What is the utility of peacekeeping? Does it serve a purpose other than to freeze conflicts in place so that politicians and diplomats can bicker for decades?
One of the troubles with the current model of peacekeeping is exactly that it has become interminable: as examples from Cyprus, Lebanon, Western Sahara and elsewhere shows. Then there is the disjuncture between deploying a “force” to a conflict and employing it in a useful way. And what is “useful”? What is a “force”? Is there a point in deploying troops halfway round the world and then tying them up in rules of engagement so strict that they can do little more than guard their emcampment?
I would argue not, but fellow journalist and later British Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill might disagree. Speaking in 1937 he reportedly said “I would rather have a peacekeeping hypocrisy than straightforward, brazen vice, taking the form of unlimited war.” When genocide is the alternative, is freezing a conflict in place really a bad idea?
Asked during a television interview on his 99th birthday, how he felt at that age, the great American stand-up comedian George Burns replied: “Great! Considering the alternative.” It is an answer that can also be applied to the state of peacekeeping. Indeed, to misquote Churchill, it might be said peacekeeping is the worst form of conflict resolution except all the others that have been tried. Soldier, wartime leader, journalist and politician, it appears from the quote above that the great man had some misgivings on the utility of peacekeeping, which sometimes could be described as keeping the peace between the fire and fire brigade.
With this in mind, it is past time to relook the peacekeeping phenomenon. defenceWeb will be hosting its third annual peace support conference on 22-23 September 2011 at Gallagher Estate. Join to discuss this and other issues…
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