Do we need UN peacekeepers

UN peacekeeping forces : When blue helmets become a problem

When politicians and security experts meet in Munich in the next few days, it will be about the erosion of the international order and the conflicts between the great powers. The peace operations of the United Nations, its problems and their further development will at best be a marginal topic - although they deserve more attention. Because the gap between the often high expectations of peace missions and their actual capabilities is large.

In 2017, the Federal Government announced in its guidelines on crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding that it would be more willing to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council this year and next, she will be confronted more than before with the question of when and under what conditions UN peace operations should be supported. The missions that fall under this broad term differ in terms of both mandate and personnel - and are often not limited to military peacekeeping, but rather have a multidimensional character. And blue helmets are also increasingly used where there is still no peace that can be preserved. If blue helmets are sent to countries where either no viable peace agreement exists or where violent conflicts are ongoing, the chances of success are rather slim.

The gap is clearest in Mali

The functions and forms of peacekeeping have changed considerably over time at the operational level. However, the UN admittedly adhere to the three classic basic principles of peacekeeping: the consent of the conflicting parties, impartiality and the use of military force only for the purpose of self-defense and, as it is said, to defend the mandate. That means: Military force should only be used if this is unavoidable to protect civilians and to ward off “disruptors” of a peace process.

Nowhere is the gap between traditional but reinterpreted principles and operational reality greater than in some stabilization missions in Africa, namely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and in Mali. As part of these missions, state forces are also supported with offensive military operations against non-state forces. In March 2013, the Security Council expanded MONUSCO's mandate in resolution 2098 in the Congo and authorized the first offensive force as part of a UN peacekeeping mission. The intervention brigade is empowered to carry out “targeted offensive operations” “in order to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, to neutralize these groups and to disarm them”. The mandate of the Mali mission MINUSMA issued in April 2013 does not contain such an offensive orientation, but in fact an offensive force was legitimized for the fight against Islamist rebels in northern Mali - namely in the form of the French forces not operating under UN command.

The assumption that peacekeepers have no enemies is often wrong

Such stabilization missions are deployments in ongoing violent conflicts; they are deployments to support governments in their struggle against specific identified groups that are not seen as legitimate parties to the conflict to be integrated into a political peace settlement. Rather, these are actors who are in fact considered enemies to be defeated. These characteristics distinguish such stabilization missions from other UN peacekeeping missions.

The dividing line becomes sharply visible when one looks at the normative core of peacekeeping and its basic principles. Peacekeeping makes use of military means, but with one fundamental difference from other forms of use or threats of military force: namely, the guiding assumption that peacekeepers have no enemies; no enemies that can be defeated or neutralized militarily, enemies whose killing is permitted as long as the armed conflict continues and the rules of international humanitarian law are observed.

Blue helmets take sides - and become a problem

A willingness to use military force in a robust and proactive manner may be required in many peace missions to protect civilians. However, if peacekeeping follows a stabilization and anti-terrorism logic and operations become more and more robust and proactive, the blue helmets become part of the problem and party to the conflict - with all the risks and unintended consequences that can come with it. There are three particular risks to be identified.

First: If blue helmets actually take sides, this is based on an assessment of the “disruptors” to be neutralized, including in particular militias and gangs that threaten the peace process and / or the security of the civilian population. In some cases there are certainly actors, such as jihadist groups, who cannot be integrated into a political process. But in many cases, actors use violence as a tactic to push through political goals as part of a compromise solution. In the context of peacekeeping, such actors are not regarded as enemies to be killed if necessary, but as members of a society in which peace is to be maintained or built. From this derive special normative restrictions for the use of military force, namely the obligation to deploy it in stages that are limited to the necessary minimum.

Second, there is a risk or side effect that helping UN peacekeepers fight armed groups will reduce the incentive for the country's government to address the problems that led to an insurrection and seek political solutions strive.

The benefits of peacekeeping are limited, but not to be underestimated

Thirdly, as in the case of the DR Congo, stabilization missions aim at the territorial expansion of state authority. What is thought of as part of stabilization can have negative consequences. An expert on the situation in the Congo once described this undesirable side effect as follows: “Unfortunately, the expansion of the authority of a predatory state only results in one group of perpetrators (foreign and Congolese rebels) being replaced by another (state rulers and state security forces ). "

There are weighty reasons for maintaining peacekeeping as a practice that is qualitatively different from combat and war operations and of limited but not to be underestimated usefulness. The militarization of peacekeeping and the embedding in a questionable stabilization and anti-terrorism logic are problematic developments. They lead to the fact that blue helmets become a party in armed conflicts, the UN regimes politically and morally support dubious regimes and thus endanger their role as mediators. UN peace missions should not be overloaded with tasks that undermine their normative claim and weaken rather than strengthen their legitimacy.

- The author is a Senior Fellow of the Science and Politics Foundation

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