On Peacekeeping in Georgia

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The UN Security Council yesterday extended the mandate of the small, unarmed UN observer mission in the Abkhazia region of Georgia, where violence between Russia and Georgia in early August has created an unclear situation for the future of the province. This ambiguity is the reason that the Security Council’s reauthorization of UNOMIG, as the mission is known, is for a provisional four months, instead of the customary twelve. And while the 134 UN military observers can continue to play a small role, it is as yet uncertain who will be doing the actual peacekeeping.

Mr. Ban noted that it seemed unlikely that the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force in the Abkhazia region would have any role in the separation of forces between the two sides, and it was still unclear what arrangement, if any, would fulfil this function.

“Under these circumstances, it is too early at this stage to define the role that UNOMIG may play in the future,” he told the Council. “But as long as international involvement in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict is seen as helping to prevent future conflict, UNOMIG may be called upon to make a contribution. In this respect, I have received formal indications from the Georgian and Abkhaz sides that they support the continuation of the Mission.”

Since the outbreak of conflict in Abkhazia some 15 years ago, the principal peacekeepers have been Russian and Georgian troops. Why, one might legitimately wonder, was a more robust United Nations peacekeeping presence not established early on in this tense stand-off? I wrote this piece about a month and a half ago to answer that question — and to point out why a little bit of foresight, along with more consistent support for UN peacekeeping, can go a long way in preventing fragile scenarios like the one in Georgia today.

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