Is UN Peacekeeping Seriously Flawed?


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Is UN Peacekeeping Seriously Flawed?

  1. 1. Is UN Peacekeeping Seriously Flawed?Taking Sides Issue 16P. Anthony ScalettaDr. Jean SedlarPolitical Science 0501December 4, 200912/4/2009<br />Former Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche once said, “The United Nations exists not merely to preserve the peace but also to make change - even radical change - possible without violent upheaval. The United Nations has no vested interest in the status quo. It seeks a more secure world, a better world, a world of progress for all peoples.” The United Nations was created in the aftermath of World War II to prevent any further world wars by fostering global stability through international understanding and cooperation. Since its inception in 1945, the UN has grown fourfold and has worked to strengthen the international community while helping millions of people through the work of its special commissions. The UN has been able to bring about relative world peace and stability thus far by successfully preventing a third world war. While no one is debating this fact, some have questioned the overall effectiveness of the world’s largest intergovernmental organization. Perhaps, no facet of the UN is more debated and scrutinized than its Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO), which was created in 1948 shortly after the formation of the UN, to maintain international peace and security in accordance with one of the UN’s three “basic purposes.” In the hope of gaining a better understanding of UN peacekeeping operations and some of the issues surrounding it, let us now turn to a cursory examination of the UNDPKO’s history, structure, and mission as well as some of its flaws. <br />The UNDPKO has been conducting peacekeeping operations, which the UN defines as “a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace,” for a little over six decades now. During this time there have been 63 peacekeeping missions carried out all over the world. It is worth noting that only 18 peacekeeping operations were carried out between 1948 and 1990, while the bulk of these operations have taken place since the end of the cold war (Schaefer). In the last two decades alone the UN Security Council has approved over 40 new peacekeeping operations, with an eightfold increase occurring in the number of peacekeepers deployed since 1999 (United Nations Peacekeeping). This increase marks a paradigm shift in the international security system, as brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent depolarization of the UN’s Security Council. This vigorous expansion in the number of peacekeeping operations over a relatively brief period of time has resulted in a major shift in the UNDPKO’s peacekeeping capacity and is arguably the cause of many of its problems. It was at the beginning of this expansionary phase in the early 1990s that the peacekeeping disasters in Bosnia and Rwanda took place, leading to the UN’s peacekeeping role to be called into question for the first time. <br />It would appear that the UNDPKO has not been able to evolve fast enough to meet the demands of a rapidly changing and multi-faceted mission. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views in World Politics, Brett Schaefer characterizes this shift in peacekeeping doctrine as follows: “The post-1990 operations involved a dramatic expansion in scope, purpose, and responsibilities beyond traditional peacekeeping operations. As a result, from a rather modest history of monitoring cease-fires, demilitarized zones, and post-conflict security, UN peace operations have expanded to include multiple responsibilities including more complex military interventions, civilian police duties, human rights interventions, reconstruction, overseeing elections, and post-conflict reconstruction” (309). An optimist might argue that the UNDPKO is merely going through some growing pains, or a sort of trial-and-error phase, as it navigates its way through uncharted peacekeeping territory and it will eventually right its course and get back on track. Robert Johansen of the Mershon International Studies Review acknowledges that, “As peacekeepers have shown in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, both traditional peacekeeping and unprecedented forms of UN enforcement are destined to grow through some blending of their functions and such blending is seldom trouble-free” (310). <br />There are currently over 100,000 personnel deployed in support of the UN’s 17 ongoing peacekeeping operations. These operations span across four continents with more than half of them located in Africa. Since the UN does not have its own military force, it must rely on troops that have been “loaned” from various member states to supply its peacekeeping forces. Interestingly, nine of the top 10 contributors of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping operations are developing countries, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India making up the top three, respectively (Schaeffer 310). Often the contributing countries are in search of some much needed training for its troops and a source of additional income. However, UN peacekeepers tend to be undertrained and ill equipped to handle the missions that they are faced with. Additionally, one should question the cohesion and overall effectiveness of a unit that is comprised of such a mishmash of soldiers. Recently, the integrity of the peacekeeping soldiers has been called into question with the allegations and confirmed cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in over half of the locations where peacekeeping operations are currently underway (Schaeffer 312). As Brett Schaeffer contends, “In addition to the horrible mistreatment of those who are under the protection of the UN, sexual exploitation and abuse undermine the credibility of UN peacekeeping operations and must be addressed through an effective plan and commitment to end abuses and ensure accountability” (312). Although the UN has taken steps to mitigate the sexual abuse with its “zero tolerance” policy, it has been able to do very little to hold its member countries accountable for the punishment of the perpetrators. This points out a very serious flaw in the legal framework, or lack thereof, within the UN system. If the UN were able to pursue and prosecute those soldiers that have committed these heinous crimes then it would be able to enforce its zero tolerance policy better and ultimately curb the sexual abuses being committed by its troops. The manner in which the current system operates only allows the UNDPKO to pay lip service to the crackdown on sexual abuse without any way to actually enforce it, thus the rape and illegal sex bartering continues. Until the UN can get this issue under control, UN peacekeeping forces will continue to lose face in the eyes of the international community. <br />Financially speaking, the UNDPKO has been accused of being ill equipped to properly manage its funds, that is when there are funds to be had. UN operations are chronically underfunded. In Taking Sides: Clashing Views in World Politics William Durch notes that, “Most peace operations struggle to attract the manpower and funds they need to create real change over time” (320). The United States is the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, however it tends to never pay the full 26 percent that it is legally mandated to pay under the UN Charter (Schaeffer 326). Considering that UN peacekeeping operations only cost one-fifth of what it would cost the US to carry out a similar mission, it is surprising that the US isn’t looking to take advantage of this relative bargain. UN peacekeeping operations will surely continue to struggle to make progress and become more effective without greater support from the United States. It would appear that the Obama administration sees it this way too. In a September 2009 press release, US President Barrack Obama made a show of support when he stated, “From Sudan to Liberia to Haiti, peacekeeping operations are a cost-effective means for the United States and all nations to share the burden of promoting peace and security. Over the last ten years, the demands on peacekeeping have grown, and operations have become more complex. It is in all of our interests to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these efforts” (US Mission to the UN). Only time will tell if President Obama’s verbal support will amount to any tangible results. <br />In many ways, UN peacekeeping operations in Africa make an ideal case study for analyzing some of the fundamental flaws of the UNDPKO approach. In his Journal of International Affairs article, “Peace Operations in Africa: Preserving the Brittle State?” Assis Malaquias asserts that the UN peacekeeping operations “rarely address the fundamental issues that endanger the viability of many African states and cause this human suffering in the first place – i.e., political instability, economic decay and social dislocation. In other words, while UN peace operations allow brittle and nonviable African states to survive in the short term, they cannot guarantee their long-term stability and viability, let alone democratic governance or economic development” (416). This shortsighted approach is a huge flaw in UN peacekeeping doctrine, for if sustainable peace is the goal then the enduring political and economic stability of the country in question should be what is ultimately guiding the effort. Perhaps, applying a little more cultural sensitivity to the peacekeeping approach wouldn’t hurt either. When analyzing certain conflicts it is important to keep in mind that our current international system is formed around the principle of state sovereignty as brought about by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. We must not forget that for many Africans the state as a political entity is something that was created arbitrarily by foreigners through the Berlin Conference, thus these manmade boundaries have very little meaning to tribal Africans. Therefore, the state-centric model that UN peacekeeping operations represents is by default contradictory to the cultural beliefs of many Africans. Malaquias stresses that, “By adhering rigidly to the Westphalian framework, the UN regularly ignores the complexities that reside at the core of most intrastate conflicts in Africa. Predictably, therefore, the UN has been largely ineffective in deterring, let alone resolving, these conflicts” (417). <br />Since the end of the cold war, the UN has conducted 11 peacekeeping operations in Africa, most of which have been internal conflicts. The UNDPKO’s involvement in such conflicts marks a shift in its mission from interstate conflicts to intrastate conflicts. Thus far, the UN has proven to be less than effective in dealing with the complexities and intricacies of intrastate conflicts, as evidenced by the bungling of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and limited success in the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, Sudan. The Darfur conflict illustrates the UNDPKO’s inexperience with intrastate tribal conflicts, and perhaps more importantly it underscores one of the most fundamental flaws in the structure of the UN; the Security Council, which is where all the decision making power resides. Because of the veto power afforded the five permanent Security Council members, the bipolarity of the Council during the Cold War often prevented the UN from taking any course of action. Although the bipolarization of the Security Council has mostly dissolved along with the end of the Cold War, the veto power still greatly handicaps the UN’s ability to take swift action in its peacekeeping operations. Case in point: the Darfur conflict. Under the protections of China’s veto, Sudan has demanded that all peacekeepers sent into the conflict must be African. As Brett Schaefer points out, “This has led to a severe constraint of available troops: There simply are not enough trained and capable troops to meet the demand” (315). This unfeasible caveat, as created by China’s veto power, has hamstrung the UN’s Sudan peacekeeping operations, which has led to a serious deterioration of the situation in Darfur. The fact that just five out of the 192 member nations of the UN have so much power is a cardinal fault within the UN framework that affects not only the manner in which peacekeeping operations are carried out, but also, for better or worse, dictates the overall UN Mission. Perhaps, the reason that many of the attempts to reform the UNDPKO, such as the Brahimi Report, have largely faltered is because they have merely been treating the superficial symptoms of the problem while ignoring the root cause of the malady, the broken Security Council. Unfortunately, an overhaul of the structure of the Security Council would require a UN charter revision and it is not very likely that any of the Security Council’s permanent members are willing to relinquish its power in the name of creating a more democratic system. <br />Whether or not the issue of the disproportionate and unbalanced power dynamic of the UN Security Council is addressed, the UNDPKO should nonetheless consider a fundamental change in its approach to peacekeeping operations. Assis Malaquias argues that, “To be relevant and successful, UN peace operations must dedicate greater attention to the demands of national self-determination, not simply state preservation” (440). Furthermore, Malaquias asserts that, “The continuing significance of nations constituted by culturally and historically similar individuals who share both common bonds and a desire to govern themselves is not unique to Africa” (440). Indeed, you can find similar such beliefs rooted deep within most any conflict. It is then for this reason that we should view the UN’s peacekeeping blunders in Africa not as failures but as critical lessons that offer us valuable insights into the nature of contemporary peacekeeping operations. Seeing that the majority of the UN’s peacekeeping “hot spots” are located on the African continent, it is conceivable that a shift in UN peacekeeping doctrine, as suggested by Malaquias, away from the Eurocentric Westphalian state model toward a more flexible and culturally-bound approach would yield greater peace and stability.<br />In conclusion, the UNDPKO, despite all its flaws, is nonetheless a vital component in the UN’s role of maintaining international peace and stability. Robert Johansen suggests that, “The most realistic and helpful measure of whether UN forces are an asset is to compare life with them against life without them, both for present and future generations. For that reason it can be useful to think imaginatively about how UN peacekeeping might become the linchpin in long-term efforts to increase peoples’ security while contributing to the de-legitimatization and eventual elimination of war” (310). It is no secret that significant reforms are needed if the UNDPKO is to properly adjust to the unprecedented pace in which peacekeeping operations have been moving. It would also be helpful to see more financial support and backing from the US government than we have seen in the last decade, which is quite likely under the Obama administration. The silver lining to the situation is that this rapid shift in the scope of the peacekeeping mission has brought the UNDPKO’s flaws and limitations to the forefront, which should be seen as an opportunity to make the type of ideological shift that Malaquias has suggested. At the very least the UN should acknowledge its limitations and be more realistic about its peacekeeping capabilities, while also working to institute the proper reforms that will help to bring the organization up to speed in a timely manner. However, in an organization as large as the UN any hope for timely reforms is probably a lost cause, as they are likely to get bogged down in bureaucracy. Since the need for peacekeeping operations will not be going away anytime soon, we should acknowledge that while the UN’s peacekeeping operations may not be perfect, they are the best that we’ve got and our world is undoubtedly made safer by the efforts of the UNDPKO. <br /> <br />Works Cited<br />Goulding, Marrack. “The Evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944- ) 69.3 (1993): 451-64. JSTOR. Blackwell Publishing. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. <>. <br />Johansen, Robert C. “U.N. Peacekeeping: How Should We Measure Success?” Mershon International Studies Review 38.2 (1994): 307-10. Print. <br />“Keeping the World's Peace: The United Nations' Peacekeeping Forces.” The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Abington: Helicon, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. < =>. <br />Malaquias, Assis. “Peace Operations in Africa: Preserving the Brittle State?” Journal of International Affairs 55.2 (2002): 415-40. Print. <br />Schaefer, Brett D., and William J. Durch. “Is UN Peacekeeping Seriously Flawed?”Taking Sides: Clashing Views in World Politics. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 306-27. Print. <br />Sewall, Sarah B. “The Politics of Peacekeeping.” Proc. of Proceedings of the annual meeting - American Society of International Law. HeinOnline Law Journal Library, 1994. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. < =73& collection=intyb&set_as_cursor=0&men_tab=srchresults&terms=The|Politics|Peacekeeping|sewall&type=matchall>. <br />Trilling, Daniel. “Old Wounds Reopened.” New Statesman 135.4820 (2006): 19-20. Print. <br />“United Nations Peacekeeping.” Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. United Secretary of the Publications Board, 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. <>. <br />United States Mission to the United Nations. Office of the Press Secretary. Strengthening UN Peacekeeping to Meet 21st Century Challenges: President Obama's Meeting with Leaders of Top Troop-Contributing Countries. USUN.State.Gov. U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City and the Bureau of Public Affairs in Washington, DC, 24 Sept. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <>.<br />