The Expectation and Evolution of UN Peacekeeping

The Expectation and Evolution of UN Peacekeeping

Evolution of UN Peacekeeping:

UN peacekeeping has undergone a procedure of progression from simpler safeguard type forces forced between hostile forces to support a cease-fire to more intricate multidimensional kinds of operations that may include the peace-building of failed states. The ONUC, United Nations Operations in the Congo is typical case where the peace keeping force became a military force. Around 20,000 troops were stationed from 1960 to 1964. Congo after its independence was full of conflicts and was totally unstable. The UN used the forces for purposes beyond self-defense.

The Generations of the UN

The progression of UN peacekeeping can be separated into four generations

  • The first generation included the typical Cold War peacekeeping operation.
  • The second, of intermediary operation that were developed when the intensity of the Cold War was diminishing.
  • The third generation of peacekeeping comprised of multidimensional post-Cold War operation like humanitarian intervention in civil conflicts. What was seen in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda was this third generation of peace keeping.
  • The fourth and the latest generation consists of UN-sanctioned multinational forces planned to engage in strong military action. The military action was under the order of one or more “lead” states. This was to be followed by a UN peacekeeping stabilization force and this was deployed when a secure joint legitimation from the Security Council was possible.

The evolutions of the generations of the UN peace keeping followed one after the other as the need arose but it was not a path of development. The conventional forms of peacekeeping coexisted with the new forms in harmony.

Different Agencies at Work

The first peacekeeping operation was United Nations Emergency Force, (UNEF), which was set up in the Sinai Peninsula from 1956 to 1967 Egypt was attacked by Israel and later by Britain and France and was known as the Suez Canal war of 1956. Britain and France withdrew due to international pressure and UNEF was deployed on November 7th, 1956.The next main Cold War UN peacekeeping operation was ONUC.  This was the first Congo operation which was not a cushioned force, but was the serious military intervention in the Congolese civil war. This was the plan of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold to end the separation of Katanga which is the southernmost province of the Congo. A revolt to separate Katanga was planned by the Belgium for economic gains.  UNEFI and Congo operations also should be viewed within the background of the Cold War. These operations were planned to serve Western interests by averting the Soviets from launching their influence in the Middle East and Africa. UN also developed some knowledge in dealing with the problems associated with resolving racial civil conflicts. UNFICYP (the United Nations Force in Cyprus) was sent to Cyprus in 1964 to function as a buffer between the warring Turkish and Greek Cypriote communities. UNFICYP, according to some analysts is a good example of a successful UN peacekeeping operation. In 2003 it was still active. It is disputed that a quasi-permanent force like UNFICYP can serve as a stabilizing element in prolonged clashes. Other operations of “quasi-permanent” forces created during the Cold War and still in existence, performing this stabilizing function, are UNDOF 81 (the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force). This was arranged along the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights in 1974. Another one was the UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), which was located in southern Lebanon in 1978. UNIFIL also served as a small UN observer force in Kashmir.

Escapists Attitude

Alternatively, it can be argued that quasi-permanent peacekeeping forces that become fixtures in long-drawn-out regional conflicts may only serve to intensify the conflict. The presence of the forces lulls the parties of dispute not to find a political solution. They are happy and comfortable with the peacekeeping forces and continue to conflict.

During most of the 1980s, there was a freeze in allowing new peacekeeping operations by the United Nations.  This was because the Reagan administration was not keen about supporting them.

Transitional Operations

The next phase in the progress of UN peacekeeping occurred in the latter part of the 1980s was called transitional operations, that is, operations that took place in the transition between the end of the Cold War and the post–Cold War period. A more positive view of the role of the United Nations as a tool of peacekeeping in the international system was evolved. The situation changed noticeably as a result of the “new thinking” in Soviet foreign policy under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. The “new thinking” incorporated a greater readiness on the part of Moscow to look up to the United Nations as a tool that could be enforced to resolve regional conflicts, especially those of a Cold War nature. These peacekeeping forces became more multifaceted and multidimensional .As a result the UN was able to send out peacekeepers and observers to end wars, supervise elections and encourage peace-building, and attempt to promote national settlement in regional-type conflicts in places. This was enforced in places like Namibia, Angola, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, Central America, and (Cambodia) Kampuchea with altering degrees of success. But, if there were no peace to keep, peacekeeping did not get rid of the conflicts concerned when wars restarted in the same places. For example, in the cases of Afghanistan and Angola, civil clashes and mayhem were widespread, following the termination of UN peacekeeping operations. Post-conflict peace-building did not result in formation of ‘liberal democracies’.

No Liberal Democracies Formed

The post-war regime established in Cambodia after the termination of one of the UN’s most costly missions can hardly be considered as democratic. In addition, the United Nations has, for example, found it very difficult to end the civil conflict and promote national settlement. Take the case of Angola, where peacekeeping and observer operations were undertaken. An end to the clash was made possible only with the death in 2002 of Joseph Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, the revolutionary movement in Angola. As with Angola and elsewhere, the safety of observers and peacekeepers has been one of the major issues that the UN has faced in the post– Cold War world.  Local military commanders function as “spoilers” of cease-fire accords and peace agreements in domestic conflicts. They treat the UN as if it never existed. The requirement to secure the safety of UN personnel was understood with greater importance with the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003, resulting in the death of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

Things Undertaken in Peace-building

The third stage in the development of UN peacekeeping, subsequent to the traditional and transitional stages mainly consisted of compassionate intervention in civil wars. The end of Cold War witnessed a plethora of regional conflicts that had been dormant as the super powers controlled them. The third generation of peacekeeping operations placed importance on an all-inclusive approach, which involved not only peace-keeping but also peace-building.

Peace-building meant

  • Rebuilding the civil society in a state that was not very strong politically.
  • Defusing the people engaged in wars.
  • Overseeing the elections and encouraging the implementation of the law. In East Timor elections were supervised, a draft for the constitution was created and the result of this was the formation of Timor Leste, an independent state.
  • Peace-building also meant reconstruction of the war-demolished infrastructure.
  • Protection of human rights especially of the minorities.
  • Forming tribunals to discipline the war criminals.
  • As much as they punished, the UN was also responsible for safe guarding the refugees and helping the refugees and other displaced people to return to their countries.
  • National reconciliation is promoted through the creation of national commissions on Reconciliation and Truth.


This is truly an ambitious range of tasks for the UN especially when there is a dearth of resources and will to carry it all out. After settling a conflict the main task of the UN is to demobilize, disarm and reintegrate.

Over Ambitious Hopes Versus the Reality

Towards the end 1980s and early 1990s, there was an abnormal increase of UN peacekeeping activities that raised hopes that the United Nations, free of the Cold War, would be able to work as it was originally planned in the Charter. It was believed that UN will play a significant role in the international system, as it was longer influenced by American-Soviet Cold War. This fake hope may have been created by the success of the United States leading an UN-approved “coalition of the willing” to neutralize the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990–91. This was almost similar to what happened in Korea in the early 1950s. But now there was an acceptance of the American involvement and a new order was in the making in international relations.

The Clinton government also originally advocated a policy of “assertive multilateralism,” that is, full support given to international institutions like the UN. The support of the U.S. “hyper-power” marked the success of the UN. This success is in spite of the fact that the United States is inclined to function as a hegemonic power in its relationship with the world organization at times. Hegemonic means to be dominant and in this case use its power to move forward its own national interest, rather than the interests of the international community. The expectations that the United Nations would be able to serve as an effective actor on the international stage in the area of peacekeeping, suffered major setbacks. In the former Yugoslavia (1991–95) and in Rwanda in 1994, the UN failed to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide from taking place. With inadequate resources and military advisors, the UN Secretariat was positioned practically in an impossible situation, especially in the early 1990s. The UN had to put peacekeeping forces together in an ad hoc and makeshift fashion. The peacekeeping operations had to be done within a very short time. Very often the forces were sent because the permanent members of the Security Council wanted to appear to be “doing something” to appease the outraged international public views to ethnic cleansing and genocide.