Events

Peacekeeping: Present Trends and Implications for the Future

June 11, 2002 // 12:00am

Summary of meeting with Jean-Marie Guéhenno, United Nations Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, cosponsored by the Better World Campaign and the Conflict Prevention Project.

Since 1948 the United Nations has organized 54 peacekeeping operations. While those missions have been employed for various purposes related to separating belligerent, enforcing peace agreements and supporting peace building activities, UN peacekeeping is not a panacea for the world's ills, said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, United Nations Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, during a recent meeting at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

With more than 46,000 military and civilian police, 4,000 international civilian personnel and 8,000 local staff deployed in the current 15 missions, UN peacekeeping is best suited for only a fraction of the world's conflicts, he suggested. The Under Secretary General discussed 50 plus years of peacekeeping by raising and posing answers to five questions about UN peacekeeping operations.

First, he asked whether UN peacekeeping operations have succeeded, and answered, "it depends." From 1948 to 1988, UN peacekeepers were mostly unarmed, confined primarily to an "eyes and ears" role, and deployed only with the consent of all parties after a ceasefire had been signed. Their involvement may not have directly stopped conflicts, but it bought diplomats time to negotiate longer-lasting peace agreements. After the end of the Cold War, peacekeepers began to play more than a symbolic role in post-conflict areas, often taking on substantive conflict prevention challenges. Success in complicated early missions meant that the world's expectations of peacekeepers were high going into Somalia and Bosnia. However, the blue helmets' well-publicized failures in these nations, as well as in Rwanda led most policymakers to turn to regional actors like NATO for peacekeeping functions. In the late 1990s, after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) proved unable to provide an "African NATO," the international community returned to the UN, entrusting the body with rebuilding Kosovo and East Timor, as well as substantial involvement in defusing conflicts around the globe.

Guéhenno pointed to East Timor as evidence of peacekeeping's success, noting that at the time of initial UN intervention in September 1999, the country had no functioning civil society and very little physical infrastructure. After 32 months of UN involvement, East Timor boasts native civil servants, shows early signs of economic development, and recently held peaceful, democratic elections for a president and national assembly.

Second, Guéhenno asked what defines a successful UN mission. He listed ten criteria: first, a situation well suited to peacekeeping rather than active war or pure enforcement; second, that key parties be willing to try nonmilitary conflict resolution—"There must be a peace to keep," he said; third, that those parties consent to the UN's presence; a clear mandate by the Security Council; that the mandate also be achievable and sufficiently funded and staffed; a quick response to the conflict, since speed lends credibility; an overall strategy for conflict resolution including political, economic, and human rights measures, not just peacekeeping; an appreciation of the regional context affecting the conflict in question; a long-term commitment on the part of troop donors; and civil servants and UN personnel who meet the high standards necessary for international peacekeeping work.

Guéhenno also called for all parties, not just combatants, to have a voice in the peace process. He mentioned several internal reforms undertaken by the UN to improve peacekeeping effectiveness. Notably, there has been an effort to move the institution from a "culture of crisis" to a more "boring" approach incorporating systematic planning and standard operating procedures.

Guéhenno then asked whether UN peacekeeping is worth the investment. He pointed out that UN member states face only modest costs for even the longest-running peacekeeping operations. In Cyprus, for instance, half of the cost is borne by the governments involved in the crisis, and the other half, $20 million per year, is spread among the 180-some members of the General Assembly. He also noted that after September 11th, it has become clear that the moral imperative to help those in need is also in our strategic interest. Increasingly, the United States and other countries believe that peacekeeping is a wise choice.

Fourth, Guéhenno outlined peacekeeping's challenges for the future. He listed the dilemma of when to deploy—unlike operations carried out in a country's national interest, it is often unclear whether the UN should send peacekeepers to an area in conflict. Once peacekeepers are on the ground, they are forced to choose with whom to interact. They must be sure, he said, "to leave space for the voices of those without voice;" that is, to listen to all concerns, whether or not they come from organized militias or the official government. The dwindling supply of well-trained and well-equipped peacekeepers as nations around the world downsize their militaries is also becoming problematic. In addition, a rift is growing between the developing countries that donate troops to peacekeeping missions and the developed world, which dominates the Security Council and determines where the peacekeepers are deployed. Increasingly, there are calls for burden-sharing to lead to power sharing in the peacekeeping arena.

Finally, Guéhenno asked what the United States could do to help the UN meet these challenges. First, he called for an increase in political will. As the only true superpower, the United States is often the sole country to which a regional superpower will defer, and thus its support of peacekeeping operations is crucial. Second, the United States can encourage other nations' participation in peacekeeping missions and provide training for peacekeeping missions. Finally, the United States can help implement the broader strategy of economic assistance, development aid, and minority and gender equality that are necessary for a peacekeeping operation to become an enduring success.

During the question and answer period, Guéhenno was asked whether East Timor can really be considered a success, given that the impending carnage was predicted widely yet not prevented, the nation's physical infrastructure is still in poor shape and it is still extremely poor. Guéhenno responded that the success of peacekeeping operations depends on your frame of reference. UN peacekeepers certainly helped end the violence and prevent conflict in East Timor, and while it is too soon to tell whether their efforts to rebuild civic society will succeed, early signs indicate that they will. Two audience members asked about the lack of coordination between UN headquarters and peacekeepers in the field. Guéhenno acknowledged that it is a problem, but he said there are human resources measures designed to give staff field experience and that the organization is always looking for management practices to improve efficiency and communication. He further stressed the importance of highly trained and responsible personnel as a key ingredient to any success.

In her opening remarks, Phyllis Cuttino, Vice President of Public Affairs of the
Better World Fund/United Nations Foundation, urged the United States to fulfill its commitment to UN Peacekeeping by paying its arrears in full. She noted further that while the United States says its military is overextended and over committed to peace operations, of the 86 nations contributing 46, 784 personnel to UN operations; less than two percent were U.S. personnel, three quarters of whom are posted in Kosovo. Officially there is just one U.S. peacekeeper, the others serve primarily as civilian police and military observers. This soldier is posted with the Ethiopia-Eritrea UNMEE mission.

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