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"Blue Helmets" Day
by Rene Wadlow
2014-05-29 10:07:54
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How effective are U.N. peacekeeping operations in preventing and stopping violence? Are there alternatives to the ways that U.N. and regional organizations currently carry out peacekeeping operations? How effective are peacekeeping operations in addressing the root causes of conflicts? How does one measure the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations? 29 May is the date that the U.N. General Assembly has designated as the day to honor the efforts of U.N. Military peacekeepers. Honor is due. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the “blue helmets” in 1988 − a testimony to the respect and confidence placed in them.

However, we must also ask questions of their effectiveness and if these military personnel should not be complemented by other forms of peace-building.

There have been recent news stories of U.N. Peace operations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These news stories often highlight the systematic rape of women in the area and the inability or unwillingness of U.N. Troops to stop the rapes which have become standard practice in the area on the part of both members of the armed insurgencies as well as by members of the regular Congolese Army. There are also other examples when “failure” is the key word in such evaluations of U.N. Forces.

The first reality is that there is no permanent U.N. trained and motivated troops. There are only national units loaned by some national governments but paid for by all U.N. Member States. Each government trains its army in its own spirit and values, though there is still an original English ethos as many U.N. troops come from India-Pakistan-Bangladesh-Nepal and Nigeria. Now China is starting to provide troops with a non-English tradition.

Moreover, there is no such thing as consistency and predictability in U.N. actions to preserve order. The world is too complex, and the UN Security Council resolutions are voted on the basis of national interest and political power considerations. U.N. “blue helmet” operations have grown both in numbers and complexity. Even with the best planning, the situation in which one deploys troops will always be fluid, and the assumption on which the planning was based may change.

To be successful, U.N. Peacekeeping operations need to have clear objectives, but such objectives cannot be set by the force commanders themselves. Peacekeeping forces are temporary measures that should give time for political leaders to work out a political agreement. The parties in conflict need to have a sense of urgency about resolving the conflict. Without that sense of urgency, peacekeeping operations can become eternal as they have in Cyprus and Lebanon.

U.N. Forces are one important element in a peacemakers tool kit, but there needs to be a wide range of peacebuilding techniques available. There must be concerted efforts by both diplomatic representatives and non-governmental organizations to resolve the conflicts where U.N. troops serve. Policemen, civilian political officers, human rights monitors, refugee and humanitarian aid specialists all play important roles along with the military. Yet non-military personnel are difficult to recruit.

In addition, it is difficult to control the impact of humanitarian aid and action as it ripples through a local society and economy because powerful factors in the conflict environment such as the presence of armed militias, acute political and ethnic polarization, the struggle over resources in a war economy will have unintended consequences.

As we honor the “Blue Helmets”, we need to put more effort on the prevention of armed conflicts, on improving techniques of mediation, and creating groups which cross the divides of class, religion, and ethnicity.


Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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