The politics of UN peacekeeping
from Cambodia to Yugoslavia
“UN peacekeeping” is an all-embracing term covering a variety of peacekeeping activities, starting from the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) established in 1948 right through to the present. The classical “first-generation” peacekeeping operations represent a UN “presence” on international borders or cease-fire lines, separating the contending parties from physical contact by the interpositioning of UN military observers or soldiers as the third party. Such a presence is intended to bring about cessation of hostilities and the reduction of tension, thus gaining time for the resumption of dialogue and, hopefully, the ultimate solution of the conflict.
In most cases, the United Nations dispatches a group of unarmed officers or lightly armed soldiers to the area concerned, with a view to separating the combatants from each other. It is essentially a holding operation to freeze a volatile situation and create room for peacemaking or diplomatic efforts. Unless accompanied by diplomatic action, classical peacekeeping tends to become an operation with limited significance, preserving the status quo at best, as shown in Kashmir and at times in the Middle East.
“First-generation” peacekeeping became a large-scale operation composed of organized troops in the Suez Canal area in 1956. At the request of the United Nations, thousands of troops from mostly non-aligned countries were sent to the area to provide a physical cushion between the Egyptian troops and the invading troops from the UK, France, and Israel, enabling the latter to withdraw from Egypt without losing face. Inter-