Is peacekeeping worth it?


A debate worth having is whether peacekeeping missions are worth the time and trouble and defenceWeb’s upcoming Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference

(Gallagher Estate, August 26-7) may be the place.

The Daily Maverick in late May reported: “The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to withdraw a peacekeeping (PK) force from Chad and the Central African Republic, in line with the wishes of their governments. That makes it the second such force to be kicked out of Africa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo demanded a similar withdrawal recently) for the same reason: Chad says the foreign troops have done nothing to bring peace and stability to the region.”

Is this fair?

Former Brenthurst Foundation deputy director and retired Rear Admiral Steve Stead notes UN or other international forces can only be deployed in a country with the permission of the country concerned – when there is no recognised government the accession of the parties in conflict must be obtained. A country can also request international assistance to stabilise a situation that is beyond its own capacity.
“However, the country in question is also entitled to draw up or influence the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), effectively deciding whether the UN force has the capability to effectively execute its mandate, e.g. Sudan,” where many critics have said Khartoum has effectively filibustered the hybrid AU-UN mission there. “Given the deliberations that take place with the primary aim of appeasement, to agree on an ineffectual mandate and SOFA for UN PK forces, there is little chance that they will be able to achieve their objectives. Additionally, what about the responsibility of the country in question to pursue peace & stability under the protection of the UN force?
“My views are radical. Do away with PK and accept intervention operations. In the event of the UN General Assembly deciding by two-thirds majority to intervene in a country because of a pending humanitarian disaster, get in quickly with a force drawn from a stand-by military grouping, under a standard mandate & SOFA, and sort the problem out. A single aim/objective that does not get changed or suffer mission creep. The countries that voted for the intervention must provide the funding. No majority – no intervention.” Stead suggests that if a country requests UN intervention and later demands removal of the forces, as in the case of Chad and the DRC, “that country must pay the deployment costs”.

Retired Rear Admiral Rolf Hauter adds the mandate for an operation must correspond with the requirement on the ground to have any change of success. “Secondly, the forces assigned to the operation must be able and willing to execute the mandate ie adequate numbers, trained and correctly equipped. If not, it will most probably be a waste of time.”

Analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman says “many peacekeeping missions are a joke in poor taste in the sense that they simply lack the strength, the capability mix, the appropriate rules of engagement and the determination to stay the course to actually be effective. The DRC was a good case in point: MONUC never had the force mix or strength to stabilise and pacify the east, so what purpose was it really serving? The EU and later UN force along the Chad/CAR border with Sudan was simply silly in its utterly inadequate force levels; so are the force in Darfur and the force in Somalia. No blame on the soldiers involved, but if there is not the international political will to conduct an effective mission over an effective period, it would probably be better not to bother.”

This raises interesting questions about the decision-making in Pretoria that saw SA get involved in both Darfur in Sudan and the DRC.The 1999 White Paper on South African Participation in International Peace Missions tabled

in Parliament in February of that year states seven criteria that must be considered before SA should agree to a peace mission. They are:

  • A clear international mandate;
  • Sufficient means;
  • A domestic mandate and budget;
  • Volunteerism;
  • Clear entry and exit criteria;
  • Regional co-operation; and
  • Foreign assistance.

Under the first heading, the White Paper notes “the framing of a realistic and appropriate mandate for any peace operation is essential to the success of any mission. If a peace operation has a clear and realistic mandate, and the means to achieve this mandate, then there is every chance that the mission will be successful. On the other hand, if the mandate is patently unrealistic, the mission is doomed to failure from the outset. “The mandate for the peace mission in question must therefore be clear and agreed to between the UN, regional bodies (where applicable), the host country and conflicting parties and contributing countries. The mandate should be linked to concrete political solutions and the deployment of a peace mission should not be seen as end in itself. South African participation in peace missions should only occur when there is a clear threat to and/or breach of international peace and security and/or a disaster of major humanitarian proportions and/or endemic causes of conflict, which, unless addressed, may cause long-term instability.”

Regarding means, the White Paper notes the commitment of South African forces “is contingent upon comprehensive mission planning with the relevant national and international authorities to ensure that the form and function of forces committed to such operations are both necessary and
sufficient to attain the stated goals and objectives. South Africa will not commit itself to
participating in any peace mission which is patently under-resourced and which does not have
sufficient means to achieve the set mandate.”

The White Paper further notes SA “should also be assured of clear exit criteria before committing a national contingent to any peace mission. This aspect refers to the achievement of a desirable political end-state to the involvement within an acceptable period of time, rather than to the technicalities of any military withdrawal plan. Political decision-makers must be reasonably assured that South African involvement will not be open-ended and that such involvement will not be regarded as part of a larger diplomatic or political failure on the part of contributing nations.”

To what extent were these prescriptions followed?

A contrarian view on the utility of peacekeepers was given by the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement in support of a “comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects” by the UN General Assembly on November 5, 2007. This read in part that in carrying out their mandate, peacekeepers “indeed often play a significant role in ensuring the protection and security of civilians and even in facilitating access to humanitarian assistance in the areas where they are deployed.” In other words, just by being there peacekeepers create a modicum of safety and security sufficient to allow aid organisations such as the ICRC access to local communities otherwise beyond reach and help.

Captain (SA Navy)(Retd) Frank van Rooyen of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) says pockets of instability can only become islands of insecurity, the vacuums drawing in regional states. The SAIIA Great Powers & Africa Programme Security Fellow says peacekeeping is time-consuming and “designed to give other processes the opportunity to develop, be agreed upon and hopefully be implemented. Leaders, if they are serious about peace, need to allow as much time as it takes.”

Van Rooyen also cautions that intransigence on the part of national and insurgent leaders or requests for mission to withdraw may indicate an attempt to avoid democratic governance and the personal consequences it will bring to them and their elites – such as trials, a loss of privilege and prestige, as well as an end to the looting of resources. On the other hand, peace missions “may strengthen the hand of the ICC [International Criminal Court] in initiating investigations into possible heinous crimes etc, which may curtail free hand that these recalcitrant leaders have.”

University of the Free State Professor Theo Neethling says although it “could rightly be argued that MONUC [the UN mission in the DRC] has been kicked out of the DRC, … even the DRC government acknowledged that the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping forces from the country will ‘crown a job well done, and which had the great merit of helping us end a war that nearly wiped our nation of the map’.”

Neethling, chair of the UFS Department of Political Science, says there “is still no alternative to UN peacekeeping where the international community and relevant role-players have to deal with the protection of people in situations of acute conflict and civil war. What should also be clear is that there is a higher likelihood of success in smaller countries such as Burundi and Sierra Leone (also Kosovo in the European context) as opposed to the DRC and Sudan. Peacekeeping is always difficult from a political and military point of view, but the international community has a responsibility to act where there is immense human suffering and brutal attacks on citizens of a country.”