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The United Nations Peacekeeping Forces, Weak but Necessary

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, Uncategorized on May 29, 2021 at 9:53 PM

By René Wadlow

“I am confident that if we work together and champion truly bold reforms, the United Nations will emerge as a stronger, more effective, more just and greater force for peace and harmony in the world.”
U. S. President Donald Trump, September 18, 2017.

The deployment of UN peacekeeping forces is only one aspect of conflict resolution and peace building. However, UN peacekeeping forces are the most visible (and expensive) aspect of the UN peacebuilding efforts. Thus, our attention must be justly given to the role, the financing, and the practice of UN peacekeeping forces.

May 29 is the International Day of the United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers. The day was chosen in memory of the creation of the first UN interposition force in the Middle East. In the years since, 3,800 have lost their lives. Today there are 14 operations. The most difficult are in Africa where there has been large scale breakdown of State structures such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

How effective are UN peacekeeping operations in preventing and stopping violence? Are there alternatives to the ways that UN and regional organizations currently carry out peacekeeping operations? How effective are peacekeeping operations in addressing the root causes of conflicts? How does one measure the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations? We must ask questions of their effectiveness and if these military personnel should not be complemented by other forms of peacebuilding.

There have been reports of UN Peace operations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan which highlight the systematic rape of women in the area and the inability or unwillingness of UN troops to stop the rapes which have become standard practice in the areas on the part of both members of the armed insurgencies as well as by members of the regular army. There are also other examples when “failure” is the key word in such evaluations of UN forces.

The first reality is that there is no permanent UN trained and motivated troops. There are only national units loaned by some national governments but paid for by all UN Member States. Each government trains its army in its own spirit and values, though there is still an original English ethos as many UN troops come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Nigeria. Now China is starting to provide troops with a non-English tradition.

There have been proposals by some governments and nongovernmental representatives such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC) for the creation of a permanent UN standby force. This has been rejected, usually on grounds of cost (although it would be only a fraction of what is now spent on national armies). There has also been an alternative proposal of creating within national armies specially-trained forces for UN use. Because the great majority of UN troops come from south Asia, speak English and were originally formed in an English tradition, the creation of such units ready for quick use is a real possibility.

Moreover, there is no such thing as consistency and predictability in UN actions o preserve order. The world is too complex, and the UN Security Council resolutions are voted based on national interest and political power considerations. UN “blue helmet” operations have grown both in numbers and complexity. Even with the best planning, the situation in which one deploys troops will always be fluid, and the assumption on which the planning was based may change.

Peacekeeper Cpt. Dr. Barsha Bajracharya photographed with two of her nurses team mates at UN Post 8-30, Nepalese Headquarters, near the town of Shakra, South Lebanon. October 10, 2012 (C) Pasqual Gorriz/UNIFIL

To be successful, UN peacekeeping operations need to have clear objectives, but such objectives cannot be set by the force commanders themselves. Peacekeeping forces are temporary measures that should give time for political leaders to work out a political agreement. The parties in conflict need to have a sense of urgency about resolving the conflict. Without that sense of urgency, peacekeeping operations can become eternal as they have in Cyprus and Lebanon.

UN forces are one important element in a peacemaker’s toolkit, but there needs to be a wide range of peacebuilding techniques available. There must be concerted efforts by both diplomatic representatives and nongovernmental organizations to resolve the conflicts where UN troops serve. Policemen, civilian political officers, human rights monitors, refugee and humanitarian aid workers and specialists in anthropology all play important roles along with the military. Yet non-military personnel are difficult to recruit.

In addition, it is difficult to control the impact of humanitarian aid and action as it ripples through a local society and economy because powerful factors in the conflict environment such as the presence of armed militias, acute political and ethnic polarization, the struggle over resources in a war economy will have unintended consequences.

As we honor the International Day of UN peacekeepers, we need to put more effort on the prevention of armed conflicts, on improving techniques of mediation, and creating groups which cross the divides of class, religion, and ethnicity.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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