Peace missions

Peace missions are defined as multilateral peace operations that have been launched to help stabilise societies after an external or internal violent conflict, to maintain peace or to build the foundations for a durable peace.

Peace missions have come to public attention through the deployment of UN peace operations. The actors in these peace missions are diverse. According to calculations of the Swedish peace research institute SIPRI, 52 peace missions were conducted in 2010 of which 19 were led by the United Nations, 12 by the European Union, seven by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and three by NATO. The mission, mandate, composition and dimension of peace operations differ greatly. Many are political support operations. Within these operations, some are purely ‘observer’ missions, while others support the build-up of security forces (police or army). Usually peace missions are multidimensional operations, meaning they include military and civilian actors who are responsible for a range of different activities: political, social, cultural and security-related, for example.

According to the UN Charter, the most important task of the UN Security Council is to keep or re-establish peace. This is why, in general, the Security Council decides on and implements them or they are led by other international organisations but with a mandate by the Security Council. The basic principles of such missions are: Impartiality, deployment only with the consent of the host government, and a use of force that is mainly restricted to self-defence.

Besides these types of political peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations, there are also peace enforcing missions. These missions do not require the consent of the respective governments. This is why the UN very rarely decides to carry out such missions.

Wars, such as the NATO intervention in Serbia/ Kosovo in 1999 or the war led by the United States and some of their allies to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 are not recognised as “peace missions.” Coalitions of states initiated these wars without authorisation by the Security Council even if they were justified by the argument that peace could only be safeguarded by these means. Only after these wars had found some sort of closure were UN peace missions established in these countries as quasi ‘post-operative’ measures.

Political peacebuilding missions

Political peacebuilding missions differ from peacekeeping missions mainly due to the small role of the military in peacebuilding activities. Such missions are often important before and during peace negotiations between conflict parties. Sometimes, after successful negotiations, they are replaced by peacekeeping missions.

According to SIPRI, the United Nations maintained five such missions in 2010 with a total of 1200 staff, including a mere 200 soldiers. The largest political peacebuilding mission of the European Union is still ongoing and started in 2008 in Kosovo. With about 1650 international staff, amongst them approx. 1100 police officers, EULEX Kosovo is to help develop rule of law structures and practices.

Peacekeeping missions

The most well-known peacekeepers are the so-called Blue Helmets—soldiers that serve in UN-led missions. In 1988, their received the Peace Nobel Prize.

The first UN peacekeeping mission was the “UN Truce Supervision Organization” that was established after the first Arab–Israeli war in 1948. It is still ongoing and consisted of 149 observers in 2011.

Since 1946, the UN has carried out 66 peacekeeping operations in total. Until the end of the Cold War, only 13 missions were established. Between 1988 and 1995, on the contrary, 26 operations were initiated. The number of Blue Helmets increased during that time from 10,000 to about 80,000. Along with this went a massive broadening of tasks. Building-up state institutions, monitoring elections, and addressing the causes of conflicts were increasingly added to the original tasks of monitoring a ceasefire and the implementation of peace agreements. The Blue Helmets also were given so-called robust mandates, which provides the soldiers with permission to use military violence not only for self-defence but also to enforce their mandate—for instance, for the protection of the civilians.

After a phase of disillusionment and restraint towards the end of the 1990s, the number and dimension of UN peacekeeping missions increased markedly after the year 2000. In 2011, UN peacekeeping missions consisted of a good 120,000 persons, amongst them about 85,000 soldiers and 14,000 police officers.

The United Nations often delegate peacekeeping missions with a strong military component to other actors, such as NATO. In December 2001 accordingly, the United Nations tasked the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, to support the new Afghan government in securing peace in the country. This government was appointed after the expulsion of the Taliban by the US-led military coalition. In 2011, ISAF consisted of 140,000 soldiers. Even though this deployment can be considered a ‘war’, it is generally viewed as a peacekeeping activity.

Costs of peace missions

The participation in peace operations are paid by the respective organisations that lead the missions according to their regulations. Costs for NATO troops in Afghanistan, for instance, are paid for by the deploying states. UN peace missions are financed by UN member states according to a special allocation formula. States that deploy soldiers and materials receive compensation payments – US $1,028 for each Blue Helmet.

Origin of Blue Helmets

In 2011, more than 100 countries participated in UN peace missions. The largest numbers of Blue Helmets are from Bangladesh and Pakistan with 10,600 soldiers respectively, followed by India (8,400) and Nigeria (5,800). The participation of developed industrial countries is minimal. If we were to include the NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, both mandated by the UN, the United States deploy by far the most troops (90,000).

Problems and criticism

The results of peace missions are mixed. While in many cases, the missions made it possible to contain a violent conflict, they often still did not succeed in fostering a sustainable peace. UN peacekeeping activities hit rock bottom in Rwanda and Bosnia Herzegovina; when the genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis began in 1994, the UN Security Council pulled the majority of its Blue Helmets out of the country. Only a year later in 1995, Blue Helmets did not prevent the killing of 8,000 people in Srebrenica, Bosnia Herzegovina.

One of the reasons for such mixed results of peace missions are the particular interests of large states, in particular those of the five veto powers of the United Nations (Russia, China, United States, United Kingdom and France). Unclear mandates and bad equipment are repeatedly a challenge to the Blue Helmets. The mission of the African Union, for instance, has been in need of a helicopter for years, but no country is prepared to make one available. Also, the challenge, or often futility of providing military solutions to civil wars has become extremely apparent in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo . Hopes of being able to safeguard human rights while also building up democratic structures have been often proven difficult if not impossible in some cases.

Sources and further information:

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