Rethinking Peacekeeping

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Last century ended with a series of shameful failures by UN peacekeepers to save lives in Somalia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. In the beginning of the 21st century, we face another round of tenuous peacekeeping assignments in Africa: in Sudan’s Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic, and, again, Somalia. 

For many, the allocation of forces from the African Union, European Union, and United Nations to these volatile spots is cause for relief. François Grignon and Daniela Kroslack, the director and deputy director respectively of the International Crisis Group’s Africa program, however, see reason for concern. 

Writing in Current History‘s April issue on Africa (subscription only), the two warn that the world has come to regard peacekeeping missions as Band-Aids–forces that emptily assuage human rights concerns with a show of military muscle that is in fact impotent in the face of danger. Unlike many others, Grignon and Kroslack aren’t taking aim at peacekeeping regulations that limit engagement. Rather, the teeth they say are missing from peacekeeping missions are diplomatic, not fire-power, related. 

“The military component of a peacekeeping mission is only as effective as the mission’s political masters make it,” they write. Without “viable peace agreements to implement,” peacekeepers are simply biding their time amidst social collapse. 

Intensive political negotiations, diplomatic pressure, and commitments to address the root causes of conflicts are what’s most needed and–not surprisingly–what’s most difficult. 

Despite peacekeeping missions’ shortcomings, though, Grignon and Kroslack do point to some unexpected successes: 

Recent peacekeeping operations have indeed achieved notable successes in Africa. Yet, paradoxically, their success has not been in the area of civilian protection. The UN Mission in Congo (Monuc) efficiently supported the peace process in the DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo] and deserves considerable credit for the successful organization of Congo’s 2005 constitutional referendum and 2006 general elections.

It seems that the bureaucrats and soldiers might be more effective if they switched places. It’s time to marshal our diplomatic forces for the fight and train armed peacekeepers in the tedious work of democracy building.

Image of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur by Patrick-André Perron, licensed under Creative Commons.

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