It’s time for a new, multilateral peacekeeping paradigm
May 29 of this year marked the 20th International Day of UN Peacekeepers. One might think this would be a major event in countries such as the United States, which has the largest foreign military deployments in the world and the globe’s largest military budget. But this was not the case.
In fact, it was an important date for China, a country with 2,240 military peacekeepers serving on seven UN peacekeeping missions – the largest troop contribution of any permanent UN Security Council member. Speaking prior to the occasion, Jean-Pierre François Renaud Lacroix, the UN under-secretary-general for peace operations, told reporters that the UN reaffirms its “wholehearted support” for China's peacekeeping initiative.
What’s important to note about UN peacekeeping operations is that they are carried out in true multilateral fashion. The UN does not act as an instrument of any one state to take sides in a conflict. At the same time, the UN’s peacekeeping operations are limited – and there are multiple reasons for this.
Notably, a look at a map of UN peacekeeping operations around the world shows that these operations are not carried out in places such as Afghanistan. That’s because a particularly sensitive point is peacekeeper safety, especially in areas of heavy extremist activity.
A major incident that cast this issue in sharp relief was the death of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian UN diplomat who was working as UN high commissioner for human rights and the UN special representative to Iraq at the time of his death in 2003. He and 20 members of his staff were killed in a bombing in Baghdad. This tragedy became a major impetus for the UN to suspend its operation in Iraq during the US-led war aimed at helping the country rebuild after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Essentially, the UN left the United States to deal with its own mess. This was a fairly understandable decision since other countries shouldn’t have to sacrifice lives to nation-build for Washington. However, this situation also set a precedent whereby Washington could manage its forever wars unchecked – and the consequences of this are clearly seen through the example of Washington’s complete failure to withdraw from Afghanistan responsibly.
It’s also important to note that current so-called ‘peacekeeping operations’ by Washington in places such as Iraq and Syria are outright violations of international law. The Iraqi parliament has consistently voted to expel US troops, yet they remain, albeit in so-called non-combat roles. In the case of Syria, US troops never had the consent of the UN-recognized government to enter the country – which is a violation of international law… and more than likely also US law.
A lack of resources, whether financial or in terms of personnel, is also a major reason why UN peacekeeping operations are not taking a leading role in managing global conflict. The UN’s latest peacekeeping budget from July 2021 to June 2022 was a mere $6.37 billion, which was even less than the Secretariat requested. This is another reason why conflict resolution has in the past several decades been outsourced, for example, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) through UN Security Council resolutions.
The effect on global stability of outsourcing what should be UN peacekeeping operations to groups such as NATO has been tremendous. In fact, it has fundamentally undermined the values constituting the basis of the UN Charter. NATO has routinely superseded its mandate, violated international humanitarian law and killed and displaced millions. Examples of this include in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
There are no easy solutions to the question of how UN peacekeeping operations can assert themselves, rightfully, as the primary peacekeeping mechanism. Properly addressing this would require immense cooperation from virtually all UN member states, including securing more funds and personnel – both of which are unfortunately encumbered by political realities. Meanwhile, the diminishing role of the US – the world’s unipolar power – in global security necessarily means an alternative must be found.
Last month, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to create an African Union-led peacekeeping force in Somalia to fight the insurgent group Al-Shabab with a clear phase-out period of 2024. This is a positive step that reinforces the pressing need for multilateral peacekeeping, as opposed to the similar but unilateral actions taken by the United States.
But it remains to be seen how emerging conflicts with broader political consequences, such as the one in Ukraine, could play out, e.g., whether the United Nations will take a major role in a protracted conflict or whether NATO or some sort of European-led organization would take the lead. It is to be hoped that the United Nations would take a larger role, if needed, in this instance in order to avoid a greater escalation.
In any case, UN peacekeeping must come to the fore. Existing conflict peacekeeping mechanisms, such as those conducted by the US and its allies, have proven unreliable and even unwelcome by the countries in which they are deployed. Moreover, they most often violate the principles that the UN was founded on and ought to uphold. The time has come for a new, multilateral peacekeeping paradigm.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.