national contributions, particularly in logistics. It just so happens that a perfect base exists - the Gurkhas, the doughty units from Nepal's martial tribes who have served with distinction in the British Army since 1814, and have given an outstanding account of themselves. Intrepid and fierce, they are regarded as among the finest soldiers in the world.
There are many reasons why the Gurkhas can form the heart of the world's first real police force. A major reason is that nobody hates them, and they don't hate any ethnic group, country or religion.
In the early 1990s, there were nearly 10,000 well-trained Gurkhas in the British Army - 1,000 in Brunei, 1,500 based in the United Kingdom, some deployed in Cyprus, Kuwait and Belize, and 5,000 in Hong Kong when it reverted to China in 1997. In addition, there are about 65,000 more Gurkhas in the Indian Army, paid on a similar scale, and no shortage of recruits eager to take on a foreign military career.
The export of soldiers has been an important source of income for Nepal in the form of pensions and remittances from the soldiers to their families.
The Gurkhas have a reputation for being well-disciplined, doggedly loyal to their superior officers, respectful of families and not at all mean. They don't go berserk on the battlefield and commit atrocities, as soldiers from other countries have done for ethnic or other reasons of enmity.
Some would call the Gurkhas mercenaries: the British Army gags at the thought, pointing out that they have been enlisted by agreement with the government of Nepal. But mercenaries - troops serving no state - are exactly what the U.N. needs, for the same reason the Vatican hired Swiss Guards in medieval times so that its protectors would be beholden to no other masters.
In addition to logistical support, a Gurkha force would need a command structure. The highest rank any has reached under the British is lieutenant colonel. Most are in the infantry, some are in engineering units and others are signal specialists. None are men of the high-tech rocketry, armor and aviation forces that overwhelmed Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, but that isn't what a standing U.N. force is most likely to require.
It needs well-trained professional soldiers willing to go in and restore peace, primarily in brush-fire wars in difficult parts of the world.
Should they be sent without the invitation of a host government? That big political decision underlies the idea of a new, purposeful international law that puts certain principles above untouchable national sovereignty.
The Gurkhas are just what is needed for the base of a U.N. force, and no doubt they are willing. Certainly, they are able.
Menandro M. de Mesa, a former Philippine diplomat living in Kissimmee, is a founder of the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial at the Kissimmee lakefront park.
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June 15 2006 Toronto Star [via Coalition for Darfur] - United Nations: "Army" Proposal to be Presented: This week, a group of academics, former officials and security experts are tabling a proposal they hope will change that by creating an international rapid reaction force that could be deployed within 48 hours of a green light from the United Nations.
June 16 2006 Opinion piece at Townhall.com by Mary Katharine Ham, former Senior Writer and Associate Editor for Townhall.com - We're From the U.N. and We Want Your Guns - President Ronald Reagan once said that the scariest nine words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."