United nations role as a peacekeepers

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The creation of United Nations came as a reaction to the worries of the International community on the series of armed conflicts that was gradually eating up state systems, eroding peace and stability and creating a world of disorder. The organization got its roots from the League of Nations and used the westphalian system of International Relations Theory as a model for its foundations which has lasted till this present time.

With the unfolding of events particularly during the cold war years, the United Nations had experienced challenges and breakthroughs in carrying out some of its functional and administrative roles which had to do with stabilizing peace in the international system.

The warring years of the cold war had been a confusing one because there where major speculations that the backbones of these wars where super powers that had major seats in the United Nations Organization. In other words there was a lack of cooperation between them.

Therefore this essay is going to be examining the background to peacekeeping from the traditional approach looking at it from the westphalian view of containing conflict, the different principles to this approach, its major strength and weaknesses and thereby conclude with what peacekeeping should be all about.


In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations traditional approach to international peacekeeping there is a need to understand the brief history of how peace keeping emerged and the different organizations that enforces peacekeeping.

“The emergence of peace keeping can be seen to have developed due to crises in human society and the making of plans to prevent future crises”(Verrier,1981,p.xv)

Most of these plans have been carried out by major organizations to foster international peace and tranquility but the most dominant out of them all is the United Nations.

The United Nations is an organization that came into existence as a result of the failure of the League of Nations to efficiently provide international security and stability performing certain roles such as mediating between warring countries, facilitating conflict resolution, serves as a forum for states interaction, promoting peaceful relationships between states and a playing ground for international actors.

The organization also promotes social welfare and economic prosperity which has given rise to great hopes in the international system. (Black, 1986.p.150).

Consequently its ability to foster peaceful resolutions during conflicts was first recognized by a Canadian Diplomat, whom suggested a United Nations Mission to calm the Suez Canal Crisis which is reflected in the works of Weiss as,

“A mission which brought about the beginning of peacekeeping to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities”. (1995, p.2). This fundamental step towards formulating peace has actually put the United Nations in the spot light of peace building where by every nation looks up to it as the final and only hope for a world of survival without wars.

Since 1948 so many operations had been carried out by the United Nations some of which still continues till date but with the outbreak of Cold War peace keeping had been more difficult because of the division of the international community into two strong polar divisions which had the U.S and Soviet Union as major powers.

With this kind of problem arising, one would wonder about the exact principle that clearly backs the role of U.N in peacekeeping. To this effect, Whitworth states that,

The U.N charter does not totally describes peacekeeping, but its roles are clearly stated in chapter 6 which includes the Pacific Settlement of disputes and chapter 7 which emphasizes on the actions the United Nations can take with respect to threats, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression, but non of this chapter says anything about peacekeeping. Instead it came into practice when the United Nations responded to threats to international peace and security (2004, p.29).

One of its earliest responses can be seen with the creation of two observer missions.

One in Palestine in 1948 which is The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and the other one in Indian and Pakistan which is The United Nations Military observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

(Weiss, 1995, p.4)

But the beginning of its operation was the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 involving Israel, Britain and France against Egypt after the Suez Canal Company was nationalized. (Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990, p.3)

The United Nation's roles during this crisis was basically to bring an end to the many killings that had been going on clearly using the chapters 6 and 7 of the United Nations Charter as a ground for legitimacy in carrying out this operations.

Consequently, Hill and Malik see this role of the United Nations to peacekeeping as,

Being used in place of collective security and a response to the stalemate between the Permanent Members of the Security Council to prevent the confrontation and involvement of the super powers at local level disputes, which as an activity is responsible for closing the space in between the will for peace and its actual achievement.

(1996, p.14).

Different operations were been carried out which according to Hill and Malik had two main distinctions “which was the observer missions with a group of military observers and peace keeping forces with a group of National Contingents” (1996, p.15).

Each group had its major characteristics but the same goal was to contain conflict.

Hill and Malik also states as well,

That another vital part of these categories is the worth of the operation itself and how it can gain the trust of the combatants realizing its operations as a military structure and not a threatening one. (1996, p.15).

Certain significant roles in peacekeeping most especially in the 1940's were basically monitoring, observing, reporting, and persuading (Hill and Malik, 1996, p26), through the use of various observer missions such as the one earlier mentioned which is the United Nations Truce Supervision organization.

Other observer missions found in the work of Hill and Malik are as follows;

     United Nations Special Commission on the Balkans (UNSCOB) 1947-1951, which had to do with giving foreign support for Guerrilla fighters in Greece, The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) 1948 which engaged in monitoring ceasefires between Israel and its neighbours, The United Nations Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNIMOGIP) 1949 which also engaged in monitoring cease fire between India and Pakistan in Kashmir and the United Nations Emergency Force 1 (UNEF 1)1956 -1967 which was a buffer between Israeli and Egyptian forces in Sinai.(1996,p.27).

These missions are earliest examples of United Nations Peace Keeping missions but the limited frame of this paper cannot allow me elaborate in details.

Consequently, the Westphalian approach to containing conflict can also be seen as a major part of the evolution of United Nations Traditional approach to International Peace keeping.

This puts into consideration a form of collective identity of all states in the international system as having the right to do as it pleases without interference from other states. (Wendt, 1994, No.2). it is upon this premise that the United Nations Made a framework for its traditional approach to peacekeeping.


For Ryan,

Most United Nations Operations where carried out under tight constraint of cold war confrontation with the understanding of certain limitations to their actions and the fact that peacekeeping rules were not defined but the basis for its operations were defined with emphasis's on its operations being guided under the principles of Consent, minimum use of force and collective financing. (Ryan cited in Woodhouse and Ramsbotham, 2000, p.27).

Basically, operations of the United Nations Traditional Approach to International Peace keeping had been planned out in principles to bring about its effectiveness.

In relation to this Wiseman also sees the United Nations Traditional Approach to International Peacekeeping as based on certain principles which He categorized as.

The Principle of Consent and Host country Perceptions.

The Principle and Perception of Neutrality.

The Principle of the Non-use of Force. (Wiseman cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990, p.38-43).

Illustrations of these principles are very necessary in assessing The Strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations Traditional Approach to International Peacekeeping.

The Principle of Consent.

This is one of the most important factors of peacekeeping because the United Nations operations needs to work hand in hand with parties to the conflict to bring about a resolution.

For Wiseman “it is one of the primary and fundamental requirements of peacekeeping which is operative in every U.N and non-UN operation.” (Wiseman cited in Skjelsbaek and Rikhye, 1990, p.38).

Consequently Consent is very vital and important; it owes its responsibility to the Westphalian approach to containing conflict which is based on respect for state sovereignty.

The principle of Consent according to Wiseman “affects the performance of a peacekeeping mandate” (Wiseman cited in Skjelsbaek and Rikhye, 1990, p.39) because it determines how far and well the United Nations can carry on with activities of interference with the consent of major actors in the conflict or according to Woodhouse and Ramsbotham the provision of troops by the parties to the conflict under the command of the Secretary General. (2000, p.28).

Support of the Security Council is also needed for proper financial management in other for there to be availability of resources to carry out ceasefire activities and efficiently bring about peace. Jett confirms this by supporting the argument that at least one of the members of the Security Council is required to assist a major peacekeeping operation.(1999,p.38)

Consent makes the United Nations know what step to take in containing conflict and helps them outline the various activities towards achieving their aims.

Not seeking consent could be very dangerous because it could escalate conflicts into a different direction making peaceful relations difficult to enforce. Interference with out adequate acknowledgement is also a breech of the Westphalian treaty agreement which basically emphasizes on the respect of sovereign states. Consent is basically the foremost step to international peacekeeping giving the United Nations the Green light to performing its roles.

The Principle of Neutrality.

This can be explained within the context of impartiality where by the United Nations carries out its activities without taking sides with neither parties to the conflict making sure its roles of maintaining ceasefire and achieving peaceful relations is accomplished. Consequently the parties to a conflict however determine the operational decisions of the United Nations. (Urquhart cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990.p.18), especially when you have the influence of major powers in the Security Council as background facilitators of this conflicts.

Urquhart states that;

    Personal perceptions should not affect the professional conduct in the field

    So far there is a solid plan and leadership which is very impartial to the public

but privately, silent talks are being made to bring about a negotiation. (Urquhart cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990.p18).

The principle of neutrality basically makes it easy for the United Nations traditional approach to peacekeeping and basically clarifies its position on interference and makes agreements between states faster.

According to Wiseman “Impartiality should be perceived by the parties to the conflict and actively expressed in word and deed by the permanent members.”(Wiseman cited Rikhye and Skjelsbaek.1990.p.43).

The principle of the Non use of Force.

For the United Nations Traditional approach to peacekeeping, the non use of force clearly states the intentions of the kinds of activities they are undertaking in which the primary motive is to basically reconcile warring parties clearly showing this through peaceful resolution of conflict without restraints or complications by using arms of any kind.

According to Norton and Weiss;

The different functions of peace keeping such as the separation of combatants cease fire operations, reports on violations and humanitarian assistance are all done without the use of force. (Norton and Weiss cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek. 1990, p.26).

It is believed that the non use of force basically allows the objectives of a peacekeeping mission to be easily achieved presenting the peacekeepers as saviors especially in the eyes of the civilians whom are victims of the devastated situations.

This principle also implies using subtle means to calm an aggressive state of confusion clearly showing a stand without taking sides.

Though this major principles work hand in hand, there have been major strengths and weaknesses to its practices. It has had effect in reality but with certain levels of limitations there by making its efficiency questionable. Therefore In other to make a clear distinction between its strengths and weaknesses one of the major peacekeeping operations would be used as a form of assessment.

The United Nations Emergency Force 1 (UNEF 1) operations of 1956-1967 between Israel and Egypt would be used as an example for this illustration.

The Strengths of the United Nations Traditional Approach to International Peace keeping.

According to Verrier, “4th November 1956 had a major mark in the fortunes of the United Nations as a force for International Stability” (1981, p.14).

Many objectives were been laid out for this operations which were quite successful to a certain extent and the 3 basic principles of the traditional approach to Peacekeeping went a long way in containing the major clashes between Israel and Egypt over the Suez Canal.

Its first major achievement was to successfully get the consent of Egypt to interfere in the major clashes it was having with Israel and to effect a ceasefire operation between them.

The General Assembly implemented this functional role knowing the urgency of bringing about a compliance with its resolutions 997(ES-1) giving itself a time frame of two days to implement and coordinate the monitoring of buffer zones between Israel and Egypt. (Bothe and Dorschel, 1999, p.134).

This evidently showed how effective the United Nations was when it came to fulfilling its mandate over peacekeeping operations. As regards this, extraordinary effort and complete devotion from the secretary general and other members created UNEF 1 as an instrument of diplomacy. (Verrier, 1981, p.15).

Considerably Hill and Malik agree with this fact saying that the role played by the Secretary General in the war was far better than any other function he had executed. (1996, p.34)

Another major strength of the United Nations traditional approach was the fact that as an organization created for the promotion of international security the United Nations had a certain level of legitimate power to deter aggressors or other states interference in the ongoing conflict. This served as one of the next step towards containing the conflict between Israel and Egypt after their consent was given.

Where by major powers like France and Britain with the help of Israel because of their interest in the Far East of the canal (as a shortest sea route) were discouraged from invading Egypt (Hill and Malik, 1996, p.34).

In addition, the agreement that led to the ceasefires organized by the peacekeeping operations of UNEF 1 where comprehensive in consultation and substance. (Wiseman cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek.1990, p.39). This enabled the effective use of the principle of neutrality in carrying out peacekeeping operation without any special preferences to any sides of the conflict.

Consequently as a result of the major activities guiding the UNEF 1 operations, there was a level of relationship and involvement domestically between the locals which facilitated an effective mandate. (Rikhye and Skjelsbaek.1990, p.11). The peacekeepers where able to secure a safe place for victims whom were easily assessable to them because they were not armed neither did they use force in their operations which brought a kind of reassurance to the civilians.

At a point when the Security Councils resolution where not effective enough because of the influence of France and Britain the secretary general initiated the Uniting for peace procedure. (Hill and Malik 1996, p.34).which basically continued to steadfastly achieve the United Nations peacekeeping mandate. Also looking closely,

The UNEF 1was able to coordinate the withdrawal of foreign troops from

Egypt, patrol boarder areas, performing a buffer zone between Anglo-French-Israeli and Egyptian forces and also strengthen the provisions of the Egypt -Israeli Armistice Agreements of 1949.it also guaranteed the right of passage through the canal. (Hill and Malik, 1996, p.34).

The UNEF 1 and the principles at which it was effected served as a form of foundation for other major operations. Hill and Malik confirm this by identifying that it was used in subsequent activities such as ONUC, UNIFIL, UNDOF, and UNFICYP. (1996, p.35). Therefore the UNEF 1 served as a form of framework for planning future operations. Changing certain policies that needed to be changed and adding new ones for better peacekeeping performance and also taking into account how it gained its success and related it with other peacekeeping missions.

Moreover, by 1967 after the UNEF 1 had stayed in Egypt for a period of time the Egyptian-Israeli boarder remained calm as a result of the buffer zone created between them which gave credibility to the presence of UN and was seen as a success. (Hill and Malik, 1996, p.35).

Without any doubt there were major successes in the operations of the UNEF 1 traditional approach but also there were major short comings, even when looking at existing literatures you will find out there is more concentration on these shortcomings because of the gravity of its seriousness. In other words the major weaknesses of the UNEF 1 would also be assessed.

The Weaknesses of the United Nations Traditional Approach to International Peace keeping.

The step towards gaining the consent of Israel and Egypt was a very tedious one because of the existence of the United Nations Politics going on between the members of the Security Council. Israel had the backing of Britain and France because of certain economic interest.

While the United States disagreement to this brought about the cessation of hostilities and the setting up of UNEF 1(Hill and Malik, 1996, p.35). This disagreement between some of the members of the Security Council brought about a slow process of decision making. The UNEF had no mandate to control territory but had the go ahead to occupy Egyptian Gaza in order to maintain peace during the Israeli withdrawal. (Verrier, 1981, p, 27). Looking at this closely it is obvious that the UNEF was only able to completely gain the consent of Egypt thereby making the first principle of the United Nations traditional approach partially successful. Consequently according to Durch, “mandates tend to reflect the political play in the Security Council because it acts in accordance with strategic interest” (Durch cited in Jett, 1999, 39).

Lack of necessary resources to carry out the UNEF mandate is another major weakness of its operation (Jett, 1999, 39).Rikhye and Skjelsbaek agrees to this by stating that there were problems of equipment especially from countries that contributed troops (1990, p.4).lack of adequate resources can basically make any step towards conflict containing a failure no matter how much resources it might have been, so far its not enough then there is an obvious weakness.

Also the ambiguity of the responsibilities of the Secretary General to the field operation was another challenge to the preparation of UNEF 1(Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990, p.7).

The issue of partiality is another major weakness. There have being basic assumptions that some situations cannot be neutral. Looking at the case of the relationship between the United Nations and Egypt, special efforts were made to bring the UNEF in to operation. (Verrier 1981, p.21).

UNEF didn't lead to a political settlement, it also didn't bring about a lasting solution to the conflict between Israel and Egypt it only contained it. (Verrier 1981, p.28).

Verrier also pointed to the fact that the UNEF acted like a military government in a particular territory instead of a peacekeeping force according to the objectives of the General Assembly. (1981, p.29).

According to Woodhouse and Ramsbotham, “the principles of the United Nations traditional approach were not totally followed in practice.”(2000, p.28).

The non use of force was another big issue; but there were certain times when slight force was used looking at the case of Israeli troops marching out of Egyptian territory. (Verrier, 1981, p.29).

There was also inefficiency on the part of the peacekeepers themselves. They were recruited under a short space of time there by causing unclear objectives of what their mission was all about.


In assessing the United Nations Peacekeeping it is clear that the major achievements of their operations basically contained conflict and didnt bring about a lasting peaceful solution which consequently according to Bothe and Dorschel is as a result of the lack of cooperation between warring parties.(1999,p.11). And considerably even with the United Nations charter creation of a collective security, conflict prevention was difficult because of the lack of Great power cooperation. (Hill and Malik 1996, p. 17-18). One would ask the question what then can bring about a lasting peace in the international system, is it the promotion of individual justice or international order? Or from another point of view what should peace keeping be all about?

Wiseman in his works basically feels that the various methods of peacekeeping should extend into other areas like verification of arms control, Monitoring humanitarian aid and containment before crises stage. (Wiseman cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek, 1990, 32). While Norton and Weiss believe it should be a make shift step to buy time for the resolution of conflict and diplomacy.(Norton and Wiseman cited in Rikhye and Skjelsbaek,1990,25) and in the works of Jett he makes a claim that “at minimum, a better understanding of the causes of the conflict might improve the chances for successful peacekeeping.”(1999, p.39). Which ever way it goes, whether individual justice or international order the United Nations as an Organization with sovereign state members would always need total cooperation and commitment from its members to effectively bring about a collective security and stable peace in the international system.


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