PEACE in Action

Part II - Keeping the Peace

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Policies for International Peace
The United Nations at 60
Part II - Keeping the Peace

Definition of Terms

In The UN at 60—Part I, we set forth the Principal Purposes (Chapter I), and the first one was "to maintain International peace and security." Three ways of doing this were set forth there, and Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter gave the Security Council (SC) the authority to carry out actions to maintain or obtain peace.

However, with the passage of time, the nature of problem situations have changed. For example, in the Dialogue piece in the Summer 1995 issue of PEACE in Action, we quoted from a handbook which classified UN peace operations as follows: 1) traditional peacekeeping operations; 2) multi-dimensional peace operations; 3) humanitarian peace operations; and 4) peace enforcement operations.

From 1945 to 1968, all but two missions were traditional peacekeeping operations and involved military components only. Traditionally, the UN peacekeeping force is positioned between former belligerents and it monitors a cease fire; it is there with the consent of the parties to the conflict.

The multi-dimensional peace operation (MDPO) was designed to help implement a peace accord that addressed the causes of the underlying conflict. Because MDPOs primarily have involved the settlement of internal conflicts, they operate in a more complex domestic political environment than does traditional peacekeeping. For example in the MDPO in El Salvador, which was written up as a case study in the Winter 199394 issue of PEACE in Action, the UN mission (ONUSAL) worked with the parties on such issues as military reform, national civilian police, judicial reform, electoral reform, the agrarian problem, the national reconstruction program, and the political participation of the rebel group (FMLN). These operations have come to be called peace-building missions.

Humanitarian interventions have been conducted to relieve suffering in the midst of an ongoing conflict or in a situation of anarchy. They are considered a temporary measure to help citizens survive until a cease-fire can be reached and, possibly, an MDPO can begin. Execution of such interventions can get complicated when there are a number of relief groups operating in the area. If a UN force should be sent to Darfur in Sudan, it most likely would be of this type.

Peace enforcement operations use coercive force to suppress conflict in an area, creating a de facto cease-fire to protect non-combatant populations and facilitate the opening of negotiations among local factions. The November 1999 mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo might be considered an example of this type operation.

Achievements and Current Operations

Since 1948, 59 UN Peacekeeping Operations had been authorized up to the end of November 2004 at a cost of over $31 billion and 1,929 lives. Of those 59, most have been completed successfully; however, 16 were still ongoing. The oldest ongoing mission was established in 1948 when Israel was established and fighting broke out with the Palestinians. Two other missions were established in that area: Syrian Golan Heights in 1974 and in southern Lebanon in 1978. Obviously, finding a viable solution to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict is long overdue.

The second oldest ongoing mission is the India-Pakistan Military Advisory Group in Kashmir, dating from 1949; the next oldest mission is the Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus which has been there since 1964—two more long-standing problems calling for resolution.

Of the remaining 11 missions at the end of 2004, 7 were in Africa—3 established in the 1990s and the remaining 4 since 2000. There were also missions in Kosovo, Georgia (ex-USSR), Haiti, and East Timor.

Although a number of the original peacekeeping missions included military personnel, there were only 103 military personnel and police included in the current 16 missions. International civilian personnel totaled nearly 4,000; they were supported by 7,400 local civilians.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is not large enough to stop the current fighting in Lebanon, but it is still playing an important role. It currently is working to restore a humanitarian supply route to get aid to the population in need. It has also rescued civilians from collapsing buildings, evacuated displaced people, repaired roads and filled bomb craters, provided power and medical assistance to villagers, and helped secure humanitarian convoys. In the process, six UN personnel have been killed and 11 wounded.

Another peacekeeping operation has been in Haiti since 2004. The Secretary-General has just submitted a report to the Security Council requesting that the peacekeepers mandate in Haiti be extended. He said in his report that the country is now poised for a fresh start: "A new page in the history of Haiti has been turned. Today, the people of Haiti have a unique opportunity to break the cycle of violence and poverty and move towards a future of stable and peaceful development."

The Secretary-General also recently sent a report to the Security Council indicating a need for up to 18,600 troops and at least 3000 police for a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, western Sudan, to ensure that all sides in the war-ravaged region comply with the recently signed peace agreement. The troops would expand the UN Mission to Sudan (UNMIS) which now focuses on the North-South agreement in southern Sudan.

In addition to the peacekeeping missions, there were 12 UN political and peace-building missions at the end of 2004, half of which were in Africa. Only two of the missions (Afghanistan and Sudan) are directed and supervised by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations; the others are directed by the Department of Political Affairs. Two involve only the stationing of a representative of the Secretary-General.

An example of the work of this type of mission is the one that just submitted its assessment report of the situation in Nepal. After conducting extensive meetings, the mission settled on four concrete areas in which the UN, with the support of all sides, could positively contribute to the peace process: arms and armies management; electoral assistance; helping to monitor the code of conduct; and expanding human rights activities. If the Secretary-General accepts the report, he will then submit it to the Security Council for decision.

Limits on UN Effectiveness

The Dialogue piece in the Summer1995 issue of PEACE in Action, cited above, also included a section on the value of UN peace operations, including the utility to the United States. At the same time, there was a lengthy discussion on why the UN has not been more effective. Some of the reasons relate to the unwillingness of Member States to respond to international calls to restore peace or for Members to back up the UN, either in the Security Council debates or by providing the resources required to carry out needed actions. Also, at that time, the UN had not yet begun to focus on conflict prevention; however, the current Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has become much more active in this regard. Another problem for the UN relates to the provision in the Charter which provides that the UN will not enter into an internal armed struggle unless requested by the government of the country—or unless the Security Council decides action is necessary to maintain international peace.

In looking at instances in which the UN did not act (e. g., Angola), it is clear that the fault falls not on the UN, but on the member countries who were unwilling to send the troops necessary. Similarly, Article 26 of the UN Charter calls for the Security Council to formulate, with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee to be organized (Article 47), plans for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments. However, the countries with the veto in the Council have chosen not to act. To the objective observer, it appears clear that the UN could be more responsive in dealing with breaches of the peace, or threats of such breaches, if it had a Stand-By Force that could be immediately dispatched when the Security Council decided that such action was needed.

At the World Summit in September 2005, world leaders agreed on the following statements/actions related to peace-building, peacekeeping and peacemaking, some of which should help UN efforts to maintain international peace through increased conflict prevention activities:

  • It decided to create a Peacebuilding Commission to help countries transition from war to peace, backed by a support office and a standing fund.
  • Establish a new standing police capacity for UN peacekeeping operations.
  • Agreed to strengthen the SecretaryGeneral's capacity for mediation and good offices.


Terrorism is another threat to international peace that was not anticipated at the tine the Charter was written. However, terrorist incidents were serious enough in the 1960s to warrant UN action. The earliest conventions promulgated by the General Assembly date from 1963 and dealt with airplane hijackings and the safety of civil aviation. Other later conventions related to hostage taking, protecting nuclear material, marking explosives (to facilitate detection), etc.

A Convention about terrorist bombings was approved by the General Assembly in 1998, and one related to the financing of terrorism in 2000. The US Government made no effort to ratify the latter two agreements and obtain implementing legislation until after September 11, 2001.

The Security Council passed a resolution in 1992 establishing sanctions against Libya related to the downing of the Pan American flight over Scotland. In 1996, the Council passed a resolution establishing sanctions against Sudan for its support of terrorist activity. In 1999, sanctions were voted in the Security Council against the Taliban government in Afghanistan for not turning over bin Laden and closing his training camps.

The UN also established a Counter-Terrorism unit in Vienna, Austria as part of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention which was established in 1997; this unit has served primarily as an information clearinghouse on techniques for preventing and/or countering terrorist activity. In the Millennium Summit Meeting of the General Assembly in September 2000, the leaders of the countries of the world in their Millennium Declaration resolved "to take concerted action against international terrorism, and to accede as soon as possible to all the relevant international conventions."

The day following the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S., both the General Assembly and the Security Council issued resolutions condemning the attacks, expressing condolences to the victims and their families and the people and government of the United States, and urging international action to bring to justice those responsible and to take measures to prevent further terrorist activity. The Security Council went further and defined international terrorism as a threat to the peace, thereby giving victim countries the right to take unilateral action against terrorism as a self-defense measure.

The Security Council issued another Resolution (1373) on September 28 setting forth additional actions that should be taken by member countries to prevent and suppress terrorist activities, with special emphasis on freezing funds and taking other actions to cut the supply of money for financing terrorist activity. The Council established a special counter-terrorism committee to monitor countries' responses to its resolutions and called upon all States to report to the Committee within 90 days (and later on a timetable to be established) on the steps taken to implement the resolution.

On November 12, the Security Council followed up with Resolution 1377 reiterating countries' responsibilities set forth in previous resolutions and offered to provide assistance to any country needing it, inviting such countries to get in touch with the Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee. In other words, the Council was heading off countries' excuses that they didn't have the capacity to deal with terrorism. Over 100 countries reported to the Committee within the 90-day deadline—an unprecedented response. The Security Council and its Counter-Terrorism Committee have continued its action to encourage and assist countries to undertake more effective counter-terrorism activities. The General Assembly also approved a Nuclear Terrorism Convention, which awaits Member ratification and entry into force.

At the World Summit in September 2005, world leaders agreed on the following statements/actions related to terrorism:

  • Clear and unqualified condemnation by all Governments, for the first time, of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever, and for whatever purposes."
  • Strong political push for a comprehensive convention against terrorism within a year. Support for early entry in force of the Nuclear Terrorism Convention. All States were encouraged to join and implement it, as well as the 12 other anti-terrorism conventions.
  • Agreement to fashion a strategy to fight terrorism in a way that makes the international community stronger and the terrorists weaker.

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