UN Peacekeeping

When I was searching on “law enforcement officer” last week, I came across the wiki article on peacekeeping. It specifically discusses UN Peacekeeping, an official operation of the United Nations. I didn’t read the article at the time, but I was startled by the fact that an article on peacekeeping contained a picture of people (who were clearly the peacekeepers) carrying guns. So I went back and read the article yesterday, and followed the links to the official UN site about it.

The stated goal of the UN peacekeeping operation (from their website) is “to help countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace”. The primary people who make up a peacekeeping operation are from the military (from a neutral country), and they carry guns. Now, I am not particularly familiar with the atmosphere of a place where there has recently been a cease-fire, but it seems to me that, generally speaking, using guns to keep peace is a bit of an oxymoron. You cannot force anybody to be peaceful. If people are only keeping the peace because they are under the threat of violence from a third party, how does that help anything?

As I looked into it further, I found the official principals and guidelines of the UN Peacekeeping Operation. I have not read the entire document (it is quite long), but I have skimmed through parts of it and a few things have mitigated my concerns slightly. One point is that peacekeeping is only one aspect of the many different things the UN does, including conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace enforcement, and peacebuilding. Within this context, it became more clear to me that the primary goal of the peacekeepers is to ensure that a mutually agreed-upon cease-fire is adhered to, and that there are other operations working simultaneously on creating more lasting peace. I was reassured to read that there is recognition of the fact that “While the deployment of a multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation may help to stem violence in the short-term, it is unlikely to result in a sustainable peace unless accompanied by programmes design to prevent the recurrence of conflict.”

According to the document, the three principles of peacekeeping are consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defense and defence of the mandate. The third principle allows peacekeepers to use force at a tactical level, with the ultimate aim in doing so being “to influence and deter spoilers working against the peace process or seeking to harm civilians; and not to seek their military defeat.” Again, this disturbs me slightly. I realize that in a place where there is a lot of conflict and has recently been war, there are going to be people who do violent actions and try to block the peace process, but I still find myself wondering if force is indeed the only or best way to handle such eruptions. This is of course a very difficult question and one which is asked by the idealist in me. The UN clearly believes that force is effective, as they state that “By proactively using force in defense of their mandates, these United Nations peacekeeping operations have succeeded in improving the security situation and creating an environment conducive to longer-term peacebuilding in the countries where they are deployed.” I am a bit skeptical, because I don’t believe that true peace can EVER be obtained as long as force is considered a viable aspect of the solution. In the continued discussion of using force, it does say that “In its use of force, a United Nations peacekeeping operation should always be mindful of the need for an early de-escalation of violence and a return to non-violent means of persuasion.” This brings another question to my mind: do the peacekeepers in fact de-escalate as soon as possible? The individuals in the peacekeeping operation are for the most part from the military. They have been trained to use violence as a means of resolving conflict. Thus, I find it difficult to believe that they would even be capable of recognizing how soon de-escalation is possible, because their perspective is skewed by the way in which they have been trained to view violence.


2 Responses to UN Peacekeeping

  1. A.S. says:

    I am comfortable with the use of weapons in peacekeeping operations. Marshall Rosenberg talks about the protective use of force, which he feels is compatible with nonviolent communication. Sometimes force is necessary to prevent people from harming each other. If a toddler is about to hit or bite another child, it makes sense to restrain him in order to protect the other child. That´s the use of protective force, but it´s not violence. You don´t have to hurt the child. When both children are protected and safe, you can then start mediation and try to find the root of the problem. Meaningful communication and mediation cannot take place until people feel safe.

  2. Sarah says:

    You example makes sense, but I guess what I am questioning is whether these peacekeepers are really only using “protective” force, as opposed to violence. Physically restraining someone so that they don’t hurt someone else seems pretty different from shooting at someone so that they don’t shoot at someone else.I understand that people have to feel safe in order to communicate and enter mediation, and my concerns about the force are mitigated in part by the fact that the two primary parties have agreed to a ceasefire, and the force is meant to be used against individual factions who may disagree with the primary parties. So it is protecting the primary parties from these factions.However, overall, I do not EVER feel comfortable with the use of weapons. I know there are irrational people out there, and I don’t know what the best way to deal with them is. Maybe it is via weapons, but I am still not comfortable with that. I think before we could identify times when weapons are truly the only option, we’d have to do away with all the multitude of times when they are not the best option. Until then, it is difficult to distinguish the situations.

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