From peacekeeping to "peace operations"

IssueDecember 2004 - February 2005
Feature by Metta Spencer

Peacekeeping has changed a lot since 1956, when Lester B Pearson--then Canadian Foreign Minister--proposed that the UN send an international force to the Sinai desert to prevent fighting.

The Canadian government established the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (PPC) in 1994. Its Peace Operations Summer Institute (POSI), which I attended, offers an overview of the whole array of peace operations, and while I was there several other courses were underway on such top-ics as humanitarianism and “DDR”-- Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Re-integration, the processes following the establishment of a peace agreement when weapons are collected and destroyed and soldiers are mustered out and assisted to return to regular society.

The POSI students were a varied group:two women policy advisers from Foreign Affairs Canada; four female graduate stu-dents; one woman from Ethiopia who does conflict resolution work for a German organisation; a Canadian military officer with experience as a peacekeeper in Sierra Leone; and five military officers from Latin American and Caribbean countries,one of whom had served as a peacekeeper in East Timor. A guest lecturer, who participated throughout the course, was a woman from India who studies the traffic in small arms and drugs.

Four generations

Early in the course we became familiar with a bell-shaped graph showing the phases when different types of interventions are appropriate to restore peace. During the early stages, as conflicts are becoming increasingly evident, preventive measures can be employed to reduce the odds of armed struggle. When actual warfare erupts and continues, the only possible interventions are attempts at conflict mitigation. Eventually, however, some type of conflict resolution processes occur,resulting in ceasefires and peace agreements. Occasionally, peace enforcement by military units is required to prevent a resumption of fighting. Finally, another kind of intervention is required--post-conflict peacebuilding.

All of these types of intervention can be called “peace operations”, but not all of them are peacekeeping. One of POSI's main instructors, Walter Dorn, distinguishes four “generations” of peace operations. During the initial generation, all UN peacekeepers were military personnel invited by the conflict parties to monitor a ceasefire and observe during the negotiation of a political settlement. Only in1956 did the second generation begin, when peacekeepers were interposed as a buffer between opposing troops to prevent impending warfare in the Suez crisis.

A third generation of peace operations has involved a great expansion of activities, often involving non-military personnel. These multi-dimensional operations include political, military, humanitarian,police, economic, social, reconstruction, and judicial activities. They may be carried out by regional organisations (eg the African Union and NATO); NGO monitors (eg Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group); army engineers (who rebuild bridges and water systems); UN agronomists (who restore local food production); election monitors; and civilian police seconded from their home-town constabularies.

The widening of peace operations occurred after the Cold War ended and civil wars increased, requiring that under-lying root causes of disputes be addressed. Unfortunately, such peace operations stilla re far more often undertaken after a war than beforehand, when they would be more likely to succeed.

Finally, Dorn sees the emergence of a fourth generation of peace operations,whereby the United Nations becomes the authority that actually governs during a transitional period until a new, democratic state can be established. East Timorisan example.

Behave like grown ups

Under Chapter Six of the UN Charter, sovereign countries are expected to settle their disputes voluntarily through such means as mediation. Peace operations should therefore take place only with the consent of government. Sometimes peace-keepers have had to leave because the government ordered them out.

However, under the terms of Chapter Seven of the Charter, if the Security Council determines that a threat to peace or actual aggression exists, it may, against the wishes of that State, send troops with a war-fighting mandate. This was the circumstance, for example, under which the Korean War took place, and in recent years other war-fighting operations have been authorised--either under the command of UN forces or some coalition of states. Not all such interventions areachieved. (Rwanda and Somalia are instances of failure.) Security Council members often disagree on whether to authorise such actions. Still, fewer Chap-ter Six and more Chapter Seven mandates are being issued over the years.

Dilemmas of the dedicated

The longer I stayed at the PPC, the more apparent became the dilemmas that con-front the dedicated people who serve in these projects. Such tensions were aired more often outside the classroom than during lectures.

One problem that humanitarian workers mentioned repeatedly was the fact that their effectiveness and even their lives are being compromised by having the lines blurred between military activities and the provision of aid.

Two decades ago, humanitarian workers were never targeted by either side in a war, for everyone realised that they were independent, neutral, and willing to help those on both sides who needed relief such as medical attention, food, blankets,water, or shelter.

Today, more and more, humanitarian workers are seen as agents working for a particular state or army. This blurring of roles has resulted largely from the attempts by military officers to manage and “coordinate” the activities of NGO personnel in their areas of operation.

For example, an officer may insist on sending armed soldiers to escort supply trucks and paramedic teams, against their wishes. Or, even worse, soldiers may be sent out to distribute potable water and groceries to random households as a way of winning over the “hearts and minds” of the local populace. If, on the following day, a CARE worker and a Me'decins Sans Frontie`res physician show up, they maybe shot because people will suppose they are part of the same military unit. Indeed,while POSI was going on, five staff members of Me'decins Sans Frontie`res were murdered in Afghanistan--the kind of tragedy that has come to be expected everywhere in war zones.

Victims and perps

Other concerns of humanitarian workers were stated most vividly by a visitor,David Rieff, author of A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis. Having read his previous book, Slaughterhouse, written during the siege of Sarajevo, I expected that Rieff would again promote international readiness to undertake war-fighting missions in hot-spots around the world.

However, he now points out the complications that have negated all anticipated benefits. Accordingly, he does not support the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (see p33), arguing that it will never be applied universally--interventions will never be authorised into powerful countries that abuse their own citizens, but only into weak ones. Moreover, Rieff considers it unwarranted to identify one side in a fight as innocent victims and the other side as guilty perpetrators. Often, he says, the victims are also guilty, or will become so as soon as they get the chance, as in the case of many Kosovar victims after NATO's 1999defeat of their Serbian oppressors.

Prolonging the agony?

Over the past two decades, a world-wide human rights movement has arisen and humanitarian workers are increasingly viewed as participants in it. Clearly, most of the people they aid in war zones are actually suffering because their human rights have been violated. To alleviate their misery may be only a short-term”band-aid” solution since it will not change the root causes. In fact, by providing food and medicine even-handedly, relief workers know that they may be pro-longing the conflict--or even contributing to the misery of the victims by helping the very people who are causing that suffering.

Sometimes it is necessary to compromise with a dictator, just to be allowed to bring in supplies. Nevertheless, at a certain point, some NGO charities have felt compelled to draw the line for moral reasons. A few organisations openly declare that their assistance is part of a political reform movement and that they will no longer assist any government or rebel group that they find politically or morally unacceptable.

Value in neutrality

Previously Rieff criticised the International Red Cross as immoral for remaining scrupulously neutral toward both Muslim and Serb belligerents in Bosnia. Later, however, he came to view neutrality as the best position for all NGO humanitarians.

Even though relief workers can accomplish nothing permanent for war victims by offering only alleviation, he says they should limit themselves to that. But he believes that they won't. Humanitarian aid will become increasingly political in nature, and increasingly managed by the military. Armed interventions under the banner of human rights will become more common, he believes, but will be unable to establish democracies. Instead, troops will often have to remain indefinitely as an occupying force, protecting victims from further violence and being regarded locally as colonial rulers.

Nonviolent imperative

Rieff seems to take pride in issuing these bleak predictions with relentless stoicism,swatting away every hopeful alternative that anyone in his audience proposes. Nevertheless, some of us did try. Over a drink I shared my misgivings about his position on Bosnia in Slaughterhouse. While I had sympathised with the Muslims and wanted to protect their lives, Ihad not considered it a wise precedent to fight their separatist war for them. For one reason, most countries that have divided have had tragic futures long afterward. Rieff replied that he had argued exactly for that--that the UN should fight their war for them--but for political, not humanitarian, reasons. It was not to save lives but rather because he believed the Muslims had a chance for democracy if they could get rid of the fascistic Slobodan Milosevic.

But all that fighting did not get rid of Milosevic. What got rid of him was nonviolent resistance. In the classroom later, I suggested that instead of sending troops,the UN or certain countries such as Canada might help people to oust their dictators by nonviolent means. After all, political defiance has been used successfully many times. It takes time, training, strategic planning, and enough money for cellphones and photocopiers, but it should always be given priority over military intervention and over separatist declarations of autonomy.

Admittedly, there may still be a few occasions, as in Rwanda, when international military action is necessary because genocide is imminent. Often such a UN intervention can save far more lives than it costs, as proved to be the case in East Timor. But, as Rieff insists, such cases should, and can, be rare.