UN Peacekeeping: Lessons (UN) Learnt

Peacekeeping today is a complex business that requires a wide range of personnel to contribute their heart and soul to bargain for peace.
Keywords: UN, Peacekeepers, Conflict, War, Asymmetric, Warfare, Force
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Over the past seven decades – UN peacekeepers popularly called “Blue Helmets” have built bridges of hope and peace — at the risk of their own lives in some of the most troubled regions of the world.  

The history of UN peacekeeping missions dates back to 1948 when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was established to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and its Arab neighbours. This was hailed as the first UN peacekeeping mission and paved the way for more than 70 peacekeeping operations in future.   

Peacekeeping today is a complex business that requires a wide range of personnel to contribute their heart and soul to bargain for peace. Peacekeepers have to perform multidimensional tasks, including protecting civilians, disarming combatants, upholding human rights, and supporting democratic elections.

UN peacekeepers today are both, armed or unarmed – military, or police personnel as well as civilians with different domain knowledge and expertise.

The military personnel provide security and control violence. Police officers maintain law and order, train local forces, and investigate crimes while the civilian observers serve as the mission’s eyes and ears, monitoring human rights violations, supporting elections, and promoting civil society participation.

The UN, without its own military, relies on military and police personnel from its 193 member states. They remain on the muster roll of their parent country but work for the UN for a short term on a purely voluntary basis. The UN Security Council is the sole authority to initiate and allocate resources for peacekeeping missions.

The UN peacekeepers remain neutral in conflict situations, and strive to maintain peace without taking sides.

Currently, over 70,000 peacekeepers serve tirelessly in 11 UN missions worldwide, acting as a crucial bridge between war and peace.

Here are some of the most important peacekeeping operations and the lessons learnt from them:

UNEF I (United Nations Emergency Force) – 1956

The United Nations Emergency Force I (UNEF I) was a significant milestone in peacekeeping history. Here are some key lessons learned from this experience:

Importance of Consent: UNEF I’s success hinged on the consent of the parties involved, particularly Egypt. This established a crucial principle for future peacekeeping missions, where cooperation from the host nation is essential.

Peacekeeping vs. Peace Enforcement: The peacekeepers remained neutral and used force only in self-defence. This helped in maintaining the ceasefire and facilitating troop withdrawal.

Rapid Deployment: The swift deployment of UNEF I helped de-escalate tensions and prevent a wider conflict. This highlighted the importance of rapid response for future peacekeeping operations.

Well-defined Mandate: UNEF I’s clear and focused mandate – supervising troop withdrawal and maintaining a buffer zone allowed the force to operate effectively without getting entangled in broader political issues.

Neutrality and Impartiality: UNEF I maintained strict neutrality, earning the trust of both sides. This underscored the importance of impartiality for peacekeepers to act as a credible buffer between conflicting parties. 

Overview: UNEF I was deployed during a very tense and volatile period following the collapse of peace talks between Egypt and Israel. The Palestinian raids and Israeli retaliations added fuel to the fire. The lessons learned from this operation continue to inform peacekeepers how to promote peace and stability around the world.   

UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) – 1992-1995 

The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) experience in former Yugoslavia offered several key lessons for future peacekeeping missions. Here are some of the main takeaways:

Clear and achievable mandates: The force was tasked to protect civilians in designated “safe areas,” but without the military muscle and authorization to use force effectively. The result was that UNPROFOR was unable to prevent atrocities like the Srebrenica massacre.

Importance of impartiality and consent of the parties: The multifaceted nature of the Yugoslav wars, involving various ethnic groups and political factions, made it difficult to maintain impartiality and secure the consistent consent of all parties. The lack of consent from all parties involved limited UNPROFOR’s ability to operate freely and effectively.

Violations and Non-Compliance: There were instances where parties to the conflict violated ceasefire agreements, undermining UNPROFOR’s efforts and endangering peacekeepers.

Deployment of robustly mandated and equipped forces: UNPROFOR was initially conceived as a lightly armed observer force, but when the situation on the ground quickly escalated, the force lacked the firepower and clear rules of engagement to respond decisively.

Importance of comprehensive planning and pre-deployment training: UNPROFOR’s troops were often ill-prepared for the realities of the conflict.

Overview: The UNPROFOR experience highlighted the need for clear mandate and robust rules of engagement for peacekeeping forces. UNPROFOR was sometimes criticized for being ineffective or too passive, raising questions about the balance between impartiality and the need for decisive action.

UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) – 1993-1996

The UNAMIR was deployed in Rwanda to implement a peace agreement between the Rwandan government and rebels, but it was unable to prevent the mass slaughter. This led to great deal of soul-searching within the UN in the aftermath of the genocide, about what went wrong. Here are some of the key lessons learned:

Lack of clear and robust mandate: UNAMIR was not authorized to use force to prevent violence, and lacked the authority to take decisive action in the event of a full-scale outbreak of fighting.  

The importance of a well-equipped and well-trained force: UNAMIR was underfunded and understaffed. The troops were not properly trained or equipped for the violence.

Necessity of strong intelligence gathering and analysis: UNAMIR failed to anticipate the genocide, despite warnings from some quarters. Better intelligence gathering and analysis could have helped the UN to prepare for the violence and take steps to prevent it.

Preventive diplomacy: The Rwandan genocide was not inevitable. The UN could have prevented the violence by mediating between the parties to the conflict and putting pressure on the Rwandan government to address the grievances of the Tutsi minority.

Need for a clear exit strategy: UNAMIR did not have a clear exit strategy. The force was supposed to leave Rwanda after a transitional government was established, but this did not happen. A clearer exit strategy could have helped to prevent UNAMIR from becoming bogged down in the conflict. 

Overview: The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a horrific event that exposed the limitations of peacekeeping forces. By learning from the mistakes of the past, the UN can better prepare itself to prevent future atrocities. UNAMIR’s failure to prevent the genocide exposed the weaknesses in the UN’s response mechanisms and underscored the need for more decisive and timely actions. 

MONUC/MONUSCO (UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo/UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) – 1999-present

The MONUC/MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been a complex and long-running operation. Here are some of the key lessons learned:

Mission creep: MONUC’s mandate has grown significantly over time, encompassing tasks like protecting civilians, supporting elections, and disarming rebel groups. This has stretched resources and made it difficult to prioritize effectively.

Limited Troop Strength: MONUC/MONUSCO has faced criticism for insufficient troop numbers and capabilities to adequately address the vast territory and numerous armed groups in the DRC.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: MONUSCO, have faced serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. This undermines trust in the mission and the UN.

Overview: MONUC/MONUSCO’s experience highlights the complexities of peacekeeping and importance of long-term commitment as well as the need for integrated missions. MONUC/MONUSCO’s ongoing presence highlights the complexity of peacekeeping in protracted conflicts and the necessity for combining military, political, and humanitarian efforts.

UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) – 1978-present

UNIFIL’s long and complex history in Lebanon offers a wealth of lessons for peacekeeping missions:

Unclear or Evolving Mandates: UNIFIL’s mandate has been adjusted several times to adapt to changing circumstances creating confusion about the mission’s actual goal and role.

Limited Use of Force: UNIFIL peacekeepers can only use force in self-defence or defence of their mandate. This limitation makes it difficult to deter violence or protect civilians caught in crossfire.

Host Government Relations: UNIFIL relies on cooperation from the Lebanese government, which can be strained by domestic politics or regional tensions.

Hezbollah’s Influence: The presence and activities of Hezbollah, a powerful non-state actor in South Lebanon, complicate UNIFIL’s ability to maintain a neutral stance and fulfill its mandate.

Overview: UNIFIL’s longevity and adaptation to changing circumstances illustrate the need for peacekeeping missions to be flexible and engage actively with local populations to build trust and cooperation.

MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) – 2013-present

MINUSMA’s ongoing deployment in Mali offers a mixed bag of experiences:

Fragile Political Landscape: The ongoing political instability in Mali hinders progress of peacebuilding efforts.

Evolving Threats: The rise of intercommunal violence and the expansion of extremist groups complicate MINUSMA’s mission.

Resource Constraints: MINUSMA faces a constant struggle with inadequate troop numbers, logistical limitations, and budgetary constraints.

High Casualties: MINUSMA has become one of the deadliest peacekeeping missions in recent history, raising questions about force protection strategies.

Overview: MINUSMA has faced significant challenges from non-state actors and terrorists, emphasizing the need for peacekeeping missions to be adequately trained, resourced and prepared for asymmetric warfare.

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Neeraj Mahajan

Mr. Neeraj Mahajan is a media professional with over 30 years of experience in print, electronic, web and mobile media. He is the Editor of Taazakhabar News and World News Report.

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