Can we still believe in peacekeepers?

by | Aug 25, 2010

This is my 300th post on Global Dashboard.  My first, posted on 15 November 2007, was about how peacekeeping was in a troubled state, with senior UN officials warning of “failure” in Darfur.  And here we are almost three years later and I’ve recently been blogging away about, er, the possibility of a peacekeeping failure in Darfur

This could be  proof that, while things are bad out there, peacekeeping has proved more resilient than doom-sayers like me predicted.  Yes, there was a near-catastrophe in the Congo in 2008, but it was averted.  Yes, the Darfur mission exists in state of permanent crisis, but it’s still there.  And there have been successes (like the UN’s ability to hold it together in Haiti after the earthquake) and the great rickety mechanism of UN operations somehow grinds on, with 100,000 personnel worldwide.

Perhaps I’m just congenitally alarmist.  When I penned an article about “Peacekeeping in Crisis” two years ago, some blue-helmetists argued that peacekeeping always seems to be in crisis.  And yet… if you advocate the “muddling through” view of UN ops, you have to contend with stories like this from today’s Guardian:

200 women and four baby boys were gang-raped by Rwandan and Congolese rebels in a brazen attack near a UN peacekeepers’ base, aid workers have reported. Victims described four days of sexual violence that was unusually vicious even by the standards of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, notorious for the use of rape as a weapon of war.  The impunity of the assault is likely to refocus attention on the effectiveness of the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping mission, which has been strongly criticised by human rights groups.

There have been efforts to sort out UN ops in the last couple of years – and, sitting in NYC, I’ve been able to make a few direct contributions – stories like this keep coming back to haunt us.  Earlier this year, I began to despair and focus on the tragic nature of the UN’s efforts in places like Darfur.  But, if it’s acceptable to talk about the end of humanitarian interventionism these days, I’m not ready to give up on it quite yet.

If we’re going to stick with program, we need to work out a much stronger strategic – and, indeed, humanitarian – logic for why we’re doing so.  I’ve had a few ideas about this recently, but need to think them through a bit more… I’ll be away from the blog for a week or so now, but when I come back I’ll try and lay these ideas out more clearly.

Afterthought: while I’m sure readers are very excited at the thought of more posts on peace ops, I should note that my most-read post of the 300 to date was “How UN Consultants Get Laid”.  Sadly, I have no exciting new insights to offer on this.


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