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The United Nations and the International Day of Peace
by Rene Wadlow
2017-09-21 08:41:24
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I am confident that if we work together and champion truly bold reforms,
the United Nations will emerge as a stronger,
more effective, more just and greater force for peace and harmony in the world. 
US President Donald Trump, 18 September 20017

21 September has been set by the U.N. General Assembly as the International Day of Peace.  The date was set to mark the start each year of the U.N. General Assembly. The Assembly now  has the prime responsibility for the resolution of armed conflicts.  When the U.N. Charter was being written in 1945,  in the light of the experience of the League of Nations and the aggression of World War II, the U.N. Security Council, a relatively small body in contrast to the League conflict-resolution body, was to be the body to deal with armed conflicts. However the veto power of the five Permanent Members has often preventive positive initiatives. Thus discussion of armed conflict resolution has largely shifted to the U.N. General Assembly. 

peace1_400The deployment of U.N. peace-keeping forces is only one aspect of conflict resolution and peace building.  However U.N. peace-keeping forces are the most visible (and expensive) aspect of the U.N. peace-building efforts. Thus our attention must be justly given to the role, the financing, and the practice of U.N. peace-keeping forces.

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?  We must 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 and in South Sudan. 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 areas  on the part of both members of the armed insurgencies as well as by members of the regular 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, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Nigeria.  Now China is starting to provide troops with a non-English tradition.

There have been proposals by some governments and non-governmental representatives such as the Association of World Citizens for the creation of a permanent UN standby force.  This has been rejected, usually on grounds of cost ( although it would be only a fraction of what is now spent on national armies.)  There has also been an alternative proposal of creating within  national armies specially-trained forces for UN use.  In light of the fact that the great majority of UN troops come from south Asia, speak English and were originally formed in an English tradition, the creation of such units ready for quick use is a real possibility.

wc00Moreover, 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 peace building 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 workers and  specialists   in anthropology 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 International Day of Peace, 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, President, Association of World Citizens


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