How effective is the UN in resolving global conflicts? Why?
The United Nations (UN) was created on the 24 October 1945, after the world had suffered through the destruction of two brutal wars. The leaders of the western “international community undertook a major initiative in preventive diplomacy by advocating for the creation of the United Nations” (Peak, 1998, p.3). The nations that joined the United Nations, all agreed to some common principles as part of their membership. One of these obligations was to attempt to resolve all conflict peacefully. (Peak, 1998). The United Nations Security Council was created out of the United Nations Charter, whose primary role was the maintenance of international peace as well as security (United Nations, 2019). The council’s first action is to avoid casualties and end hostilities as soon as possible, this is handled usually by a ceasefire directive been issued by the Security Council (United Nations, 2019). The United Nations then has the options of deploying peacekeepers, enforcement measures or economic sanctions (United Nations, 2019). This essay will look at where the United Nations has been involved in peacekeeping roles and look into what was involved in these roles. This essay will make an assessment as to the ability of the United Nations to resolve conflict and how it may be improved.
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During the past thirty years the UN has played a critical role in peace keeping operations and is the largest international peacekeeping organisation in the world. UN involvement has taken a number of different forms in global conflict. Firstly the use of UN resolutions, these are passed by the United Nations Security Council. Resolutions request that parties stop hostilities, as well as help to begin and mediate negotiations. “Resolutions are the formal expressions of the opinion or will of the United Nations” (United Nations, 2018). Most importantly it highlights the issue to other nations who can then condemn the actions of the aggressive party. It also allows for the start of humanitarian aid and support and hopefully leads to a resolution to the situation.
The oldest running United Nations peacekeeping operation is that of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). This consists of unarmed UN military observers who have been supervising a truce between Israel and Lebanon since 1948 (Goulding, 1993).
Another long running UN peacekeeping operation was the establishment of the UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIMOG) which was established to monitor the cease-fire between the two countries. This operation was formed under article 39 and 40 of UN Resolution 598 which requested that the Secretary General send a team of observers to “verify, confirm and supervise the ceasefire” (Security Council Resolution 598). These observers provide a very special capability, in the fact they can generally move and observe without much restriction. Also the UN resolution allows them some authority to operate which is accepted by both parties as well as the international community. They come with a sense of authority bestowed on them by the ‘legal authority’ of the United Nations. It is unlikely that a non-government Organisation (NGO) or government organisation would be allowed the same amount of freedom or trust by either party.
Currently there are more than 15 different peacekeeping operations working under the office of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) including missions in South Sudan, Republic of Korea, Lebanon and Cambodia (United Nations, 2019).
In order to understand the role of the UN in peacekeeping, it is essential to understand the principles and sometimes issues of peacekeeping. Firstly all peacekeeping missions are essentially UN operations and they have been derived from the Security Council’s approval. This gives states the authority to take action in order to intervene in a conflict or disputed area. The fact that peacekeeping operation must be sanctioned by the member states, makes it more palatable to countries in conflict, who may not have allowed foreign troops without this approval. However even with this consent there can be restrictions placed on UN peacekeepers; including restrictions on movement, locations and the inability to travel without local military or police with them.
The second principle is that peacekeeping operations perform best when there has been mutual agreement and consent to allow international involvement. UN peacekeeping operations are deployed with the consent of all the main parties involved in the conflict. In many missions, the consent part has been a weakness, as in 1967, with Presidents Nasser’s withdraw of Egypt’s consent for the UNEF and the subsequent fighting that endured. This showed that there was very little that the UN peacekeepers could do to prevent war other than act as a deterrent for aggressors (Goulding, 1993).
The third principle is that of impartiality and avoid any situations that may compromise this. These is one of the key cornerstones of peacekeeping. This has been difficult to achieve as the ability to maintain good relationships and build trust is often impacted by remaining impartial. If the UN is showing favour, this could question the UN Missions credibility and ultimately lead to withdraw of consent by one of the nations.
The fourth principle of UN peacekeeping was utilising member states to provide suitable troops to be tasked as peacekeeper forces. As there are no “international security forces” that are permanently stood up to deploy and provide immediate support in crisis situations, the UN must rely on member states to support when required with deployable personnel. Under the UN Charter, Chapter VII, Article 43, “ all members of the UN…undertake to make available to the Security Council… armed forces, assistance and facilities… necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security” (United Nations, Chapter VII). Therefore any peacekeeping force is generally a coalition based over a number of different militaries, with varied resources, skill and capacity. Often this mixed-bag of a peacekeeping force would struggle to perform its duties in a high pressure crisis situation, resulting in failure to support the UN Mandate and mission. The added pressure of logistical support also can be difficult with UN lead logistics, civilian organisations and restricted ports and airports.
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There has also been many occasions where corrupt countries will only sign up for missions in order to take the allowances and additional benefits provide by the UN. This leads to many discipline issues with peacekeepers who are not getting paid well for what they are there for. Also many improvised nations have committed their troops who are not well equipped or trained to deal with military peacekeeping operations and therefore fail to act in an appropriate manner. This has been witnessed in South Sudan, Haiti, Rwanda and many other operations (Panizza, 2011).
This leads into the fifth principle that concerns the ‘use of force’ allowed by a peacekeeper. Previously many of the UN peacekeeping operations were unarmed observers, now many are armed, with specific rules of engagement, mainly for self-defence and protection of civilians. Rules of engagement have to be clear and precise as well as understood and agreed to by all parties. Rules of engagement traditionally give the authority as were to use the appropriate amount of force, based on the situation, environment and threat. Rules of engagement can be misunderstood and if this occurs, often fatalities will occur, resulting in more tension.
UN peacekeepers have also failed within their protection role, with the inability to act in Srebrenica in 1995 (Guardian, 2017) and more recently in South Sudan in 2016. (Guardian, 2016). This reluctance to act has been based on several key factors; poor trained state of individual peacekeepers, the principle of impartiality and an ill-defined mandate and rules of engagement due to international pressure from other states and media (Woodhouse, 2007).
Although many people have discredited the UN ability to resolve conflict. Fortna (2008) suggests that peace does “last significantly longer when international personnel deploy to maintain peace than when they do not” (Fortna, 2008, p.16). The reasons given for this are the fact that they can have credible source of information about the intentions of each party as well as providing a means of preventing and managing any potential violations to any peace agreements or resolutions.
Providing peacekeepers also sets the stage for the likelihood of ceasefire negotiations. As both sides feel that they can stop as one side will not act as the aggressor if there is a peacekeeping force to manage it. Peacekeepers also help stabilise a civilian population. In particular, it can provide a sense of security to civilians and also military or security forces who want to conduct DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration). Peacekeepers provide the security to be able to do this, with the promise of protection.
However there have been occasions that the UN has failed to execute its mandate and failed to protect the people that they are there to protect. This has drawn much criticism of the UNs ability to react to conflict. In 2016 in Juba, UN peacekeepers failed to respond to the aid of humanitarian workers in Juba, South Sudan. Several aid workers were attacked and robbed by the South Sudanese government troops (The Guardian, 17 Aug 2017). There was more than 2,500 troop nearby, however all refused to respond when the report of an attack come in (The Guardian, 17 Aug 2017). This highlights several issues in regards to the command and control of UN troops and the fact that they just refused to help, even though they had better equipment and more people. Again the issue of a coalition force with a mix of nations and therefore little ability to impose action on the UN troops. There has since been investigations into why the UN failed to respond and how this can be change.
In conclusion, it is very clear that the UN has to develop its processes and ability to conduct peacekeeping operations. This has been discussed and agreed to by the UNSC and improvement continue to be made in preventive action, peace-building strategy, clear mandates, improvements in military personnel and leadership and structural DPKO and logistical support (United Nations, 2000). However it has been proven that the United Nations do provide a positive effect and impact on conflicts. Study suggests that having a peacekeeping force reduces the chance of renewed conflict and can hold aggressing states accountable for their actions. Also having an international body to support nation states in conflict is agreeable to states in conflict as they provide the impartiality that perhaps would not be providing by neighbouring states or their own militaries.
- Fortna, V. (2008) Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping belligerents’ choices after civil war, Princeton University Press. Retrieved fromhttp://politicalviolenceataglance.org/2015/09/24/enough-with-the-pessimism-about-peacekeeping/.
- Goulding, M. (1993) the evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping, International Affairs, Vol 69 (3),
- 451-464, retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ia/article/69/3/451/2406546.
- Panizza, P (2011) Conflict Resolution and the United Nations: A Leadership Crisis? The SAIA Journal of Global Affairs, 2011,retrieved from http://www.saisjournal.org/posts/conflict-resolution-and-the-united-nations.
- Peck, C. (1998) The Role of the UN and Regional Organizations in Preventing Conflict, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Maryland, United States.
- Security Council Resolution 598, retrieved from https://peacemaker.un.org/un/IQ%20IR_870720_Security%20Council%20Resolution.
- Skelsbaek. S (1986), Peaceful Settlement of Disputes by the United Nations and Other Intergovernmental Bodies, Cooperation and Conflict: Nordic Journal of International Politics. Vol. 21:3, 139-54.
- Srebrenica massacre: Dutch soldiers let 300 Muslims die, court rules. (2017, June 28). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/dutch-soldiers-let-300-muslims-die-in-bosnian-war-court-rules.
- United Nations under pressure over ‘failure to act’ during South Sudan rampage. (2016, August 17). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/17/un-under-pressure-over-failure-to-act-during-south-sudan-rampage.
- United Nations. (2000) Comprehensive review of the questions of peacekeeping forces operations and all their aspects. General Assembly Security Council.
- United Nations. (2019) Peace and Security. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/peace-and-security.
- Woodhouse, T (2000) Conflict resolution and peacekeeping: Critiques and responses, International Peacekeeping, 7:1, 8-26.
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