World powers must not let Lebanese ceasefire fail

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2006, 12:00am

Guns should fall silent across Lebanon today as a UN Security Council-negotiated ceasefire to bring almost five weeks of fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerillas takes effect. There is no guarantee that this will happen, of course - rebels are by nature disrespectful of authority and Israel has vowed to answer threats against its civilians with brute force if the truce is not immediately respected.

That stepped-up battles greeted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's announcement of the resolution on Saturday could be interpreted as boding ill for peace; he had, after all, coupled the speech with a suggestion that the sides lay down their arms immediately to respect the spirit and intent of the decision.

Such pessimism should be put aside, however, because although the ceasefire has been called to stop the killing of Israeli and Lebanese civilians - more than 1,000 of whom have died already - the ramifications are of a far wider nature. At issue is the credibility of the security council.

For this reason, none of the council's permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US - can afford to have the truce fail. For the sake of their desire to ensure global stability, they must see the resolution carried out to the letter.

That means bringing the ceasefire into effect as quickly as possible and putting 15,000 foreign peacekeepers and an equal number of Lebanese troops into place in southern Lebanon. Israel must pull back its forces to Israeli territory and the Lebanese government must ensure that Hezbollah militias are disarmed and neutralised. Then, a process to bring permanent peace to the region must begin.

In the weeks leading to Saturday's resolution, such resolve was mostly lacking. Vested interests, disagreement and an absence of will marked the council's initial inaction. Only when international outrage at the loss of civilian life and destruction of Lebanon became overbearing did council members move towards the agreement that they should have swiftly come to at the outset.

Such behaviour is shameful for an organisation claiming to promote the peace and stability of the world's people. While under the UN's watch, hundreds of thousands of lives in Israel and Lebanon have been destroyed or disrupted. Lebanon, a nation that has experienced too much hardship through civil war and conflict with Israel, must again be rebuilt.

With its resolution, the security council has shown that it is not entirely toothless. Now, for the sake of its worth in international eyes, it must do its utmost to ensure the Israeli and Lebanese governments and Hezbollah comply and move towards a lasting peace.

The world's most powerful nations have no choice other than to make their pledge become reality: they owe it to the innocent people in Israel and Lebanon caught up by procrastination and inaction.