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.

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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