As Bill Durch pointed out in his launch of the UN Dispatch/FP Passport online salon, UN peacekeeping is, on the whole, experiencing a tremendous period of growth. Lest we assume that this is unrestrained growth, however — a criticism levied by UN skeptics who bemoan what they perceive as an excessive number of UN mandates — it bears reminding that, as I’ve argued before, the most successful peacekeeping missions are those that are able to decrease their presence. Responding to David’s comment, the UN, despite the overall expansion of its responsibilities around the globe, has indeed shepherded a number of peacekeeping missions toward this mark of success.
I wrote previously about Cote d’Ivoire’s transition toward a peaceful drawdown of UN peacekeepers. Now, visiting the neighboring West African country of Liberia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged continuing support for that formerly war-torn nation, as the 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force there gradually begins its carefully structured process of withdrawal. While problems of poverty, corruption, and an inadequate justice system still trouble Liberia, UN peacekeepers have had remarkable success calming the country’s civil war, bringing its former dictator to justice, organizing its historic elections, and helping to restitch the fabric of its society. The withdrawal, moreover, is timed according to specific benchmarks and the requirements of Liberia’s situation.
The mission’s chief, Ellen Loj, said drawdown, agreed in UN Security Council resolution 1777 in 2007, is planned meticulously so as to “minimise all potential security threats to the state”.
AFP also gives a snapshot of the mission’s achievements:
Between November 2003 and October 2004, 101,495 fighters were disarmed and demobilised, with 90,000 resettled back into civilian life, mission statistics showed.
More than 500,000 displaced persons have also returned, while UNMIL has trained 3,662 new police agents who are gradually assuming their roles.
A total of 358 presidential guards, 139 prison guards, 37 immigration officers and 210 customs officials have also been groomed for duty.
The UN peacekeeping force has helped rebuild 3,000 (1,875 miles) kilometres of roads and worked on some 300 projects to restore and repair schools, health centres, wells, courts and police stations.
Most indicatively, the mission inspires confidence in Liberians, even as it begins its drawdown:
“As long as the UN forces are here, I don’t see why we have to worry about the possibility of destabilisation,” Moses Gbartu, a traditional chieftain in the country’s north told AFP.
“I thought there was going to be confrontations during disarmament, but UNMIL showed prudence, vigilance and strictness,” added shopkeeper Miattah Duago.
UN peacekeepers are not going to disappear from Liberia overnight — this round of troop withdrawals will still leave around 12,000 blue helmets there in October — and problems are likely to remain during this period, and persist after the UN’s departure. Increasingly, however, Liberia’s institutions will assume control of these problems, and the UN’s role there will increasingly shift to one providing political and humanitarian support. In the world of peacekeeping, results may come in fits and starts, and only manifest themselves slowly, but it is important to appreciate the positive signs along the way.