Clear Mandate: Reforming US and UN Peace Operations

By Forster, Larry M. | Harvard International Review, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Clear Mandate: Reforming US and UN Peace Operations


Forster, Larry M., Harvard International Review


The author wishes to express that the opinions presented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the US Army.

IN RECENT YEARS, peacekeeping and related activities have come to constitute a major concern in international relations. The proliferation of peace operations has demonstrated both the utility and the limitations of military forces in the task of conflict prevention. Right now, the United Nations and other multinational organizations are overseeing several peace operations. The recent participation of the United States in such operations has been noteworthy. Today, US military forces are heavily involved in four such operations and give various degrees of support to five others. These multinational peace operations are useful supplements to the United States' alliance systems, forward deployment of forces, and other traditional means of addressing vital security concerns. Peace operations represent an area in which the interests of the United States and the United Nations converge.

In the post-Cold War era, US involvement in UN peace operations (an umbrella term that encompasses peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and related activities) has emerged as an essential tool which the United States can use to fulfill its foreign policy goals. These goals include, but are not limited to, regional stability, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, economic development, the protection of human rights, and the promotion of democracy. Multinational operations allow the United States to pursue its interests with the assistance of other nations which share those interests and with an enhanced sense of legitimacy. Peace operations with the United Nations, or in the context of a UN-sanctioned multilateral coalition, often provide the United States with its only viable alternative to the unpleasant choice between unilateral action or total inaction in the face of destabilizing conflict or intolerable human rights violations.

Since the creation of the United Nations, the United States has exerted a great deal of influence on the practices of that organization and has, in turn, been influenced by UN practices. While not directly involved in many of the early UN operations, the United States made significant behind-the-scenes contributions of equipment and technical expertise to those operations. However, the United States was directly involved in key peacekeeping missions like the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO); contrary to the usual practice of superpower non-participation in such operations, US officers participated in those missions as observers and staff members. Later, in the post-Cold War era, the more frequent involvement of the United States in UN missions, as well as the increased professional interaction between the US military and the militaries of other nations that consistently participate in those missions, has contributed to the convergence of US and UN principles regarding peace operations.

The United States' support of UN peace operations is also reflected in the significant financial resources that it contributes to those operations. The United States is currently assessed for 30.4 percent (a figure that will probably change soon to 25 percent) of UN peacekeeping expenses, and, as The New York Times reported in February 1995, the United States has also contributed US$1.7 billion to missions approved by the United Nations but not carried out under the UN banner.

The importance of UN peace operations to the United States, and of the United States to those operations, guarantees that the futures of UN peace missions and of US foreign policy will be intertwined. Over the past decade, the nature of peace missions has grown startlingly complex. However, ongoing refinements of both UN and US institutions involved in peace operations will ensure that such operations remain important to the resolution of many types of conflict well into the foreseeable future. …

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