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Not Good for Anyone

The head of the United Nations relief agency in Gaza warned that food aid to 650,000 people and sewage and garbage collection will have to be suspended today if the Israeli fuel blockade is not lifted. A Libyan diplomat in the Security Council did not help matters when he compared Gaza to a Nazi death camp, prompting the walkout of the entire western contingent. In typical diplomatic understatement, a British official said afterwards, “A number of Council members were dismayed by the approach taken by Libya and do not believe that such language helps advance the peace process.”

Meanwhile, prior to the walkout, Assistant Secretary General Angela Kane had this to say to the Security Council. From the BBC

“[The UN relief agency] Unrwa’s fuel supplies will be exhausted on 24 April, and in an effort to save fuel, Unrwa has prioritised food distribution, solid waste removal, and sewage projects…

“Unless petrol is allowed in, Unrwa will discontinue its food assistance to 650,000 refugees, as well as its garbage collection services, which benefit half a million Gazans,”

“Another 500,000 Gazans are already living in 12 municipalities without any solid waste management capacity – largely due to the lack of fuel.”

Hospitals and clinics will also run out of fuel within a week, she warned.

Public transport has been severely curtailed by the shortage of vehicle fuel, meaning that children cannot get to school and adults to work. Some car owners have converted their engines to run on cooking oil.

The fuel restrictions are an Israeli response to a Hamas attack on a fuel depot, which killed two Israeli soldiers.

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Unfair to judge entire missions as successes or failures

Determining the success of a peace operation implies a longitudinal evaluation of where a country such as Cambodia or Mozambique or Sierra Leone is today. It involves a focus not just on the security dimension, but also on aspects of democracy, governance, economy and development.

On the other hand, the multi-functionality of contemporary peace operations and the perceived need to incorporate peace-building aspects as early as possible in the mission, means that longer-term concerns are also pertinent to attempts to determine success in a particular peace operation. However, mission complexity and the integration of many elements — from disarmament to civilian protection and the promotion of gender equity, human rights, and democracy — into the mandate of a single mission also provides a ready excuse for short-term failures. Where interventions are conceived as multifaceted and multi-agency affairs, culpability becomes blurred, as does the ability to actually to learn from failure. Obviously, long-term outcomes matter, but so do short-term outcomes (like saving the lives of 800,000 Rwandans). When tens of thousands of people have been killed and many more are likely to be killed, the challenge of creating a functioning democracy is not really the burning issue.

It is easier to determine failures if one concentrates on the mandate of a single element of the mission – the force, which is also the largest and most expensive, and which has since 1999 had a common task in all
missions: To protect civilians under imminent threat of violence, etc. In terms of ongoing missions, then, it is easy to point to UNAMID as a big failure in terms of its delivery of secure environment for the host population and for other mission elements and humanitarian actors.

MONUC also does not measure up well, given the massive displacement and gross human rights abuses that have continued in the east for more than a year after the mission oversaw national and provincial elections.

However, such judgments are incredibly simplistic and harsh, given the lack of support for bringing UNAMID up to strength and the incredible progress MONUC made since it was launched as a small observer mission back in 1999, with a mandate to help end “Africa’s first world war.” It is easier and fairer to point to short-term success stories like UNMIL in Liberia. UNMIL was blessed with a relatively huge force, and was established in the wake of intense ECOWAS engagement that included some very robust operations in the ’90s. This should not detract from the fact that UNMIL has provided Liberians with the foundations for creating a peaceful future and that the mission has been essential to broader regional stability. Going further back, Mozambique is clearly a much happier place than it was a decade ago – but it is difficult to assess exactly how essential OMUMOZ was to this transition.

In short, I do not think it is fair or constructive to judge entire missions as successes or failures. All missions have had some very dedicated and courageous people on board, and several have had visionary and committed senior leaders. All have arguably done way more good than harm. Africa is certainly much better off than it would have been without UN peacekeeping engagement.

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Unfair to judge entire missions as successes or failures

Determining the success of a peace operation implies a longitudinal evaluation of where a country such as Cambodia or Mozambique or Sierra Leone is today. It involves a focus not just on the security dimension, but also on aspects of democracy, governance, economy and development.

On the other hand, the multi-functionality of contemporary peace operations and the perceived need to incorporate peace-building aspects as early as possible in the mission, means that longer-term concerns are also pertinent to attempts to determine success in a particular peace operation. However, mission complexity and the integration of many elements — from disarmament to civilian protection and the promotion of gender equity, human rights, and democracy — into the mandate of a single mission also provides a ready excuse for short-term failures. Where interventions are conceived as multifaceted and multi-agency affairs, culpability becomes blurred, as does the ability to actually to learn from failure. Obviously, long-term outcomes matter, but so do short-term outcomes (like saving the lives of 800,000 Rwandans). When tens of thousands of people have been killed and many more are likely to be killed, the challenge of creating a functioning democracy is not really the burning issue.

It is easier to determine failures if one concentrates on the mandate of a single element of the mission – the force, which is also the largest and most expensive, and which has since 1999 had a common task in all
missions: To protect civilians under imminent threat of violence, etc. In terms of ongoing missions, then, it is easy to point to UNAMID as a big failure in terms of its delivery of secure environment for the host population and for other mission elements and humanitarian actors.

MONUC also does not measure up well, given the massive displacement and gross human rights abuses that have continued in the east for more than a year after the mission oversaw national and provincial elections.

However, such judgments are incredibly simplistic and harsh, given the lack of support for bringing UNAMID up to strength and the incredible progress MONUC made since it was launched as a small observer mission back in 1999, with a mandate to help end “Africa’s first world war.” It is easier and fairer to point to short-term success stories like UNMIL in Liberia. UNMIL was blessed with a relatively huge force, and was established in the wake of intense ECOWAS engagement that included some very robust operations in the ’90s. This should not detract from the fact that UNMIL has provided Liberians with the foundations for creating a peaceful future and that the mission has been essential to broader regional stability. Going further back, Mozambique is clearly a much happier place than it was a decade ago – but it is difficult to assess exactly how essential OMUMOZ was to this transition.

In short, I do not think it is fair or constructive to judge entire missions as successes or failures. All missions have had some very dedicated and courageous people on board, and several have had visionary and committed senior leaders. All have arguably done way more good than harm. Africa is certainly much better off than it would have been without UN peacekeeping engagement.

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What has been most successful?

Mark and Bill make a number of great points. Mark’s emphasis on the participation of permanent Council members in missions as both a signal and as a way of avoiding unrealistic mandates is very appealing. But it’s interesting to note that one of the missions with most significant great power presence — UNPROFOR in Bosnia — was also one of the most disastrous. More broadly, I’d love to hear the input of the group on which ongoing missions have achieved the most in terms of sustainable peace and political development and which have produced the fewest results.

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What has been most successful?

Mark and Bill make a number of great points. Mark’s emphasis on the participation of permanent Council members in missions as both a signal and as a way of avoiding unrealistic mandates is very appealing. But it’s interesting to note that one of the missions with most significant great power presence — UNPROFOR in Bosnia — was also one of the most disastrous. More broadly, I’d love to hear the input of the group on which ongoing missions have achieved the most in terms of sustainable peace and political development and which have produced the fewest results.

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An Apollo metaphor for peacekeeping

Permit me to wade in on both of David’s comments and Mark’s initial input. Getting the mandate right is like getting the re-entry angle right on Apollo capsules return from the moon: too shallow and they’d skip off into space; too deep and they’d burn up. And they couldn’t be steered once re-entry started. Peacemaking and peace accords set the initial “re-entry angle” for peace implementation: too shallow and the polity doesn’t recover (Haiti 1994+); too deep and the commitment may burn out (Somalia then, perhaps Afghanistan now). As I tell my students, the international community has the resources for many shallow or a few deep interventions but not both and not in big places. Unlike Apollo, mandates can be steered, but ultimate results may be above their pay grade. Thus, MONUC in DRC evolved from protected observation into a big, violent holding action but its problems will not be solved by whatever the mission might do, even with different nationalities in its troop makeup, because the fundamental problem is higher-grade, in the political leadership decisions of Congo, the surrounding states, and those in Congo who periodically serve as their proxies. The “weight to do right” must be felt in those capitals. Darfur is not even, as yet, a holding action, its fate tied more closely to politics in Khartoum than to whatever peacekeepers might manage to do in the field.

Regarding David’s note on the novelty of developed state participation in complex UN ops: it was norm for a few years after the Cold War, with large Western contingents in UNPROFOR (Bosnia — Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Nordics) and UNOSOM II (Somalia — US, France, Italy, Australia, Belgium). Plus Rwanda (Belgium again). Since then, command and control complaints have been the excuse for non-participation in UN ops but Western hands were all over the control levers in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. But the issue of whether UN C2 has improved enough in 15 years is mooted by western commitments of troops under other flags (NATO, EU).

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