United Nations Peacekeeping Missions: Role And Challenges – Analysis



United Nations was established to ensure peace and security in international system after the havocs of World War 2. The prime objective was to provide a common platform for all member states to seek help and understanding from each other to avoid the further chances of war.

To resolve the conflicts among states and intra- states, UN introduced the peacekeeping missions which are deployed to ensure the peace at conflict sites. These peacekeeping missions are consisted on military personnel, police and professional diplomats. In 1948 during Arab Israeli war United Nation sent peace keepers in Middle East to create a buffer zone and ensure the peace situation after the agreements and cease fires. Here starts the first generations peacekeeping missions. 

First generation peace keepers were primarily focusing on creating buffer zones to keep away armed groups which were mostly backed by sovereign states. These peace keepers were empowered by principles of impartiality, consent of states, legitimacy (authorisation by UNSC) and mandate. At the times of Cold War, 13 peace keeping missions were deployed in different regions to avoid the escalations of World War III. 

From the 1970s second generations of peace keepings started their tenure which lasted until 1995. In this period the size of peace keepers improved a lot both structurally and budget wise as well. Changing dynamics of conflicts made UNSC to introduce new reforms to tackle the new challenges such as inclusion of diplomats and professionals. Because in second generation missions, peacekeepers were operating on multi- cultural sites and in multilateral dimensions. 

Third generation of peace keeping started from 1995 which is marked with many failures and controversies. The size and budget both started to decline and role of United Nations Peacekeeping was controversial. Failure of United Nations in Rwandan and Bosnian genocidemade controversies intense. In 21st century, in the post 9/11 world order the role of United Nations Peacekeeping remained under the questions. On one hand United Nations is claiming to deal with fair and free democratic values while on other side USA invasion in Iraq is still unsolved question in UN history. More over the supremacy of USA toppled the transparency of United Nations peace building measures. Reforms of third generation also seek the robustnessand use of force where necessary .The controversies also developed when United Nations authorise the regional military organisations like NATO to conduct military operations. 

Despite all these issues and challenges role of United Nations peace keepers is as follows: 

Role of Peacekeepers in the 21st Century: 

  1. Alternative Channel of Mediation. 

Initially peacekeepers were deployed in 1949 in Middle East during Arab Israeli war with their prime mission to restore the peace after agreements and ceasefires. United Nations peacekeepers continue to face challenges in early stage because of poor mandate and limited authorities. Later in 21st century United Nations approved different bills and reforms to make peacekeepers more efficient. 

Nowadays peacekeepers are not only consisted on military or the police personnel but diplomats and peace consultants are also regular part of peacekeepers. These diplomats and professionals provide alternative source to fighting factions for mediation and dialogues. Diplomats and professionals of peace keeping missions make it possible for fighting parties to sit on single platforms and to discuss the contradictory things for pursuit of long lasting peace. For example, United Nations missions in South Sudan held dialogues to resolve the differences between the communities in greater lake region on the borders of Sudan and South Sudan which included the border peace committee and local courts. 

  1. Assistance to Week Political Governments 

The changing dynamics of conflicts made it difficult for weak governments to handle the escalations of conflicts. In many conflicts for example, the Darfur incident of 2004 where civil war broke out which led to genocide and violence, poor political government in Khartoum was unable to handle the fighting factions. In such cases United Nation peace keepers not only handle the peace situation but professionals and diplomats provide assistance in formulating the policies which can ensure the peace in disputed regions. There are many successes of United Nations peace keepers in political transitions.

For example, United Nations peacekeepers were deployed at elections in conflicted regions like Iraq and East Timor to conduct fair and free elections. 

  1. Humanitarian Assistance 

The traditional role of United Nations Peacekeeping mission is not remained limited in 21st century. Now a day peacekeepers not only respond to fighting faction but also provide humanitarian assistance and aid to affected civilian population at regions of conflict. It is included in responsibilities of peacekeepers to protect civilians and transfer them to safe places. For example, United Nation peacekeepers helped under siege Yemeni population with food and medical aid by opening the blocked ways by Houthis rebels 

  1. Disarmament Reintegration and Demobilisation. 

Disarmament, reintegration and demobilisation means to take out arms from  hands of armed groups , making them to reintegrate with each other as like civilian people do in their societies . These strategies compel the armed groups to stay away from the violence and become active participant in peace and dialogue process. Disarmament will lead the conflict situation from violent to non violent which will creat more space for resolution through dialogues. Reintegration will make it possible for political governments to conduct fair and free elections among armed groups to transfer the control of area in which both groups will be given the appropriate nominations. For example, these policies of disarmament, reintegration and demobilisation are being practiced in Mali( MINUSMA) , Darfur( UNAMID) , Democratic Republic of Congo ( MONUSCO) and Central African Republic. 

  1. Reduction of Communal Violence. 

In last decades, a shift is seen in United Nations peace policy, in prior decade only peace keeping were deployed when there was  escalations of conflicts, now United Nations is trying to reach  the structural prevention to stop further escalations of conflicts in those regions . 

These policies include the approaching the people and conducting awareness drives. The main-policy is to distinguish the common people from the combatant ones and  than to restrict arm flow in communal areas. This strategy of conflict resolution is known as structural prevention. For example, the United Nation’s missions are implementing such policies in many conflicted regions such as Mali, Haiti, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo etc. These programmes and policies include initiatives such as labour-intensive projects, community common dialogue platforms, business incubation and facilities across cities. Many initiatives have been taken to keep youth away from recruiting process of armed groups.

Challenges to Peacekeeping Missions: 

The challenges faced by United Nations peace keepers changed from time to time depending on nature of conflicts. During first generation the role of peacekeepers was limited on buffer zones and cease fires and the challenges at that time were due to limited mandate and non use of force policy. In second generation the mandate and structure of peacekeeping forces also enhanced which gave rise to new challenges such as up to which extent use of force is permissible and how to deal diplomatically for peace building measures. The real challenges arise in third generation. Dynamics of conflicts have been changed and therefore old tactics also need to be updated. Hybrid warfares are being used so peace keeping missions have a challenge to deal with hybrid challenges technically instead of using force. 

   The main challenge is that the conflict have been shifted to intra state instead of inter state. Therefore biggest challenge is to find and differentiate combatants and non combatants. These communal fights need to sort out through structural preventive strategy and transformation strategies which include the communal level awareness, creating more challenging environments for peace keepers. 

The challenges to peace keepers in 21 century are as follows. 

  1. Changing Nature of Conflicts 

The nature of conflicts in history of United Nations kept changing from to time. Soon after creation of United Nations interstate conflicts sparked up like Cold War, Israel-Palestine conflict and Kashmir conflict therefore United Nations has to devise policies which were suitable for peace keeping in inter -state conflicts. But with passage of time, dynamics of conflict fluctuated and now after 9/11 this is time of intra stateconflicts, mainly escalating due to ethnicities, multilateral cultures, greed for gains, and poor distribution of resources. 

   The fighting factions are not only fighting for one cause now but they linked up themselves with organised criminal groups. Capturing and selling goods from the captured areas is source of income for their organisations as like Taliban did in Afghanistan by selling opium and Khymer rouge ( 1975-79) did in Cambodia by selling timber and wood . 

   This revenue is used to buy latest deadly weapons which fighting faction not only use against each other but on civilian population to curb any hatred against them. While on other hand it’s becoming very difficult for peace keeper to identify the combatants and non combatants. And poor mandate and outdated weapons make peacekeepers vulnerable to many atrocities.

  1. Peacekeeping  Missions are Becoming Targets :

Terrorist groups through different tactics attack peacekeepers and show their cruelty to pressurise the United Nations to keep away their peacekeeping missions from their territories. Usually peacekeepers go to places of conflict where no one else is ready to go and put their lives in risk every day. Sometime peacekeeping missions are joined by observer groups to collect evidences of war crimes. Fighting factions which are mostly terrorist organisations never allow observer groups to collect evidences from the field. Use of force is not legitimate in mandate of peacekeepers but use of force is limited to self defence, therefore parties of conflict find it easy to target the peace keepers. One obvious examples is from the recent attack of Indian forces at UN military observer group at Loc 

  1. Poor Local Political Support:

The exclusionary approach by local fighting factions toward peacekeeping is letting down the morals of peace keepers. Political parties in conflicted regions are busy in minding their own business. The lack of political interests is leading to stalemates of peace building measures. In cases of civil wars vague exit strategies being adopted by dull political leadership is weakening the writ of respective states on their conflictual territories such as case from Libya. United Nations is seeking help from local political leadership to play their role in peace keeping and peace building measures in collaboration with peacekeepers.

  1. Complexity of mandates:

Mandates of peacekeepers are not allowing them to use force as it will escalated more tensions and may affect the neutrality of United Nations while on other hand United Nations has allowed the operations to use force to bring peace . One such example is USA attack on Iraq 2003 and other one is NATO booming of Kosovo. But these operations were not conducted by peacekeepers. On other hand peacekeepers are given risky tasks in fields which pose serious threats to lives of peacekeepers. 

  1. Freedom of movement problems. 

Restricted movement of peacekeepers hinder their abilities. During war situations peacekeepers are unable sometime to respond quickly to place of conflict, this may prove fatal for lives of civilian people. Fight factions like terrorist groups stop peacekeepers to visit places of atrocities and to investigate the human right abuses committed by those warlords. 

Roads to approach civilian people are Usually blocked by fighting parties this leads to cut of supply of food and medicines to civilians for example in Yemen Houthis rebel cease the ports and stores of international organisations, supplying aid and food to civilian populations  which led to massive famine in Yemen . Damaging peacekeeping mission’s properties and vehicles is common in conflict zones. This lead to severe problems for peacekeepers to respond in effective manners. 

  1. Performance Issues:

Peacekeepers are showing their best abilities because of lack of well structured, well equipped and trained force. Women participation is very low which raise many problems. In many areas of conflicts maternal and child health issues are complicated and male peace keepers cannot handle such sort of issue. Exploitative, racial and sexual abuse issues with in the organisation are another serious challenges faced by missions which compromise the efficiency and team work of mission. For example, the first official reported sexual abuse by United Nations peace keeping mission came under light in 1992 in Cambodia that was followed by reports from Bosnia Herzegovina and Haiti etc 

  1. Latest Military Technology Dilemma 

Those days are gone when peacekeepers used to patrol in buffer zones and supply aids to civilians. Now the dynamics of conflict have been changed so a new policy of latest military technology is needed to face modern challenges. United Nations Security Council is trying to approve the bill on use of force which has already created the heated debate among stakeholders. The armed groups are now possessing latest weapons which they gained through smuggling and it has become difficult for peace keeper to keep armed group deterredUnited Nations has been improving the budget to get latest military weaponry to deter the armed groups.  

  1. Unilateralism and USA Pressure 

The USA is an important stakeholder in international politics, having many allies at every corner of world. In situations of conflict USA always wants to help the allies, as in case of Yemen war USA support was on Saudi Arabian side. This has compromised the performance and neutrality of united nation peacekeeping missions. On pressure from USA, United Nations general assembly passed bill to cut 600 million dollar from the peace keeping missions’ budget. This may prove harmful for structural reforms of peacekeeping missions. 

Allah Nawaz is a Graduate of social sciences from Bahria University Islamabad, international affairs analyst with particular focus on security and strategic studies







Allah Nawaz

Allah Nawaz is a graduate of social sciences from Bahria University Islamabad, International affairs analyst with a particular focus on security and strategic studies.

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