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A safer world: Peacekeeping
UN peacekeeping operations are, in principle, deployed to support the implementation of a ceasefire or peace agreement. However, because the boundaries between conflict prevention, making and keeping peace, and building and enforcing that peace have become increasingly blurred, peace operations are rarely limited to one type of activity.
Today's multidimensional peacekeeping operations are called upon not only to maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.
UN peacekeeping force composition
Since the UN does not have its own military force it relies on civilian, police and military personnel from member states. As of 30 November 2011 the UN peacekeeping workforce was made up of 84,018 serving troops and military observers, 14,304 police personnel, 5,596 international civilian personnel; 12,783 local civilian staff and 2,337 UN Volunteers, deployed across 15 UN peacekeeping missions and one special political mission in Afghanistan.
UN peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of mandates from the Security Council. Their tasks differ from situation to situation, depending on the nature of the conflict and the specific challenges it presents.
The role of the Security Council
The Security Council determines when and where a UN peacekeeping operation should be deployed, and it responds to crises around the world on a case-by-case basis with a range of options at its disposal. The Security Council takes many different factors into account when considering the establishment of new peacekeeping operation, including:
- Whether there is a ceasefire in place and the parties have committed themselves to a peace process intended to reach a political settlement;
- Whether a clear political goal exists and whether it can be reflected in the mandate;
- Whether a precise mandate for a UN operation can be formulated;
- Whether the safety and security of UN personnel can be reasonably ensured, including in particular whether reasonable guarantees can be obtained from the main parties or factions regarding the safety and security of UN personnel.
The Security Council establishes a peacekeeping operation by adopting a Security Council resolution, which sets out the mission’s mandate and size.
The Security Council monitors the work of UN peacekeeping operations on an ongoing basis, and can vote to extend, amend or end mission mandates as it deems appropriate.
The principles of UN peacekeeping
UN peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles:
- Consent of the parties
- Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
Consent of the parties
Operations are deployed with the consent of the main parties to the conflict. Their acceptance of a peacekeeping operation provides the UN with the necessary freedom of action, both political and physical, to carry out its mandated tasks.
In the absence of such consent, a peacekeeping operation risks becoming a party to the conflict, being drawn towards enforcement action, and away from its fundamental role of keeping the peace.
The United Task Force (UNITAF) operating in Somalia in 1993 is the only instance when a peacekeeping operation has been deployed without the consent of the main parties.
The fact that the main parties have given their consent to the deployment of a peacekeeping operation does not necessarily imply or guarantee that there will also be consent at the local level. This is especially the case in volatile settings such as when armed groups not under the control of any parties are present (as in the Democratic Republic of Congo), or if the main parties are internally divided (as in South Sudan).
Impartiality is crucial to maintaining the consent and cooperation of the main parties, and peacekeepers should be impartial in their dealings with the parties to the conflict, but not neutral in the execution of their mandate.
A peacekeeping operation should not condone actions by the parties that violate the undertakings of the peace process but must scrupulously avoid activities that might compromise its image of impartiality.
Failure to do so may undermine the peacekeeping operation’s credibility and legitimacy, and may lead to a withdrawal of consent for its presence by one or more of the parties.
Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate
UN peacekeeping operations are not an enforcement tool. However, peacekeepers may use force at the tactical level, to defend themselves, their mandate, and civilians, particularly in situations where the State is unable to provide security and maintain public order.
In certain volatile situations, the Security Council has given UN peacekeeping operations “robust” mandates authorising them to “use all necessary means” to deter forceful attempts to disrupt the political process, protect civilians under imminent threat of physical attack, and/or assist the national authorities in maintaining law and order.
Although on the ground they may sometimes appear similar, robust peacekeeping is distinct from peace enforcement, as envisaged under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
Robust peacekeeping involves the use of force at the tactical level with the authorization of the Security Council and consent of the host nation and/or the main parties to the conflict.
By contrast, peace enforcement does not require the consent of the main parties and may involve the use of military force at the strategic or international level, which is normally prohibited for Member States under Article 2(4) of the Charter, unless authorised by the Security Council.
Issues to consider
- Has there ever been, or is there currently a UN peacekeeping operation in your country? If it is still in place is it successfully fulfilling its mandate?
- What are your considerations when it comes to peacekeepers using force in your country?
- Do neighbouring countries have a peacekeeping operation in place, and does it affect your relationships with those countries?
- Does your country contribute personnel to the UN peacekeeping force? If not, why do you think it has chosen not to?
- Has there ever been cause for concern over the conduct of UN peacekeepers in your country? How has it been dealt with?
- If you are one of the Permanent five members of the Security Council, has your country ever vetoed a vote for creating a peacekeeping operation? What was the reasoning behind this?