Peacekeeping and Expectations

Julia Keyser at the great new Enough Said blog takes on the thorny issue of whether UN peacekeeping “take-overs” help or hurt efforts undertaken by regional missions in conflict zones.

There is ample evidence that UN missions may actually prolong a conflict — if there is no peace to keep. With Somalia once again facing serious violence and humanitarian crisis, the members of the UN Security Council must remember that UN missions are not a substitute for genuine political will, effective diplomacy and a practical plan to end a conflict.

The question of whether there is something about the dynamic of the actual take-over itself of a mission — the process of transitioning from the African Union-led efforts in Darfur to the “re-hatted” hybrid operation under UN control, for example — that improves or diminishes chances of success is clearly subsumed by the broader one of whether any peacekeeping mission is feasible and potentially beneficial in a given conflict scenario. The expectation that the UN will do a “better” job than a regional organization is simply an extension of the misguided belief that cobbling together some sort of peacekeeping force will be a silver bullet for a problem.

In cases in which a peacekeeping operation cannot halt conflict on its own — which is to say, never, though the chart that Julia cites does show that conflicts in which peacekeepers are deployed do reignite less often and take longer to do so than those without — this perverse international response to crises sets up a predictable double-dip of disappointment. First the world sighs when a beleaguered regional cannot impose peace on a chaotic society (e.g. Somalia); then it chastises the UN when its blue helmets also cannot square the circle of keeping a peace that does not exist. It would save a lot of time, money, and lives to recognize this pattern before precipitously looking to peacekeepers as a one-size-fits-all panacea to any problem.

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