Since 1948 the UN has been dispatching peacekeepers to the most volatile regions of the earth. But in today’s world is peace attainable?
In 1994 the UN’s peacekeeping mandate looked bleak. Rwanda was gripped by genocide, any supposed peace agreement was quickly overshadowed as over 800 000 innocent men, women and children were systematically slaughtered. One by one peacekeeping contingents backed out, until only 270 personnel remained.The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMR) became one of the most catastrophic failures of the UN since its inception. From here on, skepticism about peacekeeping became rampant. in 2014 as leaked Human Rights Report, warned french soldiers have been sexually abusing children from as young as 9 in the Central African Republic while on a peacekeeping mission. A year has now passed since the scandal broke, but no one has yet been punished.
Even today, over two decades later peacekeeping operations are still dogged by accusations of gross failure and once more the UN is accused of sitting back and just watching.
Here lies some of the problems facing the UN as a trans-governmental department: the legal quagmire over jurisdiction, crime & punishment. The bureaucracy and poor oversight from the top, accusations of poor discipline and failed mandates at the bottom. It is clear UNPKO need’s reform. Indeed recently Ban Ki Moon has introduced an independent review of all peacekeeping operations, in order to see where things have gone wrong.
Despite this peacekeepers create sustainable changes in the countries they operate. Since 1948, over 1 million have served in peacekeeping forces, their jobs have varied from monitoring ceasefires and observing elections, to aiding reconstruction and promoting reconciliation.
Over 100 000 uniformed personnel from over 110 countries are currently deployed in 16 operations, spread across 4 continents. More 3300 have been killed in the line of duty, and thousands put themselves in harms way.
Yet Peacekeepers are not a military force like NATO, they are not their for combat; rather they are their primarily to facilitate countries who are going through civil turbulence. Guided by three principles of cr0ss-pary consent, impartiality, and non-use of force, their is a limit to what they can and can’t do. But where peacekeepers, have been deployed they have been a great stabilising factor for many countries.
After the 2010 Earthquake the Republic of Haiti was in a state of collapse. Essential services like hospitals, communications systems, and shelters were damaged or destroyed. Between 100 000 to 220 000 people were killed over 1 000 000 were displaced. Shortages, of fuel, food, water, and a subsequent outbreak of Cholera only exacerbated conditions. Peacekeepers were already established in the country, and in spite of the fact their own headquarters was obliterated, they aided recovery and reconstruction in the aftermath, and continue to do so today.
In Mali Peacekeepers are maintaining a fragile peace, as islamic terrorists and armed insurgents are encroaching on the country’s north. At the same time, they are stabilising the state led response, and promoting democratic reform. The mandate has proved vital, and Mali has requested continual support, as it transitions into a reformed state, with secure borders.
Finally in Lebanon over 11 000 peacekeepers are monitoring the ceasefire between the IDF and Hizbollah. They are also accompanying the Lebanese army, guarding security checkpoints, facilitating the humanitarian effort to help the local communities across the so called ‘blue line’ reconstruct their lives. A cross state solution, brokered between Israel and Lebanon aims to restore cooperation, and create a stable governance a security protocol.
However again, we come back to the central problem, how is peace maintained in an unstable and dangerous world?
Peacekeepers flourished in the height of the cold war, but the lines of battle have changed: Instead of interstate conflicts and subterfuge, we are seeing increasingly violent forms of extremism and insurgency drawn along sectarian divisions.
The DPKO’s mandate is to maintain peace, not attain it. As such, as well as structural reform, the United Nations must seriously look at its operations, and see where personnel are best utilised. Cross-party consensus and international cooperation are always needed if any mission has a chance of success, but the lack of political will, poor management, and vague mandates have created a terrible paralysis in what should be a force that operates worldwide.
Blessed indeed are the peacekeepers, but in the volatile nature of modern warfare, it remains to be seen what kind of earth we will inherit.