A century after the birth of a father of peacekeeping, Ralph Bunche, UN peace operations have changed dramatically. The narrowly defined, lightly armed, strictly neutral operations of Bunche's day have become complex, multidisciplinary state-building operations. Then, peacekeeping buttressed essentially self-enforcing cease-fires; now, it aims to build the foundations of a self-renewing peace. These changes reflect six deeper shifts: the end of the Cold War; engagement with "internal" conflicts; rising regional organizations; North-South politics; the U.S.-UN relationship; and changes in peace operation mandates. These shifts create three future challenges: state building; the reconception of sovereignty; and the need for realism. The December 2004 High-Level Panel report proposes modest steps toward meeting those challenges, but the burden of realizing the proposed framework rests squarely with UN member states. KEYWORDS: peacekeeping, peacebuilding, state building, High-Level Panel, Ralph Bunche.
Scholar, civil rights activist, and Nobel Peace Laureate, Ralph Bunche left his most enduring legacy in the field of United Nations peace operations. The centennial of his birth in either 2003 or 2004 (1) served not only as an opportunity to celebrate that legacy, but also as the occasion to reflect on the changes that have occurred in UN peacekeeping since Bunche's day.
In Bunche's day, peacekeeping was a term narrowly defined and clearly understood. Today, UN peace operations cover a multiplicity of UN field activities in support of peace, ranging from essentially preventive deployments to long-term state-building missions. In this article we analyze the major shifts in UN peace operations since the mid-1900s. After describing how peacekeeping operations looked in Bunche's era, we seek to identify continuities and changes in today's peace operations. We then analyze the reasons for these changes and conclude by examining the consequences of these changes for the UN's involvement in world politics today and speculating on the shape of future UN peace operations.
Peacekeeping emerged not by design but out of necessity. The founding members of the UN had included in Chapter VII of the UN Charter provisions (Article 42) that allowed the UN to take "action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security." The vision of a body of national military forces permanently available to the Security Council "on its call" (Article 43) and serving as the instrument of collective security did not materialize due to Cold War antagonisms. Paradoxically, Cold War tensions served to increase the need for an independent and impartial actor on the world stage, ensuring that conflicts did not spiral out of control and further fuel the confrontation between capitalist and communist camps.
Bunche--and a cast of other notables, including secretaries-general Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarskjold; members of the UN Secretariat, such as Brian Urquhart; and key players from the member states, particularly Lester Pearson, Canadian minister for external affairs (and later prime minister)--stepped into that gap. They generated an operational capacity for the UN that had not been imagined for the organization. The Secretariat staff "started from scratch," as Bunche himself suggested, unaware of what peacekeeping would involve, improvising as they went along, and making mistakes. (2)
The system of peacekeeping they generated involved UN missions staffed by lightly armed Blue Helmets (as they came to be known), operating under the strict instruction to use force only in self-defense. Falling between Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression), these peace operations were creatively crafted "Chapter VI 1/2" and required, in principle, invitation or consent on the part of the recipient state(s). (3) They operated under UN command, primarily undertaking activities agreed on by belligerents, such as separating warring parties, monitoring borders, overseeing withdrawal of foreign troops, and ceasing aid to irregular or insurrectionist movements. The guiding principle of early peacekeeping was that it must not give an advantage to either side involved in the conflict. Blue Helmets sought to adopt an attitude of strict neutrality and objectivity.
The aims of peacekeeping in this earlier era were limited. In the Middle East, the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) (4) started out as a truce monitoring operation, later taking on the task of supervising the implementation of the General Armistice Agreements, which Bunche facilitated on Rhodes in 1949 and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Similarly, the UN Emergency Force (UNEF), (5) established by the General Assembly in the wake of the Suez crisis, was mandated to supervise the withdrawal of foreign troops and, later, to act as a buffer between Egypt and Israel. Other peacekeeping operations--in Cyprus, (6) Kashmir, (7) and Yemen (8)--had similarly limited mandates. (9)
Peacekeeping Today--What Is the Same?
Important aspects of peacekeeping remain now as they were in this earlier era. A small number of the operations that Bunche oversaw remain alive today, notably UNTSO in the Middle East, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) for the Kashmir region, and the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). In other areas, notably the Congo, crises of Bunche's day were resolved, only to reappear, in different forms, back on the Security Council's agenda today. In part, that continuity is a product of the approach adopted by Bunche and his colleagues, which they saw largely as buying time to allow political and diplomatic developments to yield a solution where none had previously been apparent. (10) The resulting risk--ossifying an unresolved situation or only deferring further conflict until a later date, a charge made against the UN mission to Cyprus since 1974 and the UN's role in the Middle East in 1967--can be detected in the UN's approach to Kosovo today.
Contemporary peace operations also face many of the same operational challenges as early missions. Weak command and control, inadequate communications and logistical equipment, little prior opportunity for detailed planning, and underequipped and ill-trained military personnel are as much issues today as they were in Bunche's day, if not more so. In at least one area there has been an apparent decline: the promptness with which the UN can deploy a peacekeeping force. In Bunche's day, a mission might be on the ground within weeks--even days--after the decision to deploy; today it takes months. The reasons for this are complex. Early missions sometimes deployed without adequate support or equipment. Today's missions undertake a greatly enlarged range of operational tasks requiring larger numbers of personnel. And the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has undergone serious shake-ups affecting recruitment and deployment times. (11) The size of DPKO is also contentious. As the Brahimi Report (12) of 2000 highlighted, the growth and complexity of today's peace operations have at times led to a diffusion of responsibility to a point where it fails to be discharged.
The challenge of financing peacekeeping remains constant. Bunche knew the problems of the "tin cup," as he called it, only too well. (13) So, too, the vulnerability of peacemakers is similar now to the situation in Bunche's day. (14) The devastating attack on UN offices in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello and twenty-one other UN staff, demonstrated that terrorism has reemerged today as a threat to the organization just as it was when Count Folke Bernadotte, UN mediator in …