The UN’s peacekeeping role in global conflicts has evolved since the first mission in 1948. Since World War Two there has been a reported rapid decline in traditional interstate conflict, which seems to have been replaced by a rise in intrastate conflict (Yilmaz, 2005: 13). There has also been an increased tendency to describe the conflicts occurring after the 1980s as “ethnically-based” (Gilley, 2004: 1155), changing the way collective security forces respond to disputes. This change from interstate political wars to “ethnic civil wars” makes it natural for many outside parties to assume that the warring country will settle the conflict itself, as it is seen as their own concern and business, and based on long-standing hatreds . However, uncontrolled escalations, and psychological components such as increased tensions, lack of trust, suspicion, and biased communication, makes those disputing unable design a solution since they are the least equipped to stop the fighting. A third party, in this situation can be the difference. The UN has increasingly been this party, as the “grand guardian” of international peace and security in the world (Yilmaz, 2005: 14). The lack of success in many UN peacekeeping missions is based on a variety of factors which hinders its capability to fully act and transform the conflict into non-violent solutions. The UN’s evolving medley of structures is currently incapable of dealing with the roots of global violence and must be re-designed to reflect the current realities, focusing on transforming the UN itself and the sources of global dispute into non-violent structures.
The international community expects more from the UN than any other party in solving disputes, even though member states so often ignore their role in keeping this institution alive. Despite these intense expectations and UN involvement in over 60 peacekeeping operations so far, the term “peacekeeping” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the UN Charter, making the actual concept incredibly ambiguous within the organization. Peacekeeping evolved as a pragmatic solution in the early years of the organization, and is often referred to at the UN as “Chapter 6-and-a-half” since it falls between Chapter 6 of the UN Charter (on Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and Chapter 7 (on Action with Respect to Threats of Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) and is not specifically outlined or defined anywhere (Yilmaz, 2005: 15). Peacekeeping evolved as a non-coercive instrument at a time when Cold War constraints prohibited the use of more forceful steps permitted by the Charter. Peacekeeping without combat connotations emerged. This called for trained military personnel not to wage war, but to prevent fighting between warring parties, ensure the maintenance of cease-fires, and to provide some stability while negotiations are conducted (Nambiar, 1999).
The non-use of force has been central to UN peacekeeping for many years, with more than half of operations prior to 1988 consisting of only unarmed military observers who were allowed to use force only in cases of self-defense. The non-use of force has been critiqued as making peacekeeping ineffective, but has also been seen as essential to ensuring the legitimacy and credibility of the organization. For example, in Cyprus in 1974 and Lebanon in 1982 the presence of UN peacekeeping troops could not prevent the breakdown of order and the subsequent foreign invasions that resulted in tremendous violence because of their non-use of force left them powerless (Yilmaz, 2005: 16). To keep legitimacy and credibility, peacekeeping at the UN has always been based on a triad of principles: the consent of the parties to the conflict, the impartiality of the peacekeepers and the use of force by lightly armed peacekeepers only in self defense. The reality of meeting these principles in violent conflict is remote. Consent by warring parties to be restrained by the UN is only really possible if there are already negotiations going on and relative peace to keep between the parties. By their very nature, enforcement actions are subjective and biased towards one side. Peace enforcement is no different. Many believe that force must be met with force, and the only way for peacekeepers to keep peace is through intense enforcement and military solutions (Nambiar, 1999).
Certain international actors often feel that the UN’s non-use of force mandate prevents it from making any real progress towards peace. Individual nations have instead taken on military action themselves with the alleged intention of stopping violence, often even with Security Council authorization (for example, Korea in 1950 and Persian Gulf War in 1990). The end of the Cold War saw a removal of the perceived major obstacle to implementing collective security; the end of hostile relations between the United States and the Soviet Union (Clark, 1995: 238-9). The end of the Cold war also resulted in a decline of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council (Yilmaz, 2005: 17), which has in the past few years again started to increase (Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). Some states have been reluctant to trust the UN to act (especially in cases that affect their own interests), and so are increasingly more likely to take matters into their own hands (Clark, 1995: 238-9), as has been the case for the US.
The veto privilege held by 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) works against the UN’s aim to be legitimate and credible. The veto privilege allows these members to stop any action of the UNSC (responsible for global peace and security, economic sanctioning, trusteeship functions and UN peacekeeping initiatives) by exercising their veto. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France, and 6 by China. Among the actions vetoed were potential peacekeeping operations, such as the vetoes by the US in 2001, 2004, and 2006 that prevented the UN from demanding a cessation of violence in the Gaza strip and the establishment of a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians. Lebanon’s complaints against Israeli violence (1986, 1988); Nicaragua’s complaints against US violence (1984-86); complaints against South Africa of violence by Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (1981, 1986); Libya’s complaint against US attack (1989); Grenada’s complaint against invasion by US troops (1983); and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1980) were all ignored by the UN because they were vetoed in the UNSC. The veto privilege also resulted in full out war being ignored on several occasions by the UN (in Lebanon, Panama, occupied Palestine, Namibia, Nicaragua to name a few; Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). This has resulted in inequitable structures in a body that is meant to be impartial in maintaining global peace and security. Peace and security is clearly only maintained for some.
The deployment of UN peace enforcement and peacekeeping forces has been moderately successful at resolving disputes between larger players and may be essential to terminate these types of conflict. It is currently not sufficient, however, for the local disputes, long term recovery of a conflict or for addressing the root cause of the conflict. In order for long term recovery to happen, intense DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants), civilian policing programs, judicial programs, law reform programs and conflict transformation programs must be in place to help re-order society and instill some sense of stability and rule-of-law. Sadly, these programs often receive comparatively meager funding next to other initiatives, such as running “democratic” elections (Global Policy Forum, 2004). The “democratic” push has also had the effect of calling into question the impartiality and motive of the UN and international structures, as the implementation of market democracy through aid programs is often seen as “western” and almost colonial, leading to increased ethnic tension and global insecurity (Chua, 2003).
Inequitable structures that fail to provide basic political and civic freedoms are most often the cause of “ethnic conflict”, which has been on the rise globally since the end of the Cold War (Gilley, 2004: 1162). In the Congo, for example, ancient ethnic hatreds are often cited as the reason for conflict in the region. Colonial and political choices that favored arbitrary groups of people over other groups cemented divisions along “ethnic” lines and ensured one group’s access to resources, opportunities and services over the others. This fueled tensions and led to conflict (Jackson, 2007). Ethnic groups in the Congo lived (and continue to live) in mostly intermixed communities and are not completely homogenous and static (Pottier, 2008). Ancient ethnic hatreds are seen as almost natural and inevitable; making action to stop them unlikely. Rarely are the underlying roots of the conflict (the colonial or political choices, access to resources, etc.) addressed, making continual conflict inevitable. The focus on ethnicity has prevented the UN from taking action in many cases.
When the UN peacekeeping forces are not inhibited by vetoes, ethnicity or other factors and decide to act to keep the peace; they are still incredibly restrained in their capabilities. Member States are important for support, financially, logistically and in troop commitment. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. These millions of owed dollars prevent the UN from being able to properly implement its missions (Global Policy Forum, November, 2008). Dues for peacekeeping missions are collected separately, allowing for each member state to reject funding for individual projects as they choose (Yilmaz, 2005: 24).Calls for troop support are commonly ignored by international players who are over committed to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, with priorities of defending “terrorist actions” (Yilmaz, 2005: 21-2). Without its Member States support, the UN is virtually useless to act and prevent violence.
The genocide in Rwanda and massacre in Srebrenica and the failure of the UN to prevent these atrocities, led in 1999 to the Brahimi Report, recommending a funding minimum and personnel requirements for UN peacekeeping missions. New peacekeeping missions grew by almost 50% in the summer of 2006, stretching the peacekeeping resources of the UN to the extreme. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for peacekeeping reform and re-structuring of the UN peacekeeping structures in February of 2007, was at first rejected by the General Assembly. In July of 2007, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was restructured to focus on operations, leaving management and logistics to the newly created Department of Field Support (Pelz and Lehmann, 2007). This restructuring ignored the other problems faced by the DPKO and left it still incapable of addressing root causes of conflict.
If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.
The current state of the UN is inequitable. How can the UN possibly inspire positive peace, if its own structures are so incredibly unjust? The current international peacekeeping strategy is based on an evolution of changing ideologies and as such, is incapable of truly handling conflict. It must be restructured to address the political choices, colonial legacies, and continuing inequitable structures that enhance tensions and ensure continual conflict. It must also be restructured to address financing and troop support issues. It is time to learn from past mistakes and create a new structure that tackles all of the inequities of the former structures. Without this, there can be no possibility for peace in the near future.
1) Chua, Amy. 2003. World on fire: How exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability. Doubleday. Random House. 329 pages.
2) Clark, Mark T. Spring 1995. The trouble with collective security. Orbis. Vol. 39, No.2. pp. 237- 258.
3) Gilley, Bruce. 2004. Against the concept of ethnic conflict. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 6. Pp. 1155-1166.
4) Global Policy Forum. December 4, 2004. UN panel on reforming UN peacekeeping recommends a new peacebuilding commission. Citizens for Global Solutions.
5) Global Policy Forum. October 7, 2008. Subjects of UN Security Council Vetoes. Global Policy Forum.
6) Global Policy Forum. November, 2008. Debt of 15 largest payers to the peacekeeping budget 2008. Global Policy Forum. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from
7) Jackson, Stephen. November, 2007. Of ‘doubtful nationality’: Political manipulation of citizenship in the DR Congo. Citizenship Studies. Vol. 11, Issue 5; 481-500.
8) Nambiar, Lt. Gen. Satish. March 17-19, 1999. UN peacekeeping operations: Problems and prospects. Embassy of India.
9) Pelz, Timo and Lehmann, Volker. November 2007. The evolution of UN peacekeeping (2): Reforming DPKO. Dialogue on Globalization. Friedrich Ebert Foundation. New York.
10) Pottier, Johan. 2008. Displacement and ethnic reintegration in Ituri, DR Congo: Challenges ahead. Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 46, Issue 3; 427-450.
11) Yilmaz, Muzaffer Ercan. June 2005. UN peacekeeping in the post-cold war era. International Journal on World Peace. Vol. XXII, No. 2.