“Beware peacekeeping adventurism”


Those who despatch peacekeeping forces to the world’s trouble spots often engage in false economies and adventurism that place solders’ lives at risk while not helping civilians caught in war zones. That’s the view of Paramount Group business development director David McDonald Joyce

“… if it is to be successful a stabilising force must be sufficiently well-armed to give the local population confidence in its ability to protect them and to make an aggressor think twice before attacking,” he told defenceWeb’s Peacekeeping Africa 2010 that ended in Midrand this afternoon. “This means deploying well-trained, professional troops with modern equipment and sufficient mobility, protection and firepower to allow them flexibility in their tactics, proportionate to the level and the nature of the threat.
“Too often in the past intervention forces have deployed with inadequate equipment and limited manpower. This is a false economy. In the short term such adventurism, for that’s what it is, may seem to pay off, but if there is any increase in the threat, or if violence breaks out anew, the force is shown to be ineffective at best and positively dangerous at worst as it fights to protect itself,” McDonald Joyce said.
“Therefore, equipment – especially vehicles – for use in PKOs needs to be selected while bearing in mind the difficult and dangerous tasks the peacekeepers are called on to perform,” he added.

He notes peacekeeping, democratic interventions or stabilising operations are used in support of political efforts to achieve or maintain peace in areas of recent conflict. They may only use force in self-defence and only if it is legal, proportionate and will not prevent the future resumption of peace. Stabilising forces will usually be relatively small, probably quite widely dispersed and generally only have enough combat power for their own self-defence. So any escalation in violence, or an outbreak of combat between the belligerents, is likely to put the force under real threat.
“Unfortunately, such increases in the level of violence are not uncommon, especially as the consent of the local population to the presence of foreign peacekeepers is often completely different on the ground to what was agreed in New York. In such instances the peacekeepers may find themselves moving rapidly from peacekeeping to peace-enforcement. This is an inherent risk and the force should be organised to reflect it, since enforcing peace is only possible when an effective task force is committed to the operation in sufficient strength to deter a potential aggressor or, if necessary, to engage him in combat. It does, however, require a degree of forward planning and this needs to be considered when discussing the mission of the stabilising force.”

McDonald Joyce says the most successful peacekeeping operations have been deployments in support of previously agreed peace settlements. “Even then, the role of peacekeepers remains difficult. Most of their tasks are potentially dangerous to the peacekeepers themselves and carry a high degree of risk, either from the weapons of the opposing sides, or from the danger of explosion when clearing routes for civilian traffic.”

For this reason, he believes history points to five key factors that a stabilising or peacekeeping mission needs if it is to be successful:

  • A clear plan for achieving peace in the disputed area in the first place.
  • Well trained professional troops, properly equipped and in sufficient strength to achieve the aim.
  • A secured source of funding and manpower throughout the whole of the deployment.
  • The unequivocal commitment of all parties to see the mission through.
  • An effective command-and-control system, communicating at all levels and working to a well-defined, flexible, mandate.

One major problem facing peacekeepers is the UN’s “Doctrine of Impartiality” which is “clearly an obstacle to peace enforcement based on the rule of law”. McDonald Joyce says the law cannot be impartial between those who obey it and those who take notice of it only while it suits them to do so. “The Doctrine of Impartiality is, unfortunately, a let-out clause for the UN, since it allows them to avoid making decisions about right and wrong. Neither peace nor justice is served by not making decisions about right and wrong and at some point the world has to recognise that there are groups, nations and individuals unwilling to accept the rule of law. The current outbreak of piracy on the high seas is an obvious example.”

Another major obstacle lies in the process of developing mission mandates for peacekeeping forces and the rules of engagement under which they are required to operate. “Inflexible or badly worded mandates or Rules of Engagement invariably lead to frustration. In Kosovo, for example, for the two months of the bombing campaign UN troops stood on the sidelines, unable to prevent unarmed civilians being murdered in the streets. Such events are bad for the morale of the peacekeeping force, even if it is not their fault, and they reflect very badly on the UN and its peacekeeping capabilities.
“It is essential, therefore, that the military commander on the ground has the strength needed to fulfill his mission and a degree of flexibility in his orders, so that he can continue to protect the local civil population, despite an escalation in the level of violence.”

Furthermore, at “some point the UN, or an accepted regional authority, will need to establish a system under which those states which condone lawbreaking or terrorism will face a penalty every time they cross the line in the sand. The penalty should encourage the misbehaving government to conform to accepted standards of behaviour and not continue to operate in a manner considered unacceptable by the majority of the world’s population.
“This will require determination from politicians, because there will always be those states who will continue to walk on the very edge of the line, sometimes even stepping over it before crossing back. Standing up to these states will not be easy, but it needs to be done.
“Control must include not just the actions of soldiers on the ground but also the actions of the warring factions and those so-called ‘rogue’ states who behave in a manner considered unacceptable by the majority of the world community. This is a matter for international control and is, of course, one of the reasons cited for the invasion of Iraq in the 2nd Gulf War [in 2003], but it has to be consistent and follow agreed standards.

In a statement celebrating fifty years of UN Peacekeeping Operations, then Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “We learned the hard way that lightly armed troops in white vehicles and blue helmets are not the solution to every conflict. Sometimes peace has to be made – or enforced – before it can be kept.” That statement was made in October 1998, but it is just as true today as it was then – lightly armed troops cannot keep the peace if heavily armed protagonists are intent on breaking it.
“It is essential, therefore, that every government intending to undertake peacekeeping operations on behalf of the UN, or a regional authority, should first ensure that it has the ability to put an effective command-and-control system in place to support its troops while they are deployed. Next, it must look at the equipment it provides to its soldiers and make sure that it is capable of protecting them, so that they will continue to live to offer protection to those unable to provide it for themselves.
“So, what are the prospects that Africans will conduct successful peacekeeping operations on their own continent? They are probably better now than ever before. An increasing number of African states can deploy experienced troops in support of stabilising missions and there is an increased willingness in Africa to take on peacekeeping duties at home, even if in part to prevent non-Africans from interfering on the continent.
“To help in this there are several projects under way to provide funds and training to help in restoring and maintaining peace and stability in Africa. There have been projects run by Belgium, the US, the UK, France, Canada, Germany, Japan and Norway and more are planned, since when it comes to PKOs prevention is definitely cheaper than cure.”

Despite this, “the UN is increasingly starved of cash and as its financial foundations grow weaker they debilitate its political will and its practical capacity to undertake new and essential activities. This is unfortunate, because experience shows that the ready availability of funds to enable preventive stabilising operations to be rapidly implemented would be good budget-peacekeeping, since it is more cost-effective to use military forces as a deterrent rather than send them into combat. Had a UN rapid deployment force been sent to the Iraq/Kuwait border before August 2, 1991 it is debatable whether Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm would have taken place. This would have saved the USA alone $63 billion, while the total cost of the war to the coalition countries was $452.6 billion.”