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Prof. Maria Luisa Maniscalco


1. Stabilization after the conflict: the role of the MSU in favour of a sustainable peace

This intervention presents some thoughts that see in the MSU an important stepping stone in the development of pacifying interventions structured in armed missions.These interventions follow a consolidated path, but not a unique and unchangeable model; indeed their forms and assets undergo continuous transformations that may be understood in the light of the new concept of peace now widespread throughout the international community. The MSU - as an example of an armed force taking on civilian security tasks within the government of a complex crisis - represents an important innovation.

They are the linkage between purely military deployments - not institutionally trained to maintain public order - and civil police missions, established without operational tasks, only to monitor and train local police. In this way they fill a competence vacuum and co-operate in the stabilization in favour of a peaceful and sustainable order. However, they also widen the tasks of the Armed Forces by facing complex challenges and putting new requests for social and cultural legitimacy. For these new tasks abroad the Carabinieri Corps can count on a heritage of experience build up in decades of activity in favour of civilian populations. MSUs are important tools of international and military politics for Nato and especially for Italy, the sole country apt to fully express the capacity autonomously.


2. A proactive concept of peace

We cannot conceptually frame this issue unless we briefly consider the transformation of the concept of peace. The issue of peace is in modern times completely different to what it was in the past. Not only absence of war, but also the need to build up and organize pacified, non-violent relations among state bodies and between populations and groups. As Howard maintains, it is only in the last two hundred years that peace “has been considered by political leaders a feasible and desirable end”. Only the twentieth century, however, has seen the rise of international institutions designed for the promotion and the safeguard of peaceful relations among states: the Society of Nations after the war and later the UNO and the invention of a particular use of armed forces for peacekeeping tasks.

Peacekeeping operation procedure was an important innovation introduced by the United Nations at a time, that of the cold war, when we feared an escalation of conflicts that could have involved the superpowers, engaged in a harsh hegemonic confrontation, an apocalyptic conflict. Right from the start these operations followed a technique in continuous evolution - in fact we speak of several generations - developing as an important “response” to the turmoil of the international system and articulating in complex interventions, involving coalitions with a variable geometry or regional organizations. Peacekeeping as a phenomenon of an essentially customary nature, proved particularly adaptable to the challenges represented by the different typologies of conflicts.

The deep significance, that is the possibility/will to limit conflicts and establish peace meaning pacified and non-violent relations has always remained the same. Starting in the 90’s of the century just ended the increase of a new typology of conflicts - inter-ethnic and inter-state - caused public institutions in vast regions to collapse and flung populations into total anarchy, favouring the rise of true and proper counterpowers linked to organized criminality. It was thus necessary to accompany the peace process with the support to the political and administrative reconstruction of the country. In fact, private violence - typical of inter-state conflicts - has a capillary character, linked to individual emotional conditions; it can be fought only by succeeding in reconstructing an adequate social tissue and a context of legitimacy and trust in public institutions.

The rising role of civil components (both as victims, agents of the conflict and as an important resource to overcome it) produced at an operational level the diversification of intervention tools employed within peace support activities, with the introduction of measures apt to favour the cessation of violence as well as social reconciliation, support to democratic institutions, safeguard of human rights, promotion of development processes. A civil war, in fact, needs a “civil peace” that no treaty can guarantee if the communities concerned do not agree with the political solution. The reconstruction of a strong, influential institutional order, legitimated and inspired by shared values is the first step for the rise of a pacified civil society. The tasks of peace missions have further widened and the measures to be adopted during the aftermath of the conflict have been given the utmost importance.

Peacebuilding represents the category under which multifarious measures are reconsidered - political, administrative and social - designed to produce the conditions for a peaceful and better life in war torn societies, thus attempting to prevent the outbreak of a new conflict. In this stage, activities designed to strengthen the role of the law and guarantee the maintenance of public order and the safeguard of human rights and dignity are particularly important. The influence of this new trend in international crisis management policies may be summarized in what Ambassador Brahimi in August 2000 told a small number of European journalists “... the peacekeepers of the future will be policemen, judges appointed to restore law and order, officers for the defense of human rights”.


3. MSU: characteristics and specificity

Some years before the above declaration during the Balkan crisis a new operational concept arose in the use of multinational contingents in crisis areas with particular reference to police components. The need for new intervention tools stemmed from the difficulties encountered in the stabilization of the peace process in the area, also due to the widely branched organized criminality, capable of influencing political matters and deeply pollute the economic and social tissue of the population. For this reason and in view of the increasing need for public order, unsettled by the numerous protests following the return of refugees and the commemorations for the massacres occurred during the recent conflict, in February 1998 during a Nato foreign minister meeting it was decided to create a professional police force, of a military kind, specially trained to operate in situations of great instability.

The establishment of a Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU) was thus authorized, that is a special international police force with a military status based on an absolutely new concept. Among the main innovations, the MSU was characterized by mobility and flexibility; moreover it had formal information gathering and investigation powers, anti-riot training and was adequately equipped to intervene in the management of the civil aspects of the crisis.

The MSU SFOR was responsible for the entire Bosnian operation theatre. The unit represented an important linking element between purely military deployments and civil police missions formed only to monitor, train and mentor local police, without operational tasks, thus bridging a dangerous security gap. The collection of information and the investigative aspect, together with the extreme pliability in adapting and moving, are only some of the most important elements characterizing the MSU: where the normal functioning of institutions and local and regional stability and security is at risk because of organized criminality, marked by great violence and a widespread conflictuality between individuals and groups, the fight to restore full lawfulness needs special tools. Moreover, when former enemies continue to live together after the peace treaty, when groups of refugees have to be reintegrated into the social tissue, national reconciliation is gradual and difficult.

It has to be carefully supported and monitored even by a judiciary system and an efficient police. The aim is to wok for a sustainable peace, a peace acknowledged and accepted by the populations concerned.


4. Complexity of peace processes

MSU carry out a special and original military function that may be defined as one of “ordinary police”: to guarantee order and security of the territory where friendly military forces offer their services in favour of the civilian population. It thus contributes to the rise of a social tissue and the creation of conditions where mutual trust may emerge. Peace, as a complex and variable process, means a gradation of stability conditions varying within a vast range at the base of which there is a residual component of conflict and where at a higher level social harmony prevails. The enactment of a peace process must thus consider the two polarities - conflict and peace - as elements of a continuum; this means that the cessation of the most violent hostilities obtained through cease fire agreements and treaties, does not mean that peace has been attained, but only an inalienable starting point.

A peace process is like a puzzle that has to be put together piece by piece, never certain of being able to complete it. It is possible to reach solutions capable of sustaining lasting progress towards peace only by acting on multifarious complementary levels. At the end of long and violent conflicts the social atmosphere remains rather overheated; aggressiveness is high because it has become a habit, for the frequent collapse of public institutions and lastly for the need for revenge and retaliation. When the opportunities of our daily life are at risk for a long period, when exposure to physical violence is high and frequent, when being attacked is an every day experience, aggression, torture and killings become normal. Even when an agreement on the main aspects of the conflict is reached conflicting attitudes may lie latent in the population. Trivial events sometimes represent the spark that triggers off the flames of new devastating fires. Recent events in Kosovo and throughout the Balkan region offer good examples of this. A first fundamental step consists in creating the necessary security to interrupt the vicious circle of mutual fear and crossed revenge.

In such situations it is important to offer a “healthy” security as an alternative to the one guaranteed by the various local leaders risen in the aftermath of combats or to the security that each individual tries to obtain in various ways, by having weapons and an attitude of compromise aimed exclusively at his own survival. By promoting an impartial and general safeguard of the population, peace forces operate in view of interrupting the spiral of violence, cooling off the conflict, taking the burden of self-defense off citizens. They can stop the spiral of private revenges, especially common when the administration of justice and public security is lacking or scarce. The restoration of conditions of collective security influences those mechanisms that strengthen the power positions of the war lords: moral pragmatism, violence as a means for survival, strength as the measure of human and social capacities, limited and sectarian solidarity as a safeguard from danger, armed force as the means to subdue enemies.

Where the social tissue is disintegrated and degraded, the presence of special tools, such as the MSU for instance, should contribute to the creation of trust in the institutions and in the community and give rise to social and economic mechanisms of an operational kind. No external intervention can replace the will of the parties and it is a matter of acting as carefully as possible. In fact, the interruption of a period of conflict, though wanted and accepted, represents a crisis for the population, and the longer the conflict and the more the emotional involvement and the resources employed, the greater the crisis; it is a matter of restructuring and converting a social order, though destructive as it may have been, (also for the gradual impoverishment at economic and cultural level) had some kind of balance. Mention should be made of the disarmament issue and reintegration of combatants and paramilitary forces, that is of a relevant part of the population that drew its means of material survival and rewards in terms of status from the conflict; mention must also be made of the reconversion of war economy and the various correlated activities.


5. The Carabinieri Corps and the MSU

The peculiarity of domestic crises and crises among states show that one of the prioritarian aims of international interventions is the development of institutional reconstruction and assistance. Consequently in recent years the Carabinieri Corps has been called to an ever more qualified participation as regards professionalism in the double identity of Armed Force and Police Force with a military asset. To this end the Carabinieri have developed the Specialized Multinational Units (MSU), a police force with a military asset, integrated into the traditional military tool and possessing professional skills typical of police forces. The establishment of MSU within an institutional military ambit - which has no apparent direct connection with the ordinary police function - has not been easily accepted by everyone (until recently Anglo-Saxon countries considered the MSU as a specialized military police unit).

Those who are not acquainted with the Napoleonic system of the Gendermerie, that is with military status police forces, can be confused and alarmed; on the field such essentially cultural difficulties have been overcome right from the first employment in the SFOR with the first operational engagements and with the elaboration of appropriate technical and operational procedures. Following the line of development typical of interventions in crisis areas (starting from first generation peacekeeping) the MSU too established themselves initially as a practical experience, stemmed from a real operational need felt in the theatre of operations. For these reasons the creation of technical and tactic procedures, necessary for the use of the units, anticipated and lay the foundations for an MSU doctrine that formed (at the different levels) only later and, in a bottom to top process, on the basis of experiences matured.

Setting aside the merely technical and juridical aspects that are the object of other reports, the doctrine for the use of MSU recently elaborated by the General Commander of the Carabinieri provides for the MSU to guarantee - by preventive operations and activities - a safe environment for the forces deployed in the theatre of operations. When provided for by the international mandate it will moreover be able to: a) carry out executive police tasks (including criminal investigation) in support or instead of local police while waiting for the transfer of responsibilities from military authorities to local civil authorities; b) monitor and assist local police in its reconstruction and reorganization in compliance with the democratic international police standards; c) assist the return of refugees. Tasks such as law enforcing, criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism during operations in response of crises need particular competences and an aptitude in keeping in touch not only with the local police, but also with the other civil authorities and the government and non-government organizations operating on the territory. It has always been essential for peace forces to keep good relations with the population and this is so much more true for MSU: contacts with the local population are essential for the success of the mission. They will have to be looked for and maintained with impartiality and balance as it is not only a matter of reaching a peaceful acceptance of one’s presence, but of producing a co-operative behaviour based on trust.

Without this kind of relation it is almost impossible to acquire the necessary information. Lastly, only a close link with the social tissue can guarantee the social and cultural consent that is absolutely necessary to qualify as peace operators. Public information activity to be carried out with transparency and correctness is of the utmost importance. For the function they carry out MSUs are relevant tools of international and military policy for NATO, and especially for Italy, sole country capable of fully and autonomously expressing such a skill thanks to the experience and the professionalism developed by the Carabinieri Corps.


6. New challenges for the MSU

In conclusion I would briefly like to consider the more recent experiences that indicate a tendency to employ the MSU in all kinds of armed presence in extra-national territories. The institution of a MSU within restoration of peace operations in Iraq following allied military operations is an example of this and is a further evolution of similar previous units. Indeed specialized units of the Carabinieri Corps were already present here during the fist stage (among which the special officers and warrant officers of the Cultural Heritage Safeguard Command of the Carabinieri Corps, the Health Command and the Environment Preservation Command) with the task of carrying out reconstruction programmes together with officials of the Italian Ministries on which the above Commands depend. The anticipation of peacebuilding activities when the stabilization forces were deployed in the theatre of the conflict should prove an important advantage for the peace process. Interventions in such situations, however, present many problems. Security military operations cause processes similar to those observed in societies crossed by domestic divisions.

These interventions mainly aim at removing the political élite considered as the cause of instability and risk at an international level; though attempting to involve the social tissue as little as possible, they still produce a deep change in balances and in the domestic peace. Society as a whole is deeply involved, as the roots of the previous institutional picture are cut at the base and the regulation of behaviours and thus expectations, integration and efficiency are practically voided. Moreover there is an alteration of the social stratification on ethnic, religious, economic and professional base and even in private relations. In such a situation the fulfillment of the MSU mission is even more delicate and complex, especially because of the difficulties met in obtaining the general consent of the population and of the different groups and under groups in which it is divided.

More than for the traditional intervention in support of peace of any type and level, activity on the territory following security military operations, seem to be linked to the dimensions of politics - of the single states, coalitions and so forth. Consequently all assessments of the efficacy efficiency of refined tools such as the MSUs, every lesson learned must be situated in a vaster analysis that accounts for the complex and changing balances of international politics.


(*) - Full professor of sociology at the faculty of Political Science at the “Roma Tre” University.