Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Changing Face of Peace Operations: A View from the Field. (the Military Component)

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Changing Face of Peace Operations: A View from the Field. (the Military Component)

Article excerpt

"... true enforcement [is] not the pretend variety that comes with soldiers in blue berets who have neither the capacity nor the wit to do anything about the breaches of international law occurring around them."

At the height of the Sierra Leone crisis two years ago, the international media focused on the inability of the United Nations to prevent humanitarian disasters even in areas where it was already engaged. The images of Rwanda and Bosnia were invoked once again. Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, suggested in a New York Times editorial that the United Nations and its pretense of effectiveness contributed to the deteriorating circumstances in many parts of the world. He argued for deploying "combat capable warriors under robust rules of engagement, with armour, ammunition and intelligence capability and a single line of command to a national government or regional alliance" (1) in peacekeeping operations.

In the military, we used to call these activities war, not peace operations. We were, however, referring to wars between sovereign states, not civil wars. In contrast, civil wars were seen as horrible, lawless and potentially unending conflicts that could test the very fabric of a foreign nation's society (e.g., Vietnam for America, Afghanistan for the Soviet Union). It was generally recognized that there were no rewards for getting involved in civil wars. Ignatieff's proposal perhaps shows how the perception of international conflict and peacekeeping has changed.

Since 1989, the United Nations has deepened its entanglement in humanitarian-motivated missions that blur the lines between war and peace operations. The additional haziness generated when defining terms such as peace enforcement and peacekeeping has intensified the debate about what is happening to the world order and whether we are experiencing an enduring normative shift in the foundation of international relations. This is a fine debate for academics. But in the field, where the young men and women of international peace forces do their jobs and save lives, the confusion challenges not only theoretical standpoints, but their physical and moral well-being. Nonetheless, despite these apprehensions, the military must engage in all aspects of this debate, especially to help define the relationship between humanitarian interventions and the military.


The UN Charter captures the international community's determination to confront the devastation of the 20th century's two world wars and ensure that such conflict never occurs again. The advent of weapons of mass destruction heightened the determination and indeed, necessity, to place human relations on a footing that allowed conflict to be moderated by the conciliatory processes of mediation and negotiation. The Charter and its commitment to the nation-state is the basis of the international order. The International Court of Justice and the Charter, both established around 1945, deal with the resolution of differences between nation-states.

Peacekeeping, however, is not mentioned in the Charter. It emerged out of the commitment of the United Nations to encourage and help nations resolve their differences through peaceful means. Peacekeeping started in 1948 with the emergence of Israel and the establishment of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which included unarmed military observers to aid and advance the armistice between Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Soon after, in 1949, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was established in Kashmir to observe the truce on the Indian and Pakistani border. Both of these truce observance missions still exist and could be called the source of traditional global peacekeeping culture. Their continued existence demonstrates that traditional peacekeeping does not solve disputes, but creates an atmosphere that prevents the situation from worsening and enables the possibility of progress. …

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