MARK DAVIS: Jean-Marie Guehenno, welcome to Dateline.
There were some 400 or 500 people dead virtually at the feet of UN forces in the Congo. What does this say about the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping forces?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO, HEAD OF UN PEACEKEEPING: Well, Congo is a very big country that was in a tragic war for several years and when you look at the situation today, and what the situation was a year ago, I think that the change is very much in the right direction.
But if you want peacekeeping to be effective you have to have the resources to support the mandate and that’s what presently we’re asking the Security Council to give us.
MARK DAVIS: You say at present it’s looking OK, but this was an absolute tragedy which the retreating Ugandan forces predicted. Did you ever think this plan was going to work?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: We managed to bring a significant multinational force in a very short time. While that force was being expected, we had a battalion that considerably limited the number of casualties. I mean, I think everybody would agree that without that presence there would have been thousands and thousands of people killed.
MARK DAVIS: But the point is this – was the force significant enough? This goes to the very credibility of any UN peacekeeping mission. The International Crisis Group in its most recent report has said that the UN mission was totally incapable of fulfilling its mission.
Wasn’t that apparent? I mean there is just with the benefit of hindsight but to various experts including neighbouring countries, this was on the cards.
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: What was on the cards was that without significant forces, this would not be stopped and the Security Council was repeatedly informed of the situation. I think there have been other massacres unfortunately in Congo.
I think this one was stopped because we did deploy a first Uruguayan battalion and then convinced the Security Council to deploy a multinational force because there there was no peace to keep, there was a peace to enforce and that’s why we needed a multinational force.
MARK DAVIS: In a way this couldn’t come at a worse time for you with the United States attacking the UN, in particular its peacekeeping and military operations, and Australia is also echoing that.
Is this a reflection of the criticism of UN peacekeeping missions – that they don’t have enough power, they don’t have enough will, they don’t have enough force?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: I think that we have demonstrated in recent years actually that UN peacekeeping is getting much stronger. I mean, in Sierra Leone, 2.5 years ago we were in a great crisis and then we have been able to redress the situation, to have free elections.
In Bosnia we handed over a police that everybody recognises as the best part, the most effective institution in Bosnia at the moment. We handed over that police to the European Union.
In Ethiopia, in Eritrea, we deployed a force that has also stabilised the situation. So I think actually when you look at UN peacekeeping today, you don’t see a crisis you see improvement.
MARK DAVIS: You were at the meeting between Kofi Annan and George Bush on Monday. This was their first meeting after six very tense months. What was the mood there?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: It was very constructive. I think there is a recognition of the importance of the United Nations for a number of crises. The United Nations will not solve all the crises, it will not solve them when the Security Council is in disagreement.
But there are many places in the world where there is agreement in the Security Council. For instance, Liberia was discussed and clearly there is an emerging consensus there in the sense that probably a peacekeeping mission will be needed in Liberia and I think the atmosphere was actually quite good.
MARK DAVIS: On the question of Liberia, George Bush said that the US may provide some troops but he added very pointedly that they will not be “blue helmeted”. Now, apart from any obvious tensions over Iraq, what’s your understanding of the American administration’s apparent antagonism for the UN and for your section of the UN in particular?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: Well, I think in the United States – I mean for a while the US have not been willing to commit troops under UN command, but we see the US very supportive, as I said, on Congo. We see them actually quite supportive on a number of other missions.
There is a recognition that the United Nations, if I may say, are a force multiplier for a peacekeeping. They bring the international community together and that’s very helpful because no country can manage all crises around the world and when countries come together under the UN aegis and with the Security Council authority, it makes things easier to handle.
MARK DAVIS: Well, that sounds fine in theory but is this what’s really being played out at the moment? We’ve now had the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld proposing a new peacekeeping force under US control. What do you believe of the feasibility of that plan is and where does it leave your division of the UN?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: I think – I mean the reaction we get from many countries when we ask them for troops is that they are actually quite comfortable to serve under the UN flag.
I think there is an issue in the sense that we get much more countries from the developing world ready to serve under the UN flag than from the developed world who have become more used to coalitions of the willing.
MARK DAVIS: But this is a very dramatic transition that’s occurred. ‘The coalition of the willing’ slogan, if you like, is the phrase of the moment. So you are comfortable with this shift where America is proposing that they will put forces in under their own control? That’s a situation you’re comfortable with?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: Well, I think there is nothing new there. NATO has existed for 50 years. I mean, there will always be situations where there is an alliance and countries which have the same view of the world join in an alliance and there will be other situations where the UN with its universality will bring countries which do not belong in the same alliance together and I think it’s actually quite important.
MARK DAVIS: Well lastly, perhaps, Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has damned multilateral actions by the UN as ineffective and unfocused. Have you or Kofi Annan responded to that charge?
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: Well, Australia is still very much in Timor, and we welcome that, and we hope Australia will stay engaged in peacekeeping because it has made a remarkable contribution and I think we would all be disappointed if Australia moved away from UN peacekeeping.
MARK DAVIS: Jean-Marie Guehenno, thanks for joining us.