Peacekeeping results have been mixed

KEN POLE  –  Nov 4, 2016

Peacekeeping is one of the most visible and ostensibly celebrated United Nations activities with more than 125,000 personnel currently serving in 16 missions on four continents. Today’s peacekeepers do more than monitor ceasefires and separate warring parties; they manage conflicts within fragile states and facilitate peacebuilding and development. However, the results of these multi-dimensional missions is mixed.

UN member states pledged last year to modernize peacekeeping and provide an additional 40,000 troops in an operational landscape ripe for change. As Canada continues to examine potential contributions (Mali is understood to top the list), Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited Mali and Senegal Nov. 5-8 for talks with senior government officials, foreign ambassadors, representatives from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It was a follow-up to his visits to eastern and central Africa in August and to UN headquarters in October.

On the eve of his latest trip, the Centre for Security Governance (CSG), based in Kitchener, Ontario, offered some unsolicited advice in an eSeminar in collaboration with the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the Department of Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Jane Boulden, head of the department of international relations and security studies at Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, focused on “trends” she said were impacting on the government’s decision-making process.

Those were the use of force, the nature of other partners in UN operations, protection of civilians, and the fundamental question of peacekeeping’s success or failure. “All of these are key contextual considerations for the Canadian government,” she said. “These issues also relate to the overarching question of whether, and how, UN operations actually contribute to […] and may in some instances complicate or even prolong conflicts.”

Arthur Boutellis, director of the Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations at the New York-based International Peace Institute, told the eSeminar audience that “host” countries’ consent for a UN presence remains one of the largest and most frustrating challenges facing the UN. Having worked with UN missions in several African states, most recently Mali as part of a mediation team, he said there is no questioning the need to reform all elements of UN peace operations. “Despite all these challenges, peacekeeping is still one of the primary tools, if not the primary tool, used by the Security Council.” Moreover, despite rising costs, he considered peacekeeping to be “still a fairly cheap tool” when measured against the cost of multinational combat operations such as in Afghanistan.

Tatiana Carayannis, deputy director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in Washington, D.C., rounded out the eSeminar. Having led the SSRC’s Africa programs with a personal focus on the Congo region and served as rapporteur for then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1998, she said the emphasis nowadays should be on violence generically rather than armed conflict specifically. “Armed groups […] in the Congo are not fighting a war,” she said as an example. “They’re extortion or protection rackets.”

A more in-depth look at this issue will appear in the upcoming edition #6 of FrontLine Defence 2016.

Ken Pole is a Contributing Editor at FrontLine magazines.