Military Implications of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

By Lewis, William H. | McNair Papers, June 1993 | Go to article overview
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Military Implications of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Lewis, William H., McNair Papers


by Dr. William H. Lewis George Washington University

THE ACTIONS BY THE UNITED NATIONS Security Council in the matter of Iraq's attempt to annex Kuwait have lead some observers to conclude that the United Nations is now well positioned to play a consequential role in the maintenance of international order. The coalition formed to meet Iraq's aggression included thirty-seven member states from five continents. This successful action represented a significant precedent for future preventive diplomacy and collective security actions by the world body. As one senior Canadian official somewhat exuberantly observed, a powerful message has been sent: "the United Nations, can as it was intended, safeguard world order and security."

The organization had been playing a stellar role in the cause of peace for a number of years. Prior to the 1990-91 Gulf War, the United Nations had been accorded recognition for its contributions to peace and stability. In September 1988, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the organization's efforts in the field. At the time of the award, observer forces were in Afghanistan and Pakistan monitoring Soviet troop withdrawals from Afghanistan; 350 men were on duty in the Gulf to serve as a buffer between Iraq and Iran in compliance with a United Nations cease-fire resolution; concomitantly, the Secretary-General was organizing a peacekeeping unit for deployment to Namibia, and was preparing for future involvement in conflicts in the Western Sahara, Kampuchea, and Central America.

The invasion of Kuwait by the forces of Saddam Hussein on August 2, 1990 was a qualitatively different situation, however. As President Bush noted, it represented the first major crisis to confront the international community in the post-Cold War period. The crisis would ultimately require the organization of massive military efforts to force the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Even more critically, in the wake of the war, the Security Council took several punitive actions against Iraq that could serve as precedent in dealing with future acts of aggression. Most notable:

* Creation of a special agency to monitor the destruction of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons;

* Determination of the circumstances and the conditions under which Iraq may export its oil and related products; and

* Deployment of monitors to ensure humanitarian treatment by Baghdad of its Kurdish and Shiite communities.

These were more than onerous cease-fire conditions; rather, they signalled the Security Council's determination to penalize the Iraqi regime with terms that were the political and legal equivalent of the Versailles Treaty. On the other hand, the mood of high expectation regarding future United Nations performance in the cause of peace encountered in the United States was not widely shared by other member states. The new-found unity among the permanent members of the Security Council has been greeted with ambivalence by others, many feeling themselves threatened by American "hegemony" or potentially marginalized by the "Big Five."

To address these developments and their implications for the US military, the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University organized a series of conferences and special seminars, beginning in October 1991. The meetings brought together an outstanding group of senior officials, officers of flag rank, and national security policy specialists. The most recent meeting in the series-a one-day seminar convened on November 17, 1992-assessed problems confronted by United Nations military leaders as they engaged in peacekeeping missions. Their observations, frequently candid, provide useful insights regarding problems of effective command and control.

To make the results of these meetings available to a wider audience, we are re-publishing the previously published proceedings as a McNair Paper.

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