Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

The UN's Record in Nation Building

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

The UN's Record in Nation Building

Article excerpt

Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has invested significant military, political, and economic resources into operations conducted in the aftermath of interstate wars and civil unrest. A number of recent reports have examined the UN's performance during these operations. For example, the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change concluded in 2004 that "[i]n both the period before the outbreak of civil war and in the transition out of war, neither the UN nor the broader international community, including the international financial institutions, are well organized to assist countries attempting to build peace."1 The Panel on UN Peace Operations led by Lakhdar Brahimi examined the UN's ability to conduct peace operations. This study, generally referred to as the Brahimi report, offered a similarly frank assessment: "The United Nations was founded, in the words of its Charter, in order 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war'. . . . Over the last decade, the United Nations has repeatedly failed to meet the challenge, and it can do no better today."2 These conclusions indicate that the UN has faced significant challenges in attempting to establish peace and democracy in states transitioning out of conflict. What is less clear, however, is how UN operations compare with efforts by other international institutions and states, including the US.

In short, how effective has the UN been in conducting nation-building missions? How do these missions compare with those of other actors, especially the US? What steps should the UN take to improve its ability to conduct nation-building missions? We define nation-building as the use of armed force in the aftermath of major combat to promote a transition to peace and democracy. Other terms, such as peacebuilding, peacekeeping, or state-building capture only elements of this paradigm. Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are often employed for less far-reaching objectives, and do not fully capture broader efforts to rebuild security, economic, political, and other institutions after major conflict. State-building is generally synonymous with development assistance, which is much broader and longer-term than our definition of nation-building. In addition, as William Maley correctly notes in this issue, the concept of "post-conflict transition" is something of a misnomer.4 Conflicts rarely end neatly and, as the current cases of Iraq and Afghanistan highlight, conflict can continue during the transition period. Nevertheless, we distinguish between the major combat phase and the transition phase that follows. This is fairly straightforward in most cases. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, nation-building includes the period after major combat, which began in May 2003 in Iraq and December 2001 in Afghanistan.

Contrary to most assessments, our examination of UN nation-building missions since World War II shows that the UN has been fairly successful in placing post-conflict societies on the path to enduring peace and democratic government. Most alternatives to the UN are either vastly more expensive or considerably less capable. Critiques of the UN-including several critiques in this issue-are generally plagued by three methodological problems. The first is selection bias.3 Most nation-building books and articles examine a single case or small number of cases but fail to look more broadly at a range of cases.6 Single observations can lead to indeterminate results, since they do not control for random error and can make it impossible to determine which of several alternative explanations is the most viable.7 Second, other critiques fail to compare the UN's experience with those of other states and international organizations. How has the UN performed relative to other actors? Third, others fail to offer a systematic methodology for measuring success. In this issue, for example, Kirsti Samuels rather bluntly concludes that UN missions have been characterized by a "lack of success. …

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