UN spearheads rise in peacekeeping activities
DESPITE the outbreak of a few new conflicts, long-term trends suggest that international and civil wars are declining.
Analysing the causes of the improvement in global security since 1990, the 2006 Human Security Report argues the United Nations (UN) played a critical role in spearheading a huge upsurge of international conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace-building activities.
The evidence that these initiatives worked is not just circumstantial. Nearly two-thirds of UN peace-building missions had succeeded. In addition, the sharp increase in peacemaking efforts led to a significant increase in the number of conflicts ending in negotiated settlements.
The annual cost of the charges to the international community has been modest — well under 1% of global military spending. The US Government Accountability Office estimated it would cost the US twice as much as the UN to conduct a peacekeeping operation similar to the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti: about $876m compared with the UN budget of $428m for the first 14 months of the mission.
In fact in 2006, the cost of running all of the UN’s 17 peacekeeping operations around the world for an entire year was less than the US spent in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war in a single month.
Although the number of wars has decreased, far too many remain, and there are still several places characterised by instability around the globe that could easily turn into conflict areas. Furthermore, because the underlying causes of conflicts are rarely addressed, the risks of new conflicts breaking out and old ones starting up again remain very real.
Devising peacekeeping mandates
Devising a peacekeeping mandate is an inherently political process. Often, Security Council members receive instructions from their capitals and make rigid proposals. The process is not inclusive of other member states of the UN who are given no avenues to influence the process.
Importantly, mandates are both legal and political in nature. As such, while the language employed by the mandate drafters can have legal consequences, the rationale behind this language is almost completely politically driven. Mandates are a result of consensus among the parties involved in its development — the parties are not necessarily directly involved in the conflict.
The mandate of a peacekeeping operation must be distinguished from the legal basis regulating the deployment of troops and the implementation of the mandate.
The legal framework is founded on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that is concluded between the UN and host state. Among other things, the SOFA allows for the establishment of the mission, the importing of equipment and flying rights, and incorporates the privileges and immunities of the peacekeepers.
The elaboration of a mandate to some extent relies on the secretary-general’s report of the situation in the host state. Many peace agreements form the basis of the peacekeeping mandate such that either the mandate includes provisions of the peace agreement, or the mandate provides for the implementation of the peace agreement.
An issue that often arises in both developing the mandate and in peacekeeping operations is the extent to which the UN can use neighbouring countries as partners in both processes. The use of neighbours has its advantages. It is sometimes argued neighbours are more familiar with each other’s problems than outsiders. Neighbours usually have a fairly common culture, a common social identity, a common history and experiences.
The disadvantage of involving neighbouring states is that proximity sometimes can mean that the "neighbours" are not neutral and, at worst, they can be involved in the conflict. On many occasions, one of the Security Council’s permanent members — or another member state — will take the lead in designing and drafting a particular peacekeeping mandate. The sponsoring member state writes the first draft of the mandate, which is subsequently circulated to the Security Council. This tends to happen in cases where the member state has a strong interest in ensuring that the peacekeeping operation successfully solves the conflict.
For example, the US took the lead in drafting the mandate for Haiti, while France took the lead in drafting that for Côte d’Ivoire.
Mandates frequently change or are supplemented. A peacekeeping mission may find that its mandate is deficient at the time of initial deployment or that the mandate does not address issues that have emerged since deployment. In fact, the most successful missions are those that are flexible and easily adaptable to the needs on the ground. This flexibility is particularly important to ensure that the mandate and mission remain relevant to the conditions prevailing in the conflict state.
Changes to a mandate are typically implemented by the Security Council passing a new resolution that formally modifies or adds to the peacekeeping operation.
Most conflicts are characterised by a combination of internal and international factors, with serious human rights violations and large-scale suffering among the threatened civilian populations, which inevitably results in large numbers of refugees and displaced people.
Very often, conflict is a symptom of intra-state crisis that is deeply rooted in the following conditions: authoritarian rule; exclusion of minorities from governance; socioeconomic deprivation; and weak state structures that lack the capacity to handle normal political and social conflict.
A good mandate should be clear and practical and be backed by secure funding. To structure a clear mandate there must be a clear understanding of the nature of the problem and the underlying cause.
The strategic implication of this is that in structuring mandates and UN missions, we must focus on the structural causes of conflict to build a solid foundation for peace and to ensure a future free of conflict. For the purposes of devising UN mandates and missions, it is necessary to distinguish between the symptoms and causes of intra-state crises. Peacekeeping efforts that treat the symptoms rather than sources of conflict lack a built-in exit strategy and often lead to failure.
Unfortunately, the resources and energies of the international community tend to be mobilised around the symptoms, rather than the causes, of conflicts.
The mandate must be guided by the understanding that peacemaking and peace-building are primarily the responsibility of local rather than foreign actors. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the UN peacekeeping operations may be more effective when the UN is not intricately involved in the peace negotiations at the outset of the talks.
In Cambodia in the 1990s, the contours of the mission were sketched out at an array of informal meetings that allowed all the relevant regional actors to make their preferences known. As a result, even though the interests of Vietnam and China were diametrically opposed throughout the negotiations process, the UN mandate was able to avoid association with the dispute and to assume some semblance of impartiality.
Similarly, in the South African peace process local stakeholders negotiated a settlement and the UN helped implement it through monitoring the peace accord structures and supporting the elections process in 1994. The UN must always try to involve regional actors in all aspects of its operations to the fullest extent.
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