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Keeping the Peace in the 21st Century: A Look at U.N. Peacekeeping and its American Support
by: Scharnhorst

The Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations states:

We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined

And for these Ends

Have Resolved to Combine our Efforts to Accomplish these Aims

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

In this paper I will argue why I believe the US Government should establish a foreign policy substantially increasing its support of United Nations peacekeeping operations, a foreign policy that I believe would bring about infinitely more good for the international humanitarian and security effort than its own unilateral interventions. I will look back on the history of UN peacekeeping, its failures and successes, and also certain interventions of the US government that could be argued were really imperialist operations designed to support its own interests. The United Nations is only as strong as the support it receives from its member states, critically the US, and recent events on the international stage have made a strong United Nations a necessity if we are to promote international peace and security.

United Nation's peacekeeping as defined by its Department of Peacekeeping Operations is "a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace. UN peacekeepers—soldiers and military officers, civilian police officers and civilian personnel from many countries—monitor and observe peace processes that emerge in post-conflict situations and assist ex-combatants to implement the peace agreements they have signed" (DPKO website). This has always been the traditional approach to peacekeeping, hence its name, but as the world turns and changes, additional roles have been found that are suitable for peacekeeping operations. Majorie Ann Browne notes in her article, United Nations Peacekeeping Issues, that peacekeeping functions may now include monitoring elections, guarding a humanitarian effort in progress, patrolling a border, and also removing arms in a volatile area (Browne 2003, 7-10).

The first UN peacekeeping operation was in 1948 and helped to maintain the different ceasefires and armistice agreements signed between the newly-created Israel and the Arab nations she had been at war with. There have been 59 additional peacekeeping operations since then (DPKO website). One of the most important of which was launched in 1956 to help manage the withdrawal of British, French, and Israeli troops from Egyptian territory, following the brief Suez-Sinai war. The United Nations Emergency Force, or UNEF, was what author Frederick Fleitz Jr. called "the genesis of peacekeeping." It served as a blueprint for modern peacekeeping missions and was devised by Secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold. Hammarskjold wanted to devise an effective operation to prevent future conflict between the warring parties but without angering the Security Council. To not offend anyone this force would have to be completely neutral, but to be effective it had to be armed. It would operate under these principles:

UNEF was largely a success and managed to keep peace in the region for 11 years. During this time, however, Egypt and Israel never commenced peace negotiations and in 1967 the two countries were at war again, which facilitated the withdrawl of the UNEF. This brings up an important point: The countries involved in a dispute must be willing to work out their differences while peacekeeping is underway. The UN doesn't have the authority to impose peace but it can offer a suitable environment to encourage it. It was this blueprint that would set the stage for over two dozen future peacekeeping missions (Fleitz 2002, Ch. 3).

Half a century of peacekeeping operations has produced some notable successes and failures, the latter of which are more often reported than the former. One of the UN's greatest success stories occurred in 1989 when the African country of Namibia secured its independence from South Africa. After a bloody war for independence from 1966 to 1989, free elections were held in 1990 under the guidance of the UN peacekeeping force known as the UN Transition Assistance Group, or UNTAG. These elections were successful after fierce opposition and violence from colonial forces were overcome by UNTAG and SWAPO, the political and military arm of the Namibian liberation movement (Krasno 2003, Ch.2). Another successful UN peacekeeping operation occurred from 1993 to 1995 in the African country of Mozambique. ONUMOZ, as the UN force was called, helped to end a civil war that had brought famine and death to hundreds of thousands of its population (Salomons 2003, Ch.4). Some modern day examples include operations in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, Sierra-Leone, and Liberia, which have brought about greater stability and increased economic aid to those regions (DPKO website).

Peacekeeping has not come without its failures and scandals, however. One of the most notorious UN peacekeeping disasters occurred in Somalia during the early and mid 90's, and was dramatized in the blockbuster film Black Hawk Down. The UN force known as UNOSOM II tried to go about expanding its traditional peacekeeping roles by enforcing its rule-of-law on Somali warlords, a move they took as a grave threat to their power. Soon the UN force was at war with several Somali factions and popular hostility against UN troops was at a fever pitch. This culminated in the disaster of October 3rd, 1993, when US troops were ambushed while trying to arrest leading Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Hassan Aideed. This lead to the deaths of 18 US servicemen and precipitated the withdrawal of American troops by President Clinton, followed shortly thereafter by the withdrawal of all UN peacekeepers. Other notable failures occured in Angola, Haiti, and Rwanda (Fleitz 2002, Ch.8). The most recent scandal to tarnish the UN's reputation has taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where peacekeepers are accused of sexual assaults that include the rape and forced prostitution of young women and children (Clayton/Bone 2004, Times Online).

In the case of the Congo sex abuse scandal, while it may sicken and anger us, we must not lose sight of the good UN peacekeepers have brought to millions of people in the third world throughout their long history, and we must not lump all peacekeepers in the same category as those criminals responsible for the heinous acts above. Just as we Americans stood by and continued to support our troops after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, we must also realize that not all peacekeepers are inhuman and that most of them truly do believe in what they are working and fighting for. It should also be noted that the UN is currently undergoing reforms to improve its peacekeeping capabilities, the most extensive of which came in the wake of the Brahimi Report, released in late 2000. Alex Bellamy and Paul Williams note in their article What Future for Peace Operations? Brahimi and Beyond. that "adherence to the Report's recommendations could potentially change the conduct of peace operations in quite dramatic and constructive ways" (Bellamy/Williams 2004, 184).

The road of UN peacekeeping has been a long and arduous one, fraught with success and failure. However, in an age of international terrorism and insecurity, it's vital the US government increase it's support of UN peacekeeping operations in order to increase its international standing and defuse hotbeds of conflict, which only serve to increase the number of potential terrorists we will have to deal with in the future. It seems especially hypocritical of the US government to support bringing democracy and humanitarian aid to Iraq through force but in the same light oppose UN peacekeeping measures . Our country's recent foreign policy initiatives appear unilateralist in nature and only alienate the rest of the world from us, whereas a UN peacekeeping mission is seen as being neutral and in the interests of the international community as a whole. Both of which may ultimately bring about good to a country, but at differing costs to our own. Hopefully, the quagmire in Iraq has also illustrated to the government and the American people of the extreme difficulties of bringing peace to a region torn apart by years of conflict and poverty. This may in some way excuse the problems the UN has had in the past with its own peacekeeping debacles.

Browne, Marjorie Ann, Nina M. Serfino, and Richard F. Grimmet. 2003. United Nations Peacekeeping. New York: Novinka Books.

Fleitz Jr., Frederick H. 2002. Peacekeeping Fiascoes of the 1990s. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.

Krasno, Jean, Bradd C. Hayes, Donald C. F. Daniel, and Dirk Salomons. 2003. Leveraging for Success in United Nations Peace Operations. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.

United Nations Peacekeeping. 15 Apr. 2005. UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. [Accessed March 2005]

Clayton, Jonathon and James Boone. "Sex Scandal in Congo Threatens to Engulf UN's Peacekeepers." Times Online (2004). Dec. 23, 2004,,3-1413501,00.html

Bellamy, Alex J. and Paul Williams, "What Future for Peace Operations? Brahimi and Beyond." International Peacekeeping (Frank Cass) (2004). Spring 2004

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