Academic journal article McNair Papers

The United Nations: Stuck in a Fog between Peacekeeping and Enforcement

Academic journal article McNair Papers

The United Nations: Stuck in a Fog between Peacekeeping and Enforcement

Article excerpt

The United Nations has opened up a domain of military activity between traditional peacekeeping and enforcement measures. It has done so largely by ratcheting up the peacekeeping mechanism. This has enabled the United Nations to respond to new security challenges in the post-Cold War world. Nearly 70,000 blue-helmeted peacekeepers are now in the field, and the demand for more increases almost daily. However, by now the largest number serves in contexts for which peacekeeping was not intended. They function under rules of engagement and with equipment frequently inadequate to their missions. And their effectiveness and sometimes their very survival depend on a UN infrastructure that not only is overburdened, in terms of financial, material, and human resources, but also lacks any operational concept to guide these activities.

This growing misuse of peacekeeping does more than strain the United Nations materially and institutionally. It has brought the world body to the point of outright strategic failure--indeed, in Bosnia the line has been crossed already. UN peacekeeping forces there have performed a valuable humanitarian role, to be sure, but having been deployed in a security environment for which the peacekeeping mechanism was not designed, the presence of those forces has deterred not the Serbs but the international community itself from undertaking more forceful action. Thus, the Europeans opposed President Clinton's proposed airstrikes against Serbian artillery positions because they have peacekeeping troops on the ground that are highly vulnerable to retaliation. Yet those troops are neither intended nor capable of producing the military stalemate from which a political settlement could emerge, because of their small numbers and their quasipeacekeeping rules of engagement and capabilities.

Governments must move quickly to assess the constraints and opportunities facing UN-sanctioned forces. For if the United Nations continues on its present course of action, its newly constructed house of cards will collapse and take traditional peacekeeping as well as humanitarian intervention down with it. Recent developments in U.S. policy, culminating in the Clinton administration's Policy Review Document 13, indicate that a greater willingness exists in the country today than in the past to explore seriously what U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, has dubbed "assertive multilateralism." (1) To date, however, the notion lacks any corresponding expression in military doctrine and operational concepts.

The critical next step is for the international community to define the new domain of collective military activity located between peacekeeping and enforcement, and to figure out if and how its military requirements can be meshed with the national military capabilities and doctrines of those states that are able and willing to make a meaningful contribution to it. This brief paper suggests the outlines of a strategic logic for this domain, and also indicates some of the practical problems that would have to be resolved for that logic to be instituted. Let us begin with what we understand.


Over the years, the United Nations has evolved a well-articulated and widely recognized operational concept for peacekeeping. Brian Urquhart, who was present at its creation and presided over the activity for many years, described peacekeeping as follows:

   The use by the United Nations of military personnel and formations
   not in a fighting or enforcement role but interposed as a
   mechanism to bring an end to hostilities and as a buffer between
   hostile forces. In effect, it serves as an internationally
   constituted pretext for the parties to a conflict to stop fighting
   and as a mechanism to maintain a cease-fire. (2)

Given their interpositionary or "umpire" role, peacekeeping forces fight against neither side in a dispute but remain impartial and help keep them apart. …

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