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Debate: United Nations Standing Army

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Should the United Nations have its own permanent standing army?

Background and context

A standing army is a permanent military force, entirely under the command of a single authority. This is almost always a national government, although in the past European colonial companies sometimes maintained their own private military forces, as did feudal barons and warlords (for example, in China in the 1920s). At present the UN has no military force of its own to send on peacekeeping or peacemaking missions, instead it has to gather together troops and equipment volunteered by member states on an ad hoc basis for each individual crisis.It is important for the Proposition to define the motion effectively. They need to ensure that their proposal would deliver an army fully under the control of the UN; if individual states could pull troops out of it when they chose to (for example because they disagreed with the objective of a particular mission), then it is not really a UN standing army. Issues to be considered include how large the force would be, what military capabilities it would have (e.g. would it have air and sea power?), how it would be recruited, how it would be funded and where it might be based. To what extent it would add to or replace the existing methods of raising troops should also be considered; long term peacekeeping missions (for example, in Cyprus or Bosnia) might still be undertaken by detachments volunteered by individual states, while the UN Standing Army would be largely deployed to deal with short-term crises and could thus be relatively small.

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Need: Is a new military system in the UN necessary?

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Yes

  • The current peacekeeping forces are not enough. A reform in the system of UN military missions is necessary. The peacekeeping forces in the status quo take too long to activate, and are often short of expectations. They rely too much on each country's individual situation and promises, which makes the system unstable. This has led to failures in Central Africa, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. A UN standing army would be permanently available, stable, and have quick reactions to crises, which will lead to quick solvency.
  • There is need for a professional army. Many of the standards for selecting peacekeeping forces in the status quo are inadequate. There are forces employed from countries where the government violates human rights, and this leads to the risk of these forces committing human rights violations in the areas they are sent to for peacekeeping missions. The current criteria for selecting soldiers is nearly nonexistent, and a professional standing army will eliminate this problem.
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No

  • A UN standing army is unnecessary; in many cases UN missions are very successful; when there are problems these are more to do with lengthy and difficult Security Council deliberations, inadequate mandates, etc. rather than how long it took to gather a force together.Once a standing army exists, it provides the UN with an easy way out in any crisis, so force may be more likely to be used, often inappropriately. A very rapid response time may also worsen problems - currently the time it takes to gather and insert a UN force may provide a period in which the warring groups feel compelled to negotiate before outside intervention becomes a reality.
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Justification: Does a standing army fit the purpose and nature of the UN?

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Yes

  • A standing army is necessary to promote international security. One of the United Nations' stated goals is to promote international security. However, as the current peacekeeping forces are not fulfilling this goal, a standing army that can do so will be the answer. The justification for the United Nations to creat a standing army will also be derived from the stated purpose of achieving international peace and security.
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No

  • A standing army can threaten the protection of international security.
  • The United Nations does not have the right to create a standing army. Maintenance of a standing army involves taxing and imposing on member states. The United Nations' chartered mission statement has no mention of the United Nations having the right to do this.
  • The status quo is sufficient to fulfill the UN goal of international security. The peacekeeping forces are the most action that the United Nations can take within its rights to fulfill the goal of international security. They come together when crises arrive and mainly help civilian protection and negotiations.
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Practicality: Is it possible to create a standing army?

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Yes

  • There is a sufficient supply of forces to constitute a standing army.
  • There is considerable political will and support on the part of UN member states.
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No

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Politics: How would a standing army affect the UN's political nature?

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Yes

  • A UN standing army would be independent of the great powers and so more likely to be respected as a neutral peacemaker and peacekeeper; contrast this to the perceived differences in attitude between troops from Britain, the US, Russia and France to warring sides in the Balkans. It would also be free of accusations of meddling and self-interest that accompany the participation of troops from neighbouring states in UN interventions (for example, Nigeria in West African missions).
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No

  • UN should not turn into a government-like institution. Essentially only governments have standing armies, so this plan would inevitably make the UN more like a world government – and one which is not democratic and where a totalitarian state has veto power over key decision-making. This means a standing army may actually be counter-productive, impairing current perceptions of the UN’s selfless neutrality, undermining its moral authority and its ability to broker peace agreements.
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Effectiveness: Will a standing army be more effective than the current UN military system?

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Yes

  • A UN standing army would be more effective than the troops staffing many missions under the current system. At present most UN operations are supplied by developing nations who hope to make a profit from the payments they receive for their services, but who are under-equipped and badly trained. A UN standing army would be better prepared in both respects and its soldiers would have greater motivation as they would have made a choice to enlist, rather than being conscripts. A single UN force would also have better command and control than in current situation, when different national forces and their commanders often fail to work effectively together in the field. Successful forces such as the French Foreign Legion, the Indian army and the Roman army show that issues of language and culture need not be problems in combat situations.
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No

  • Differences in language, culture, etc. will seriously mar operational effectiveness, especially in combat situations. In addition, in a truly multinational force there will always be a great many individual soldiers who could be suspected of taking sides in a particular conflict (e.g. Muslims or Orthodox Christians in the Balkan conflicts); are such soldiers to be pulled out from particular mission, thereby perhaps weakening the whole force?A UN army might also end up being very poorly equipped, for if the advanced military powers start to see the UN as a potential rival or adversary, they will refuse to sell it their best arms and armour.
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Costs: How will a standing army affect the world economy?

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Yes

  • A UN standing army would bring benefits to the world economy through avoiding the costs of refugee crises and other humanitarian disasters. These costs are both direct (through aid) and indirect (as developed nations often become the destination of illegal immigrants fleeing conflicts at home, e.g. Sri Lankans and Kurds). War also disrupts trade and thus damages the global economy, while a greater confidence that war can be avoided in future will encourage more long-term investment and thus greater prosperity. Member states providing troops for current UN missions are paid for their services, so a UN standing army would not be much more expensive that the present system.
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No

  • The cost of such an army would be very high, especially if it were to include purchase of air and sea transport to reach theatres of operation, added to the high costs of permanent establishment and training, and equipping the force for every possible type of terrain. At present the UN can draw upon different kind of troops for different kinds of missions from whatever member states feel best equipped to deal with a particular situation.
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Peace: How will a standing army help solve world crises?

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Yes

  • Although other reforms of the UN may be desirable in their own right, without involving the creation of a standing army they will not address the central problems of peacekeeping. Proposals for a rapid reaction force may speed up the arrival of troops a little, but it will still make the UN dependent upon the goodwill of member states; if they choose not to participate in a particular mission, then the usual long delays and inadequate forces will result.
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No

  • If it is granted that the UN currently reacts too slowly to crises, alternatives for an improved response could be implemented without resorting to a standing army. A Rapid Reaction Force made up of fast-response units from member states with elite military capability, pledged in advance for UN operations, would build upon the best features of the current system. Security Council reform to remove the veto powers from the Permanent 5 members would allow deadlocks in decision-making to be rapidly broken and avoid the compromises which produce weak mission mandates. An improved prediction capability through better intelligence and analysis, and central logistical planning at UN headquarters would allow forces to be assembled and mandates drafted before problems became full-blown crises. Security Council rules could be changed so that resolutions requiring force could not be passed until troops have been pledged in advance.
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Pro/Con Resources

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Yes

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No

See also

External links and resources

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