The Problems of Peacekeepers


To pick up on an interesting discussion that was happening earlier on this blog, I’d like to point out an interview with Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, the peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in TIME Magazine. Here are some excerpts:

What implications does the success or failure of MONUC have for other peacekeeping operations?
Every case is different. Darfur is very different. Every time a U.N. peacekeeping force deploys, it raises lots of questions. But yes, there are issues raised by our experience that will have a long-term effect. There is a very fine line between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Our mission was equipped for peacekeeping. And as one of my officers says, you don’t go to war in blue helmets and white tanks. When we shift from a monitoring group to one that takes on military elements, we have to change the way we operate…But I think that one should not forget that there have been a lot of achievements. Three to four years ago, the country was dividing into three parts. That was overcome. Most of the country now has peace. This is a country that is literally back from the dead. There is progress…

One important point to take from this statement is the fact that peacekeeping has to be adapted to every scenario. There are distinctions to be made between peacekeeping – the monitoring of a peace agreement; peace enforcement – the enforcing of a peace agreement through force; and peace making – the imposition of peace through the use of force. It is generally agreed that the UN is only capable of peacekeeping because of its lack of resources, confused command structure, inability to make quick decisions, and other challenges. Peacekeeping, however, in its traditional form is meant to be a symbolic protection force more than anything else – a way to overcome the security dilemma whereby neither side will disarm for fear that the other side will not disarm. They deployed to countries that have recently had a peace agreement and allow the rival factions to disarm without losing face while also holding them to their agreements. A more recent version of traditional peacekeepers, like those in Congo or Darfur, are able to use violence to protect civilians or themselves but are still not meant to be actual “peace enforcers”. The fact that peacekeeping works in certain scenarios is evident in the progress that has been made in other parts of the Congo.

But what happens when a peace agreement doesn’t hold and complex violence breaks out as in Darfur or Congo? There is still no real agreement on what is to be done when the situation is not amenable to peacekeeping. The peacekeepers surely can’t start attacking government troops who are committing atrocities because they will be attacked or kicked out of the country. Furthermore, as we’ve all heard in both Darfur and Congo, they don’t have enough troops or resources to effectively “wage war” against violent elements that may be targeting or attacking civilians.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to make peacekeepers better. When it comes down to it, people need to start discussing the practicalities of these scenarios. How do you adapt different mandates to different environments? Is peace enforcement by the UN possible or even desirable? What is clear is that peacekeepers on their own are not able to be the “solution” to a civil war, whether in Darfur or Congo.

I’ll end this post with Mr. Doss’s quote about R2P, which I think supports this discussion nicely.

The Responsibility to Protect [or R2P, a concept of humanitarian intervention] was only adopted by the U.N. in 2005. How much is MONUC feeling its way here? Is MONUC an experiment?
R2P is a huge step forward … But the question remains: How do we actually do it? We have come up against the sharp end of R2P. We can claim that responsibility, but actually doing that in North Kivu, with a collapsing army, a resurgence of ethnic groups — well, that raises fundamental questions. When we make these statements, we have to be careful that we have the means to match our mandate.


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