Conflicts, violence, and bloodshed: Predicaments that overshadow the future and relevance of UN peacekeeping

By Andrew Edward Tchie

“The planning of peacekeeping operations is the ultimate challenge because you never know where you have to operate; you never know what they want you to do; you don’t have the mandate in advance; you don’t have forces; you don’t have transport; and you don’t have money! We always have to start from zero” 

Major-General Frank van Kappen, Military Advisor to the Secretary-General, March 1997.

The rise of peace keeping operations 

According to peace researchers at Uppsala University’s Conflict Data Program (UCDP), conflicts in the world increased by one last year, from 32 in 2012 to 33 in 2014. In 2012, there was also an increase in the number of battle-related deaths, with the number of casualties in Syria completely overshadowing any other ongoing conflict. Adding to this number was the amount of those killed in massacres, including over 570,000 civilians who lost their lives in 27 African countries since 1990. Notwithstanding academic discussions and conclusions, there has been no single decisive event, such as the end of the Cold War that can explain this steady increase. Various camps have suggested numerous factors that may have caused this rise in violence and conflict, such as group grievances, economic inequality, denial of minority rights, non-recognition of minority cultures, and religious oppression. These potential factors have all been utilized to measure, estimate, and predict the onset of violence. Nonetheless, the conflict research community is still not able to help offer a deeper understanding of these conflicts that would help peacekeepers to reduce the amount of violence perpetrated against civilians.

The role of a peacekeeper has often been understated and disregarded, and their significance in trying to protect civilians in danger has long been overlooked. In Africa, the first official civilian defence mandate was delivered to peacekeepers in 1960 when United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld sanctioned peacekeepers in the Congo to protect civilians against acts of violence (Gibbs 1993; O’Brien 1962). Although a multitude of conflicts that endangered international peace and security would later lead to the United Nations establishing 18 peacekeeping operations between 1945 and 1990, since 1990, the UN Security Council has permitted more than 40 new peace operations, half of them since 2000. These post-1990 operations have frequently included directives that step outside the dimensions of traditional peacekeeping, whether in range, purpose, or responsibili¬ty. Furthermore, these missions have often concentrated on suppressing conflicts, which in some sense have mirrored the transformation, environment, and new nature of conflict and struggle (interstate conflict between nations to intrastate conflict within nations) that has come to the fore over the last three decades.

Despite the increase in conflicts, violence, and bloodshed, there have been several peacekeeping missions that have achieved unmistakable success, such as those in Namibia, Cambodia, Mozambique, and El Salvador. On the other hand, some operations have found themselves entrenched in intractable stalemates, such as those in Cyprus and the Middle East. There have also been significant failures in places like Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where the UN stood by and observed in impotent horror while the most horrendous of wrongdoings were committed. In 1994, 500,000 to one million Rwandan Tutsis along with thousands of moderate Hutus were murdered in the purest case of genocide since the Holocaust. Yet, this failure of the international community, who sat back and observed the genocide from their TV screens for days and weeks after the massacres, is testimony to why there is a need to have UN peacekeeping operations in an age where international security is becoming more and more volatile. US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power maintained in her book that “The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of wilful complicity with evil. U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about ‘never again,’ many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen.”

The predicament of protection 

By June 2009, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was leading and assisting 16 UN peacekeeping operations and two political, or peace-building, operations (in Burundi and Afghanistan). Seven of these peacekeeping operations were in Africa (in the Central African Republic and Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sudan, and Western Sahara), one was in the Caribbean (in Haiti), three were in Europe (in Cyprus, Georgia, and Kosovo), three were in the Middle East (in Lebanon, Syria’s Golan Heights, and a region-wide mission), and two were in Asia (in East Timor, and in India and Pakistan).

Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan have demonstrated that the principle of peacekeeping is being learned through experience. In essence, the state in which conflict is occurring is responsible for safeguarding its civilian population from large-scale atrocities or human rights abuses. In practice, the responsibility to protect (R2P) provides a licit and ethical framework where bodies such as the UN, or indeed other states, may intervene in a humanitarian crisis with or without the consent of the host nation state. This means the question of Western responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda weighs heavily on the minds of many. “If the UN has a ‘responsibility to protect’, it must also have a ‘capacity’ to protect.” Hence, it is a responsibility under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council to act in defence of civilians not protected by their own governments in times of crisis. The execution of such mandates falls to multi-national peacekeeping forces under the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). The notion that states have an obligation to avert and restrain violence, bloodshed, genocide, and crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing was endorsed by the UN World Summit in October 2005. Not only is the killing of civilians a national security and international issue, but also discontinuing these very killings is crucially part of upholding and safeguarding international humanitarian law, the laws of war, international criminal law, and human rights law.

The UN Charter places the primary obligation for upholding interna¬tional peace, security, and the protection of civilians with the Security Council. The Charter provides the Security Council with extensive authority to examine and scrutinise disagreements and to decide if these situations put at risk or threaten international peace and security. If this is deemed to be the case, applicants that are in disagreement are then requested to resolve the conflict through diplomatic, non-violent, and peaceful settlements. Also, negotiations to impose economic, travel, and diplomatic sanctions and, ultimately, to approve the use of military force would also take place. Acting on instructions, UN peacekeepers then establish safe areas, interpose themselves between civilians and their tormentors, and retaliate with force when necessary. In past missions, peacekeepers and the notions of these peace missions have been insufficient when it came to keeping the peace. There is also a philosophy within the UN that the presence of peacekeepers will gradually resolve decades of political deadlock. Whereas most missions continue out of inertia or because the parties to the conflict have requested that the UN operations continue, However, the UN presence may be contributing to the situation’s insolvability by providing the parties with an excuse not to resolve what is largely a political problem; nonetheless, these problems do not negate the usefulness of UN peacekeeping operations under the right cir¬cumstances.

Over time, civilian protection has thus become critical not only to the legitimacy and accomplishment of specific peacekeeping operations, but also to the integrity of the UN structure as a whole. Civilian protection is thus an acute factor for an ecological and viable political peace, because any peace agreement that tolerates continued violence against civilians would not provide a concrete footing to shape authentic governance structures. In this situation, civilian protection holds extraordinary stake in the very concept of peacekeeping: directives request it, the legality of peace operations are contingent on it, and the long-term goal of any peacekeeping strategy must have it at the heart of its mandate to deter attacks on civilians. This means that peacekeeping operations and peacekeepers must not only vigorously act to halt and reprimand the perpetrators of carnages, but also that the UN Security Council and world leaders must reinforce international law. Adding to this complexity, there is also a need to rethink which nations contribute to peacekeeping operations and where, especially considering that the majority of permanent members do not commit any peacekeeping soldiers at all. Considering the success of more forceful intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Serbian forces in Kosovo, an Australian-led force intervened in East Timor, British paratroopers against rebels advance in Sierra Leone, and French intervention in Mali there may be a need to reconsider intervention. While some substantial advancement has been made in most areas, there is still a need for a more applied and practical approach to strengthen the civilian protection (chain of actions) agenda. This can be done so that all associations involved in protection of civilians have a clearer, more collaborative, and interactive approach to pre-mandate formations, pre-mission preparation, the formulation of directives for peace operations and peacekeepers, the disposition of the UN workforce, and coherent directions and directive of their undertakings on the ground.

The demand for new peacekeeping tactics 

While the demand for peacekeeping has risen and will continue to rise, there will be an increasing need for more peacekeeping operations to take place in the future with different multi-level approaches. As this new demand increases, there will be a need for current and future peacekeeping operations to address situations in which peace has to be made or enforced before it can be strived for in the future. The protection of civilians is a critical issue, as civilians are the main victims in these conflicts and a significant amount thereof are slaughtered and experience life-threatening violence and bloodshed. One of the ways that peacekeeping operations need to change is in the way that current blue helm-nations contributing to UNDPKO supply UN missions with troops. Most UN Peacekeepers are supplied by a principal group of emerging and undeveloped nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Nepal, Ghana, and Rwanda. While none of the existing permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) are a major contributor of troops.

This point has also been echoed by former DPKO Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who stated that the provision of peacekeepers was the “collective responsibility of [all] Member States…countries from the South should not and must not be expected to shoulder this burden alone”. Major issues are roused when troops come exclusively from these nations, particularly because these countries have low GDPs and limited training facilitates and awareness of the conflict from national, sub national and local levels. Complications may arise when it comes to these troops’ ability to protect civilians on the ground when they are deployed. Over time, the peacekeeping troops from these countries, who may have inadequate training, are more often involved in cases of sexual violence against those they were meant to protect. Here, while the UN’s power to punish peacekeepers who commit wrongdoings is already restricted, the organisation has also lacked a strategic effort to take strides within its authority to hold nations answerable when they fail to scrutinise or discipline their troops’ misbehaviour.

The future success of peacekeeping operations, and indeed the United Nations as a whole, hinges not only on the capability of this organisation to influence consensus on matters of international security, but also on the commitment of the Member States of this body to pledge both men and capital in support of official activities, both within and outside the realm of peacekeeping. Failure to do this will lead to and signal an absence of assurance on the part of Member States in the United Nations to accomplish its part as a global intermediary and peace-broker. A consistent and comprehensive understanding of UN peacekeeping operations is cru¬cial for the reason that the demand for UN peacekeeping shows little hint of decreasing in the foresee¬able future. Devoid of fundamental reform, these complications will likely endure and expand, undermining the UN’s integrity and ability to accomplish the key missions of maintaining inter¬national peace and security.

Andrew Edward Tchie is a PhD student in Government and Associate Fellow at the University of Essex.


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The Journal of Turkish Weekly

JTW is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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