The first topic of our Study Tour through the institutions of the United Nations (UN) system was the issue of peacekeeping. It was for this reason that Mr Andreas Sugar, Political Affairs Officer in the Africa Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, gave us a very interesting presentation on the concept of peacekeeping, its key principles, as well as the history and the main challenges.
He referred to peacekeeping as a tool to help stabilise countries and prevent them from returning to conflict or becoming failed states that might cause severe security problems. The task of implementing peacekeeping missions is assigned to the Blue Helmet forces. With a over 110,000 men and women serving today, UN peacekeeping operations are the largest multi-lateral contributor to post conflict stabilisation in the world, and only the US has more troops deployed abroad. The number of UN peacekeepers increased seven-fold over the last ten years.
Mr Sugar added that peacekeeping can be regarded as a cheap tool, as its expenses only account for 0.5 per cent of the world’s military expenditures.
He also stated that peacekeeping operations aim to support fragile governments and institutions and to create buffer-zones in order to separate opposing troops. UN peacekeeping draws its legitimacy through being a representative of almost the whole world.
In addition, Mr Sugar elaborated on the key principles of peacekeeping. These include impartiality, the consent of the parties, the use of force only for the purpose of self-defence. Mr Sugar added that it is impossible to impose peace and that the main parties will have to be committed to a peace process.
If those basic tenets are present, peacekeeping operations can help a country to ‘get back on track’. Also, refugees have the opportunity to return to their homes and children can attend school again.
Another topic of the briefing was the history of peacekeeping. The concept of peacekeeping is not mentioned in the UN Charter because it was not foreseen by the Founding Members of the UN.
The first peacekeeping operation was established in 1948 and deals with Israel and its Arab neighbours. In the late 1980’s, as a result of the end of the Cold War, there was a move towards a new generation of peacekeeping missions. The superpowers were able to form a common view and thereby end the deadlock in the Security Council. Instead of conflicts between East and West, new sorts of conflicts arose: for example, civil wars in Africa or in the Balkans, which forced the peacekeeping operations to adapt to this new situation. The operations included police operations, assisting refugees, conducting elections, monitoring human rights and even taking over the government for a period of time, e.g. in East Timor.
But then success turned into failure. As a reaction to the new generation of conflicts, peacekeepers were sent to ongoing conflicts, where there existed no peace to keep. As a result, in Rwanda, Somalia or Bosnia peacekeepers became part of the conflicts or could do little to end them. These perceived failures had a direct impact on the numbers of peacekeeping troops. While in 1994, there were 14 operations with 80,000 troops, there was a dramatic decrease to only 13,000 troops in 1999.
As a reaction to this situation, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan set up a panel that published the Brahimi Report, a report, which analysed the lessons learned from the operations of the 1990s and offered a number of recommendations for future peacekeeping. These lessons include the need to have a clear mandate and enough resources to enable adequate implementation. Furthermore, it is essential to be upfront with the Security Council and not simply tell them what it wants to hear but rather what it needs to know. Another lesson learned was the urgency of strengthening the understaffed Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
These lessons were subsequently applied in many post-conflict scenarios such as Sierra-Leone or Timor-Leste. As a consequence, the international community regained confidence in peacekeeping operations and nowadays we see the highest level of engagement in history with a total of around 110,000 troops.
According to Mr Sugar, some obstacles remain in the way of peacekeeping operations being able to meet demand for them. One example is the generation of enough well-trained and –equipped troops: most are provided by developing countries, with few from the West. While the developed countries provide political and financial support to peacekeeping operations, they remain reluctant to send personnel in large numbers. This is a shame, since ‘boots on the ground’ show real commitment. Moreover, the Blue Helmet forces could benefit from the specialised units and advanced technologies of Western states.
In recent years, there has been a tendency to forget the lessons of the 1990s, and peacekeepers have once again been sent into situations where there is little peace to keep, for example in Darfur. There must be a clear differentiation between peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions.
In conclusion, Mr Sugar noted that UN peacekeeping is a unique tool at the disposal of the international community for doing the work that few states have the capacity or will to do on their own.