It might be said of the U.N. Security Council that many of its members like to think of themselves as world powers right up until the circumstances require that they be one.

That seemed the guiding formulation after the council passed a resolution calling for a robust peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was hardly overwhelmed by volunteers.

France, which had talked big, suddenly announced that it would commit only 200 troops. France has since relented _ along with Italy, it will provide the bulk of the 6,900 European troops _ and now slowly, if grudgingly, the peacekeeping force is taking shape.

There was a major breakthrough this week when Turkey, after much hand-wringing, agreed in principle to commit troops.

The pace of deployment has been slow because of the usual wrangling among the force’s contributors over issues of command and engagement, which, given the United Nations, are hard to tell whether they are to expedite the mission or impede it.

To be fair, the task the council assigned the peacekeeping force is formidable: Separate Israel and Hezbollah, keep Israel safe from rockets and constrict the flow of Iranian-funded weapons pouring into Lebanon, while allowing the regular Lebanese government to take control of the southern half of its country and lay the groundwork for disarming Hezbollah.

Annan is on an 11-day swing through the Mideast to build support for the mission. If peace is to be the ultimate goal, Iran’s support is essential, but Annan arrives in Tehran on the eve of a U.N. deadline for Iran to abandon uranium enrichment or face sanctions.

How much the peacekeepers can accomplish is problematic. They are strong enough to protect themselves, unlike the U.N. observer force that is there now, but not strong enough to respond to violations of the cease-fire or interdict border crossings.

Still, creation of the force did result in a cease-fire that ended 34 days of fighting, which caused the deaths of over 1,000 and the destruction of much of Lebanon’s infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah says if he had known of the destruction that would ensue, he would never have ordered the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers that launched it.

And maybe that is the best hope for short-term peace: Next time, Nasrallah will think before he acts.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)