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U.N. Peacekeeping Evolves


Negotiations continue between United Nations and Sudanese officials to regulate the deployment of UNAMID, a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission tasked with ending the violence in Sudan's Darfur region. The operation is expected to be the largest in U.N. peacekeeping history and a departure from its traditional peacekeeping efforts.

The United Nations took over the cash-strapped African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur in December as a first step toward forming a 20-thousand strong hybrid force. The mission, which is by most accounts understaffed and short of military equipment, is tasked with protecting civilians caught in the midst of a five-year conflict between Khartoum and Darfur rebels fighting for more national resources and political power.

Early History

U.N. peacekeeping operations date back to 1948 and initially involved lightly armed forces tasked with border management or monitoring peace agreements between states.

Some analysts say peacekeeping was developed during the Cold War to help the United Nations coordinate its operations with the military forces of the permanent members of the Security Council. According to James Paul, Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, which monitors policy making at the United Nations, the end of the Cold War was a key juncture in the evolution of peacekeeping. He says that's when the U.N. Security Council began to focus more of its attention on trouble spots around the world.

"Suddenly, in this post-Cold War period, you had a very rapid rise in the number of peacekeeping operations. And that went up to a peak, particularly around Cambodia, but then the Balkans, and then, of course, Somalia was in that period. Then there was some disillusionment with the way peacekeeping was working and there was a rethinking of peacekeeping," says Paul.

A Turning Point

Disillusionment by U.N. member states followed the failure of the 1990s mission in Somalia that most experts consider to be a turning point in peacekeeping operations.

William Durch, a Senior Associate at The Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, warns that the Somalia experience could happen again. "The Somalia adventure in the early 1990s was simply launched prematurely as a kind of hybrid [operation], as a fllow-on to a U.S.-led coalition, which simply did not stay long enough to pacify or stabilize the area before it was handed over to an undermanned U.N. force," says Durch. "And that could happen again - - and in Somalia - - if things go forward as planned, with the U.N. taking over from a very small African Union force in the midst of a civil war and Ethiopian intervention. It's even a more complex situation in some ways now than it was in 1993."

Debating Local Peacekeepers

By 2000, troop contributions from developed countries to peacekeeping operations declined and were replaced in large part by soldiers from developing nations. This has led some critics to accuse the U.N. of using soldiers from only poor countries for its peacekeeping operations. Proponents argue that some regions prefer local peacekeepers to foreign troops.

But Jean-Marc Coicaud, Head of the United Nations University in New York, says the U.N. takes whatever support it can get for peacekeeping operations.

"Contributions of countries to U.N. operations are voluntary. So it's not something that was designed by the U.N. In the 1990s, the permanent members of the Security Council, specifically the U.S., the U.K. and France, were important contributors to U.N. peacekeeping operations in terms of military and police personnel," says Coicaud. "And these contributions were weakened in the 2000s. But very often, the U.N. regrets this state of affairs because developing countries often do not have the financial capacity, the logistical capacity to give strong support to U.N. peace operations."

Methods and Costs

About 40 percent of U.N. peacekeepers come from nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Jordan and other countries that often lack the resources to support peacekeeping operations beyond troop participation. U.N. Peacekeeping programs also operate worldwide with a budget of little more than seven-billion dollars. That is why peacekeeping missions typically falter, says Beth Cole of the United States Institute of Peace.

"Where we've gotten into trouble is where we put lightly armed peacekeepers in places where there's really little peace to keep, little or no consent from key belligerents. In Afghanistan today, we've got an example or in Darfur,"says Cole. "Darfur is a perfect example of where we are sending U.N. peacekeepers and they don't have the basic equipment they need in the midst of a raging conflict. And so you have to ask yourself how you can be successful in these situations."

Some critics argue that nation-building missions and the war on terror have diverted financial and troop support from U.N. peacekeeping operations and replaced them with military force in situations where development would be a better solution.

But James Paul of the Global Policy Forum says the U.N. is not to blame because it is often asked to tackle the toughest jobs. "The international community hands over the worst problems to the U.N. and it's amazing how much success there has been. But these forces [i.e., the peacekeepers] enable a situation perhaps to be addressed by negotiations, to have sometimes elections, sometimes forces within a country to make agreement," says Paul. "But it's not so much the fault of peacekeeping where the implementation of peacekeeping operations has the more general problem of applying military force and thinking that it is going to be in and of itself a solution, which it isn't."

Despite what some analysts consider a patchy record, most agree that U.N. peacekeepers have been very effective.

William Durch of The Henry L. Stimson Center says one has to look at the big picture. "The spectacular failures are easier to see. They tend to be in the 1990s. And except for situations like East Timor, where there is a premature removal or drawdown of a force, it's not the case that the entire model is wrong, but that the international effort was not sufficiently sustained,"says Durch. "And that's increasingly recognized by peace building and state building planners."

Despite its overall success, some analysts say the United Nations should stop experimenting with ad hoc approaches and hybrid forces, and focus on restructuring peacekeeping programs in ways that are more likely to ensure their success.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.