Events

An Update and Discussion on UN Peacekeeping

February 24, 2004 // 1:30pm3:00pm

The inability of the United Nations and governments to act before crises escalate into bloodshed is often explained as a lack of political will. However the United Nations is only as strong as it member states and sometimes the answer is just no, said Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations. She explained that as the international community grapples with the implications of the evolving norms of sovereignty, new methods of waging war and roles and responsibilities for post-conflict reconstruction, developing collective will may provide a better response. Recent engagements suggest that while the use of force may be necessary, military power is not a panacea. The first Gulf War resulted in decisive victory but not decisive defeat, whereas the recent war has proven the opposite—suggesting that force can't do it all and you can't do it alone, Dr. Lute said.

As the Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Mission Support in the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Lute is responsible for ensuring the coordination of logistics and materiel for 13 current missions and the roughly 90 countries currently providing some 45,000 military and civilian personnel. Since 1948 there have been 56 UN peacekeeping operations, with forty-three of these operations created by the United Nations Security Council since 1988. With an approved 2004 budget of $2.81 billion, United Nations peacekeepers are deployed to missions in places like Kosovo, Georgia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. In addition blue helmets have an expanded mandate and increased troop size in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Security Council recently voted to establish the United Nations Mission in Liberia. These figures don't take into account potential missions in Iraq or Haiti, she said.

Because the United Nations is charged increasingly with wide-ranging, complex and often unprecedented tasks, peacekeeping deployments must take into account the circumstances on the ground, support of member states, and plans for long-term post-conflict reconstruction commitments. In the three years since it was published, recommendations from the Report of the
Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (also known as the "Brahimi Report" after the Panel chair, UN Under-Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi), are being incorporated, particularly in bureaucratic and doctrinal implementations. Policy change, due mainly to its political nature, has proven more difficult.

As peacekeepers are expected to take on a variety of tasks, they have encountered varying degrees of lawlessness, sovereignty questions, and different opinions on what the use of force is expected to achieve. UN DPKO may have a mixed track record, but its mandates have been extremely difficult, Lute reminded participants. Effective peacekeeping must be part of an overall strategy to help resolve a conflict, requiring a myriad of political, economic, development, human rights and humanitarian efforts to be conducted in parallel. Furthermore, as illustrated by border patrol missions like the deployment of troops along the India-Pakistan border in 1949 and renewed due to hostilities in 1971, UNMOGIP monitors the ceasefire called for by the United Nations Security Council. Rather than lament the fact that peacekeepers are still deployed, the international community must be prepared to stay the course and understand that real peace takes time, she said.

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the United States and other governments must grapple with questions relating to the use of force. Indeed the real threat may not be that the United States acts preemptively and unilaterally, but that it decides not to engage at all, Lute suggested. Governments must examine under what conditions they would vote to authorize force and how to strengthen the UN system to make it more responsive to the needs of its member states.

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