Academic journal article McNair Papers

Un Peacekeeping in a Post-Cold War World

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Un Peacekeeping in a Post-Cold War World

Article excerpt

One immediate result of the end of the polarization which characterized international relations in the Cold War era has been the movement to the front burner of political crises arising from ethnic animosities, social and economic inequalities, and regional and internal political competition. Previously masked by Cold War dynamics, these long-existing problems have emerged in a rash of so-called "complex emergencies"--either political or humanitarian. How to deal with them is a problem for the international community as a whole, specifically for local actors and neighbors, and at least occasionally for the United States as the sole remaining global power. These problems are especially troublesome as most of them appear devoid of specific relevance to U.S. national interests. Yet they persist--from Bosnia to Haiti--and similar future crises with more direct potential concern for the United States loom on the horizon. What to do?

Ambassador Edward Marks, U.S. Department of State, is a Senior Fellow in the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. Previously, he was a senior officer in the (Permanent) U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Washington's first reaction was to ask the United Nations to help in its traditional peacekeeping role. The Bush administration did so pragmatically, and the Clinton administration enthusiastically. However, the UN has not proved to be a completely successful deus ex machina. First of all, the attempt to expand the UN's peacekeeping role into an interventionist mode has caused enormous political problems. It has also raised practical questions of UN capability in personnel and resources. Given these concerns, is a there a useful role for the UN in dealing with complex emergencies? If so, is that role potentially of interest to the United States?

The answer is yes. Without an effective multilateral option, the United States would find itself with only two responses to any given emergency: unilateral action (to include organizing a coalition) or doing nothing. Either may be perfectly appropriate in a given situation, but obviously there will be other situations where a multilateral response is both best and prudent. Because this option will not exist unless a multilateral mechanism and process exist, the UN would appear to be the best choice for creating both mechanism and process.

A UN Option

The UN's existing capability in traditional peacekeeping is limited, however, and the proposed new interventionist role is controversial. Nevertheless, an alternative exists in the form of an enhanced UN peacekeeping role, one which would integrate the UN system's capabilities in the economic and social areas with its political and military elements to produce an intensified UN capability appropriate for the new category of complex emergency. For the United States, a UN capability of this type offers a third arrow to the policy quiver, supplementing unilateralism and do-nothingism.

What are called in the United Nations environment "complex emergencies" or "complex political emergencies" are crises of sufficient magnitude to engage the attention of the world community (or at least the UN), but of a restricted local character arising out of some combination of humanitarian crisis, breakdown of national political authority, or regional political confrontation that has moved into the violent stage. Although mankind remains addicted to war, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mrs. Sadako Ogata has recently observed that internal war has become the prevailing pattern. Somalia, Sudan, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, and Iraq are all internal wars. All pose a serious threat to the well-being of significant numbers of innocent people, and all make some claim on the attention of the international community.

The UN has stepped into this breach, or maybe more accurately, has been pushed into it by a newly activist Security Council spurred in turn by widespread international opinion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.