The 21st century has begun much as the 20th century ended: in war and armed conflict. Conflicts of many types, old and new, are under way in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Lebanon, Chechnya, and Sudan. The threat of war remains, but the nature of warfare is changing in tandem with often unforeseen geopolitical, technological, economic, and ethnic changes. According to the studies performed since 2005 by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia, violence is in decline: In the past dozen years, there has been a significant decrease in violence as measured by the number of wars, genocides, and human rights violations.
- The Transformation of Armed Conflict
- The Phenomenon of War
- Definition of War
- Definition of Armed Conflict
- Trends and Developments in Armed Conflict
- The Future of Peace Missions
- Definitions of Peace
- Approaches to Peace Missions
- Development of Peace Missions
Since the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts has fallen by about 40% from about 50 in 1991 to about 30 in 2004. Highintensity conflicts (those that cause more than 1,000 battle-related deaths per year) are down 80%, also down are civil wars (80%), genocides (80%), major and minor terrorist attacks (50%), the number of refugees (45%), coups and attempted coups (60%), and international crises (70%). More than 100 conflicts have ended, including 70% of secessionist conflicts, and the average number of battle deaths per armed conflict decreased by 98%, from 38,000 in 1950 to 600 in 2002. (Iraq since 2003 is an exception to the trend.) There were 20,000 battle deaths in all wars combined in 2003, compared with 700,000 in 1950. In the 1990s, the ratio of battle deaths to population was a third of what it had been in the 1970s. However, these positive developments were mitigated by continued strife in some regions, particularly in Africa, where war is claiming more victims than on all other continents combined. But even in Africa, there are fewer armed conflicts today (about 10 compared with 15 per year 5 years ago). The number of African countries torn by armed conflict has therefore dropped by a third. During the same period, direct battle deaths have decreased in Africa by 24%.
At the dawn of the third millennium, inhabitants of the planet had an average risk of becoming a casualty of war of approximately 0.4%, compared with an average of about 1% between 1945 and 1990. People are much more likely to die of disease and pandemics (91%) or in car accidents (2%) than in a war. However, there is little cause for celebration, for armed conflicts that could, theoretically, have been prevented or controlled continue to claim hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect victims year after year. Of the 22 million people who have perished in armed conflicts since World War II, 5.5 million died between 1990 and 1995. The causes of conflict are far from being resolved, and the dangers attendant on conflict have by no means been eliminated, although they are perhaps being anticipated and managed more successfully. In short, it is too early to say that war is being eradicated or even curbed. Human insecurity remains a challenge and a serious danger. Many armed conflicts continue to rage with deadly consequences and wars that seemed to be coming to an end have flared up again. In the wake of the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the new outbreaks of violence in Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Angola, there is no guarantee that we will not witness other unexpected and tragic events in Africa. Interstate conflict also remains a possibility: For example, hostilities could break out between North and South Korea should the North Korean regime decide, despite the armistice, to attack the South; between China and Taiwan over the latter’s desire to secede; between India and Pakistan over their long-standing dispute over Kashmir and recently because of terrorism; between Ethiopia and Eritrea over unresolved border disputes that caused 70,000 deaths between 1997 and 2000; in central and Western Africa, where internal chaos and quarrels between neighboring countries make for a dangerous mix; in the Persian Gulf, where the Kurdish question has yet to be settled in Iraq and between the countries in the region; and in Lebanon, as the Israeli intervention in the summer of 2006 demonstrated.
These disputes are only a few examples of the continuing impact of interstate rivalries and domestic insecurity. There can be no doubt that the end of the Cold War has led to greater peace between states than at any previous time in history (hence Francis Fukuyama’s well-known “end of history” thesis of 1992). However, the real challenge now is preventing or resolving intrastate wars. In other words, present-day conflicts are of a new type: In the past, states fought each other, but now clans, ethnic groups, and factions are challenging the state itself. Interstate warfare is therefore being replaced by ethnopolitical warfare. State actors are losing their monopoly on violence as infrastate players get in on the act. Supranational bodies are intervening in matters that were previously the exclusive preserve of states, in a bid to manage and control crises. It can be argued that the words war and conflict have taken on new meaning.
The Transformation of Armed Conflict
War between great powers in the industrialized world has lost its raison d’être in view of technological developments (nuclear weapons), demographic changes (low birth rate), economic factors (trade), and political factors (liberal democracy). However, wars continue to ravage underdeveloped and developing regions of the world. The creation of a relatively unipolar system dominated by the United States has not prevented armed conflicts from breaking out. The world is no longer divided into strategic “protectorates” as it was during the Cold War, and the emerging multipolar system is aggravating geopolitical rivalries in some regions.
War is becoming “deinstitutionalized” and reverting to what it was before 1648—hence the suggestion that we are returning to “premodern” warfare. Classic warfare is disappearing as war becomes “privatized,” in the sense that it is being waged increasingly by private armies rather than conscripts or professional soldiers. Since the beginning of the decade, there have been growing numbers of nonstate armed conflicts—that is, fighting between different factions within a state as opposed to fighting between the state and one or more factions. For example, in 2003, there were 29 armed conflicts involving states and 30 nonstate conflicts. However, both types of conflicts are in decline.
Forty percent of the casualties of war are direct victims (killed in battle), and 60% are indirect victims (those who die as a result of the consequences of armed conflict—displacement, disease, pandemics, malnutrition, and famine). Civilians, who make up a large percentage of the casualties, are 10 times more likely to be indirect victims than direct victims. It is estimated that approximately one third of the civilians who die in armed conflicts are killed by government forces and two thirds by intrastate groups.
The indirect victims of armed conflict are largely women and children. Many are sexually assaulted. Of the male casualties, 90% are direct victims of combat, but there are also large numbers of men among the indirect victims. Men are more likely than women to perish in mass killings or to die of pandemics or malnutrition.
More wars are ending than there are new wars breaking out. For example, between 1991 and 2004, 28 armed struggles for secession began or resumed, while 43 were curbed or ended. In 2004, there were 25 such armed conflicts under way, the smallest number since 1976.
Every year, “ethnic wars” account for the majority of “major” armed conflicts (12 out of 19 in 2005). However, the number of such wars has plunged since the end of the 1990s, as has the number of civil wars. Typically, ethnic conflicts are caused by the collapse of states, not the reverse. They grow out of severe crises of governance that cause states to disintegrate. (Half a dozen states have crumbled over the past 20 years, including Afghanistan, the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Somalia.)
Armed conflicts are also spurred by the profit motive: fierce competition for control of resources, particularly minerals, diamonds, oil, and water. Elites, guerrillas, mafia, and mercenaries engage in warfare to exact tribute or to lay their hands on a nation’s wealth. The geography of a conflict—its fault lines—is shaped more by the distribution of resources than by ideological or political differences (as is clearly seen in Central and Western Africa).
Democratization is a growing source of violence. Approximately one third of states are in transition. There are more democracies today than ever before in the history of the world, but the recent wave of democratization has left scars in its wake because of the failure of many transitional states to protect human rights or establish a state of law and because the democratization process has given rise to instability and bouts of political violence (examples include the former Yugoslavia, Colombia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq).
The Phenomenon of War
Interstate war is a recurring phenomenon that appears to be part and parcel of the Westphalian system; there were 278 such wars between 1648 and 1940, or one every 2 years. In 2003, J. David Singer calculated that there had been 412 interstate and intrastate wars between 1816 (when there were 23 states) and 1997 (when there were 181); 135 of these wars occurred after 1950. In all, there were 179 wars in the 19th century and 233 in the 20th century. Of the 2,340 weeks between 1945 and 1990, only 3 were entirely free of war. According to Singer, the record is not encouraging: The two decades with the largest number of wars since 1816 have been the 1970s (36 wars) and the 1990s (31 wars). In recent years, between 10% and 15% of states have been at war. The good news is that as a proportion of the number of states in the world and the world’s population (both of which are growing), the number of wars is decreasing. The ratio of wars to states has fallen steadily over the decades, from 0.74 in the 1890s (the highest in history) to 0.26 during the 1940s and 0.17 during the 1990s (one of the lowest in history). However, the number of battle deaths has been stable since 1950, at an average of approximately 2.6 million per decade, or one per 1,000, for a total of approximately 13 million dead. (These figures do not include indirect victims of war.) Wars caused an estimated 38 million battle deaths (including 11 million soldiers) between the years 1 CE and 1899 and more than 46 million deaths (including 22 million soldiers) between 1900 and 2000. From 1816 to 1939, interstate wars caused 28.4 million battle deaths and civil wars 6.8 million. Between 1940 and 2000, the proportions were reversed: 3.3 million battle deaths in interstate wars and 11.5 million in civil wars. World War I claimed a total of 20 million direct casualties, counting both soldiers and civilians, and World War II killed 40 million. Five wars accounted for more than half of all combat deaths during the 1946 to 2002 period: the civil war in China, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iran–Iraq war, and the Afghan wars. These numbers do not include government-backed massacres of their own people (genocide, politicide, and femicide), which are estimated to have caused more than 175 million deaths between 1900 and 2000, of which approximately 125 million were caused by genocides and famines (70 million in China alone), 24 million by light arms, 17 million by artillery, and 2 million by aerial or naval bombardments.
Definition of War
We will return later to the statistics and trends, but first, we must attempt to define what war is. There is no consensus in the abundant literature. One of the classics, A Study of War, written by Quincy Wright (1942) of the University of Chicago, defines war as “violent contact of distinct but similar entities” (chap. 1). States may enter into violent contact, but so too may lions or tigers: This definition is inadequate since it ignores the importance of the political dimension of war. In Chapter I of his classic On War, the traditional strategist Carl von Clausewitz described war as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will” and then famously commented, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.”
War may be considered, then, to be an armed confrontation between enemies with irreconcilable or incompatible political goals, which always has the potential to escalate into an unlimited engagement aimed at achieving total victory and the destruction of the opponent. It is the ultimate instrument of policy where political differences cannot be resolved except by the use of force. War is also an organized process, a dimension stressed by the expert on war, Gaston Bouthoul: “War is armed and bloody struggle between organized groups.”
From a realist point of view, therefore, war implies acts of violence conducted and organized by political and military actors with antagonistic motives, which may be governments or infranational or supranational entities. Similarly, in the negative, we can say, with the realists, that peace is the absence of organized violence between groups or states. We shall see that, in the case of intrastate and ethnopolitical wars, there is disagreement between those who believe that war is inherent in the security dilemma (realist theorists) and those who argue, on the contrary, that war is constructed through the manipulation of identity by political entrepreneurs and decision makers (critical theorists).
War can take different forms in different eras:
- International war is war between states, such as the Gulf War of 1991, North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) war against Serbia in 1999, the intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It may be a regional war, such as the wars in the Middle East or between Pakistan and India, or a world war if the conflict spreads, as in World Wars I and II.
- Intrastate war has been the most common type of warfare since the end of the Cold War. The examples of the former USSR, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka illustrate the wide scope of violence between governments, factions, ethnic groups, and other groups trying to win or maintain control over territory and political power. Intrastate war may also be associated with civil strife or traditional ideological warfare (revolutionary wars, national liberation wars, guerrilla wars).
- War may be conducted by conventional means (invasion, bombing, coercion) or unconventional means (terrorism, insurrection, using chemical, biological, or nuclear arms). The means used determine the nature of the war.
- Wars may be short, long, or indeterminate. They range in duration from the Six-Day War in 1967 to decades-long conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, which continued from 1945 to 1975. Civil wars, such as the ones in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Kurdistan, which long appeared interminable (or still do), may come to seem like a permanent condition.
- War may be total or limited. In the first case, it knows no bounds: The annihilation of the enemy, the extermination of its population, and the end of its regime are the objectives. In the second case, the war is conducted within a restricted framework and is aimed primarily at preventing an escalation to unbridled violence. The restrictions limit the geographic scope of the conflict, the number of opponents, the use of specific means or specific weapons, and the intensity of the fighting. Examples of “limited war” include the U.S. military engagement in Korea and Vietnam, and the Soviet engagement in Afghanistan.
- Unconventional wars include psychological warfare, proxy or indirect wars, “nonwar operations,” and cold war (the potential for violence is ever present in all these types of warfare); new wars include information wars, “star wars,” the war against international terrorism, the war on drugs, and wars for control over resources (cases in which the potential for the use of force and for armed conflict is high).
Definition of Armed Conflict
Some research centers that compile statistics, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), use the term armed conflict rather than war. An armed conflict may flare up sporadically, without necessarily constituting a war as defined above, but is more than a mere conflict in that it is not limited to a political dispute. There are generally some 20 “major armed conflicts” in any given year, as defined by SIPRI (“the use of armed force between the military forces of two or more governments, or of one government and at least one organized armed group, resulting in the battle-related deaths of at least 1,000 people in any single calendar year”). The international environment is shaped to a large degree by these armed conflicts. Most are intrastate, and the majority occurs in Asia or Africa. A significant proportion, but less than half, began before 1989. Civilians make up the bulk of the victims. As a result, the number of refugees and displaced persons remains high. Recently, the Human Security Centre has begun compiling deaths resulting from armed violence between nonstate actors as well as from government-led violence against its own people.
More broadly, the term conflict can be used to refer to a situation of opposed interests that does not necessarily lead to armed confrontation (e.g., the 40-year East–West conflict). If it does develop into armed conflict, it can be the same thing as a war. Conflict generally implies a situation of strong opposition between a state, ethnic group, clan, or other group and another of these entities due to incompatible goals, which may be of a territorial, political, diplomatic, economic, military, ethnoreligious, internal, or external nature. The range of distinctions that can be applied to conflicts, armed or otherwise, indicates their diversity:
- A conflict may be over control of the government and the state and therefore involve deep nationalist, ideological, or ethnic divisions (Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are good examples). Conflicts of this type can escalate into violent confrontation between groups or factions seeking at least partial control of the state (e.g., the rival guerrilla groups in Colombia).
- Territory is a key issue in many conflicts. The motives may be ethnic (as in the former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Nagorno-Karabach, Georgia), economic (Iraq and Kuwait, the Spratly Islands), or strategic (Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights, India and Pakistan in Kashmir, Morocco, Western Sahara).
- Ideology can be an important factor when it is enmeshed in a long-festering dispute (as in the China–Taiwan and Israel–Palestine conflicts).
Many conflicts fall into more than one of these categories. In some, all the above factors come into play, intensifying the conflict. Collapsed states often present political, territorial, and ideological challenges that can be difficult to manage or contain. Numerous examples can be seen in Africa (Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia), the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), and Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador). Some major conflicts are regularly in the news; other conflicts are minor in scope and limited in time (such as the fishing disputes between Canada and Spain or between Iceland and Great Britain). Finally, in a minority of cases, we see local or regional conflicts that are confined to one country or neighboring countries, but a growing proportion of these have consequences with international ramifications (e.g., refugees, fears of escalation, collapsed states, displaced persons, humanitarian crises).
Trends and Developments in Armed Conflict
Violence, a prominent characteristic of the international system, is changing with time. What then are the main features of such violence, and how have they changed? What are the major trends in war, conflict, and violence around the world?
First, “major” wars (between major powers) have declined substantially, from 27 in the 16th century to 17 in the 17th century, 10 in the 18th century, 5 in the 19th century, and 5 in the 20th century. There have been no wars between major powers since 1945. If the trend holds, there should be no—or at the most very few—major wars in the 21st century. On the other hand, the destruction wrought by major wars has increased exponentially due to more advanced weaponry and the defense dilemma. The European wars of the 16th century caused slightly more than a million casualties, while 60 million soldiers and civilians died in the two world wars of the 20th century, more than the casualties of all previous wars combined. Since 1945, wars have caused an additional 40 million civilian and military casualties. (Civil wars and wars of independence in the Third World account for a large proportion of these.)
Second, 95% of armed conflicts and wars are intrastate. One of the goals of warfare today is the creation of smaller states, not larger ones as was the case in the past. As Kalevi Holsti observes, the great majority of wars since 1945 have been waged within states: “Almost 77% of the 164 wars were internal, where armed combat was not against another state but against the authorities within the state or between armed communities.” Notwithstanding the oft-heard thesis that this is a phenomenon of the post–Cold War period, it has in fact been a well-established trend for 50 years. In other words, states have been under threat of fragmentation for some time.
On the one hand, interstate wars are becoming less frequent; on the other, intrastate wars are becoming more so. While there were a dozen civil wars per decade in the first half of the 20th century, the average has increased to 20 in the last 50 years. During the 1990s, the majority of civil wars lasted more than 5 years, two fifths lasted more than 10 years, and a quarter more than 20 years. Between 1989 and 1996, more than one third of United Nations (UN) member states—countries with a combined total of 20 million soldiers and a civilian population of 3.3 billion—were torn by civil war. Civil wars in the Third World left some 40 million dead.
Third, territorial factors are becoming considerably less important as a cause of war. Between 1648 and 1945, about one half of wars were territorial in nature, compared with 30% since 1945. As noted above, between 1945 and 1989, close to 77% of wars were internal, of which half were ideological and the other half ethnic conflicts or wars of secession.
Whereas during the Cold War armed conflicts were fairly evenly divided between conflicts of a territorial, ideological, and ethnopolitical nature, since 1989, the greatest proportion of conflicts has fallen into the last category; most commonly, these have been ethnic and identity-based conflicts in states at risk of collapse. On the other hand, serious territorial conflicts have a greater chance of escalating into war than do other types of conflict. While there are fewer and fewer disputes between states over territorial sovereignty, 17% of the world’s 309 land borders are disputed, and 39 countries are still involved in jurisdictional disputes over archipelagos or islands. Some observers argue that territory remains an important issue, particularly in the age of globalization, as some states fight fiercely to maintain their integrity while they see their economic independence slipping away.
Fourth, the majority of wars and armed conflicts are being waged in the Global South, primarily in Africa and Asia but also in the Middle East and the Caucasus. In Latin America, the number of armed conflicts has declined considerably. Three regions have seen no interstate wars since 1945: North America, South America, and Western Europe (except for the intervention against Serbia in 1999).
Fifth, fewer soldiers and more civilians are involved in wars. Civilians have become the leading victims of armed conflict by far: In the 1990s, 90% of the victims of war were civilians, compared with 65% during World War II and 40% during World War I. There were nearly 5 million military and civilian battle deaths in intrastate wars (counting both colonial and civil wars) between 1900 and 1949, and more than 10 million between 1950 and 2000. Interstate wars claimed 27 million military and civilian battle lives during the 1900 to 1949 period and 3 million between 1950 and 2000. These figures do not include state genocide perpetrated against domestic populations in the former USSR, China, Cambodia, and elsewhere, which have claimed more than 100 million victims.
Civil strife has had devastating effects. For example, there have been close to 4 million battle deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998. With 1,250 people dying daily, the war in the Congo has been the deadliest since World War II. The use of rape as a weapon of war and the spread of pandemics such as AIDS, which are rampant in many countries and in the armed forces in particular, should also be noted (60% of soldiers are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] in Zambia, 55% in Zimbabwe, 40% in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and 10% to 30% in Tanzania, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria). A growing proportion of civilian victims are children, and the majority of armed conflicts involve child soldiers under the age of 15. In the Third World, industrialization and the expansion of the service economy are creating an influx of young people into the urban centers where more jobs are available. As a result, the population of the cities is swelling, leading to the “urbanization” of conflicts. Jean-Louis Dufour has predicted that cities will be the battlefields of the next century.
In light of this survey, there is reason for both optimism and pessimism about the prospects for violence in the future.
On the one hand, while there are many more states today than there were 200 years ago, there has been no increase in armed conflicts between states. In proportionate terms, there are fewer armed conflicts today than there were at the beginning of the 20th century. On the other hand, it is clear that the human tendency toward violence has not subsided; in fact, it has become more intense and less state driven.
The Future of Peace Missions
Since the early 1990s, the UN has played a central role in the implementation of conflict prevention and resolution strategies. As a rule, the UN is automatically involved in peace missions. The existence of an international organization that is able to deploy soldiers supplied by member countries in order to maintain or restore an often fragile peace is a new development of historic significance. Over the past 50 years, the UN has sent hundreds of thousands of Blue Helmets (i.e., peace forces) to carry out a variety of observations and to monitor missions designed to help prevent a resumption of hostilities. Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has adopted two additional goals: (1) creating conditions for a lasting peace settlement and (2) supporting efforts toward reconciliation and reconstruction in societies that have experienced violent conflicts. This expanded agenda explains the significant increase in peacekeeping missions during the past decade.
Seventeen UN peace missions were launched in the 4 years following the end of the Cold War, from 1989 to 1993—as many as during the preceding four decades. There had been a total of 15 missions up to 1989, all but 5 in connection with interstate conflicts. Between 1989 and 2000, there were a total of 38 new missions, all but 5 for intrastate conflicts. In 1991, there were about 11,000 peacekeepers on the ground; 2 years later there were more than 78,000, an all-time high. In the late 1990s, a certain amount of fatigue, coupled with cost concerns, set in, and the number of Blue Helmets dropped to 30,000 in 1999; however, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, there were again almost 80,000 UN soldiers involved in more than 20 missions (approximately 100,000, if one includes military observers and civilian police). In addition, 65,000 NATO and European Union (EU) soldiers were on duty in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia as part of robust operations aimed at maintaining a fragile peace. The UN is therefore more active than ever. The number of peace missions has increased, even though the number of conflicts has decreased. Three quarters of the total number of peace missions in the history of the UN have been launched since the end of the Cold War at an annual cost of around $5 billion (equal to 1/100 of the U.S. security budget). According to Peter Wallensteen, the UN helped work out 25 of the 39 peace agreements that were signed between 1989 and 2000 for the purpose of ending armed conflicts. The UN is involved in peacemaking and peacebuilding in no less than half of the civil wars taking place today. Between 1990 and 2002, peacemaking initiatives increased fourfold; the imposition of sanctions, fivefold; preventive diplomacy missions, sixfold; and mediation mechanisms and truth and reconciliation commissions, sevenfold. The total number of peace operations more than tripled from 7 in 1988 to 23 in 2008 (see the reports from the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia and the Annual Review of Global Peace Operations from the Center on International Cooperation at New York University). Between 1948 and 2008, some 2,200 Blue Helmets were killed during peace missions; more than half of those have died since 1993. Since intrastate wars have largely replaced interstate wars, to which UN mechanisms appear better suited, peace missions have become more demanding and more dangerous. In the new international security environment, the UN has been redesigning the mandates and methods of peace operations launched to end civil wars and ethnic conflicts. The results, however, have been mixed. The UN’s own self-assessment reports on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the massacre in the Bosnian village of Srebrenica in 1995 uncovered serious weaknesses in peacekeeping mechanisms and decision making. Since these events, there have been many analyses of the shortcomings of the UN’s peace operations and international security efforts. Those deficiencies have been made evident again by the UN’s inaction in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The impartial Blue Helmets, standing between the combatants with the consent of both parties, seem to be a thing of the past. In today’s peace missions, UN soldiers (and, ironically enough, NATO soldiers) are called on to maintain and strengthen the standards that underpin peace. In a country that has become ungovernable, the mere presence of UN forces can be enough to provide a level of security, which will enable the country to get past the roots and the effects of war, at least for a time. In addition, there is hope that as they move toward a liberal conception of democratic standards and a market economy, these countries will recover the peace that they lost or never knew. Together with other actors, particularly humanitarian organizations and financial institutions, the Blue Helmets are taking initiatives and applying principles that go beyond the limited, traditional concept of peacekeeping. Their new role pursues the far more ambitious objectives of peacemaking, peace enforcement, and peacebuilding. Realists consider this to be a praiseworthy but naive approach that is based on false hopes and doomed to failure. In their view, the UN cannot abandon the Westphalian conception of security on which it was founded in 1945. According to the realists, if the UN claims a right of interference, which entails an increased practical commitment to human security, it will flounder on the severe limitations and enormous obstacles faced by intrastate peace missions. For one thing, the possibility of artificially reshaping a society in the image of a Western democracy appears to the realists to be doubtful at best. A basic contradiction immediately presents itself: The UN and other organizations such as NATO are increasingly expressing a desire to keep the peace not only between states but also within states. Whereas during the Cold War, most states wanted the UN to be no more than an arbiter of interstate relations, and a weak one at that, some now expect the UN to rescue and, if necessary, revive collapsed states that are unable to govern themselves or maintain security. Can the UN fulfill this role? Are UN peace forces able to resolve intrastate conflicts? This question can be expected to arise with every new peace mission and to fuel bitter debate for years to come.
Definitions of Peace
In general, a peacekeeping mission refers to the deployment by the UN (or another intergovernmental organization [IGO]) of civilian personnel, police, and Blue Helmets for the purpose of conflict prevention, management, and resolution. The UN’s military operations include a full range of activities aimed at curbing and resolving conflicts, from traditional peacekeeping to peace enforcement.
Peace has often been defined as the absence of violence. In the post–Cold War period, this classic, primarily “negative,” definition has come to be seen as inadequate, and the international community is working toward a more progressive and “positive” definition of peace. The negative conception of peace implies that peace is only temporary. Peace exists when we succeed in preventing the outbreak of conflict. It is a fragile interval produced by the balance of forces. It may be based on the hegemony of one state, the balance between major powers in the international system (e.g., where several countries possess weapons of mass destruction), or the play of alliances. These are all shaky foundations for peace and, in the view of the realists, have not prevented the persistence and regular resurgence of war, the natural order of things, throughout history.
The positive conception of peace is based on the establishment of values, networks, and multilateral mechanisms that can ensure the long-term survival of a stable international system. The threat is no longer military in nature and cannot be addressed by states acting on their own. The principle “every man for himself” is replaced by “all for one” and the idea of power by the concept of sharing. Individual attitudes must change, the machinery of war must be abandoned, and peace and justice education must be promoted.
Approaches to Peace Missions
Approaches to peace and peace missions sometimes adopt a positive and sometimes a negative conception of peace.
During the Cold War, the (negative) concept of peacekeeping was the only one in common use. With the proliferation of peace missions and mandates since 1989, new (more positive) concepts have gained currency. Most notably, the Agenda for Peace proposed in 1992 by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and revised in 1995 set out principles and terms that gave new impetus to research efforts and introduced a more precise classification of peace missions. From the voluminous literature on peace missions, we will discuss four terms that are now widely in use.
- Peacekeeping means deploying UN personnel—primarily, military personnel—with the consent of the parties to the conflict to maintain a cease-fire and prevent a resumption of hostilities. By positioning multinational forces between the parties, the UN tries to preserve or increase the chances of peace. The forces are deployed only when a peace agreement has been reached and has taken hold. The forces remain impartial and neutral. They can fire only in self-defense. If hostilities break out again, they are immediately withdrawn. The UN Charter made no provision for such forces; they are often said to be mandated under a fictional Chapter VI and a half, halfway between the cooperative means of Chapter VI and the coercive means of Chapter VII.
- Peacemaking includes all forms of mediation and negotiation intended to bring the parties closer together, essentially by peaceful means. The cooperative means referred to in Chapter VI of the UN Charter are used to help achieve a settlement of the conflict. Preventive diplomacy, particularly the preventive deployment of peacekeepers, can also be useful for containing the outbreak and escalation of violence between the parties. The deployment of forces with the consent of the parties can help establish a climate of trust and security conducive to the resumption of negotiations and mediation.
- Peace enforcement refers to coercive action authorized by the UN Security Council pursuant to Chapter VII of the Charter in response to “threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.” Multinational military forces under UN command must then enforce the agreements that they are supposed to guarantee and, if necessary, engage in armed action. Peace enforcement can also be undertaken by a regional organization under Chapter VIII of the Charter and in accordance with rules stipulated by the Security Council.
- Peacebuilding means a concerted effort by the UN and the international community as a whole to develop political, economic, and security infrastructures to achieve long-term suppression or resolution of a conflict. Peacebuilding attempts to lay the foundations for reconciliation and reconstruction. It seeks to avert any resumption of violence in a bid to redraw the settlement. While it is intended primarily for the postconflict phase, it can also be applied as a preventive measure before violence breaks out or even during the conflict to firm up an unstable or precarious peace. It is based on the economic and social measures described in Chapters IX and X of the Charter, among others.
These approaches are used in succession as part of an overall strategy for peace.
Development of Peace Missions
The development of peace missions can be thought of as spanning two periods: (1) the Cold War, from 1948 to 1988, during which traditional peacekeeping operations were conducted by the Blue Helmets, and then (2) the 1989 to 1993 period, during which the deployment of peacekeepers and their assignments expanded exponentially. A third emerging phase, the post-1994 period, is less distinct: It is a continuation of the preceding period with some accentuated features.
The first period opened with the UN Observer Missions monitoring in Palestine in 1948 and Kashmir in 1949 (the dates of the beginning of the operations). The goal of the “Blue Beret” missions was to monitor cease-fires and armistice agreements that had been agreed to by states. The deployment of the “Blue Helmets” (a Canadian invention) along the Suez Canal in 1956 was the beginning of a new, more engaged phase. Similar operations were subsequently carried out to enforce, as far as possible, other demarcation lines and cease-fires between opposed countries or communities, such as Cyprus in 1964, the Sinai in 1973, and the Golan Heights in 1974.
The Blue Helmets were positioned between the combatants to police a buffer zone and reduce the risk of a resumption of hostilities. The principle was clear, and the success criterion was the absence of war—that is, the realization of the negative conception of peace. Other missions were mandated to verify the suspension of hostilities between Iran and Iraq in 1988, to supervise the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and Angola in 1989, and in the first intrastate conflicts that the UN has dealt with, to restore order in Congo in 1960 to 1964 and in southern Lebanon in 1978. This period also saw multilateral operations outside the UN framework, such as the one in Lebanon in 1982, in which several countries joined forces to deploy an implementation force.
During the second period, which extended from 1989 to 1993, 17 new missions were conducted. As the Agenda for Peace noted in 1992, the UN deployed tens of thousands of Blue Helmets to carry out expanded missions. They supervised elections (Namibia and Nicaragua in 1989), helped settle disputes (El Salvador in 1991, Cambodia and Mozambique in 1992), and served as a prevention force (on the Kuwaiti border in 1991 and Macedonia’s border in 1992). They also monitored disarmament (Iraq in 1991), ensured the security of humanitarian operations, protected refugees and displaced persons (in northern Iraq in 1991, in Somalia and Bosnia in 1992), and observed and monitored the (often futile) implementation of peace agreements (in Angola in 1991, in Rwanda in 1993).
These examples confirm three notable changes in Blue Helmet missions:
- They affirm (reinforce) the new right of intervention to provide humanitarian assistance, proclaimed by the Security Council after the Gulf War in 1991.
- Most of these Blue Helmet missions addressed intrastate conflicts, without necessarily obtaining prior consent from the government or the rival factions.
- The missions were multidimensional; that is, they simultaneously comprised peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace enforcement, and peace-building components.
Since 1994, a third generation of missions has emerged: The focus is on peace enforcement to stabilize collapsed states through reconstruction, democratization, and development. In these missions, peace enforcement and peacebuilding interpenetrate.
In one new feature, many of these missions were originally conducted by an actor other than the UN but with the UN’s approval. This occurred for the first time with the deployment of U.S. troops in Somalia in 1992, initially for strictly humanitarian reasons. The subsequent use of force by the United States in Haiti in 1994, by NATO in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999, by Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Sierra Leone in 1997, by Australia in East Timor in 1999, by Great Britain in Sierra Leone in 2000, by NATO again in Afghanistan in 2001, and by France in Ivory Coast in 2002 revealed the UN’s significant shortcomings when it came to deploying an armed force without the full consent of the host country’s political authorities. Over the past 6 years, UN peace forces, acting in some cases with the support of small contingents from the African Union (AU), Organization of American States (OAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or the EU, have taken over such missions in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and East Timor but only once the situation was relatively stable. In Somalia, Haiti, and East Timor, the UN Blue Helmets took over the missions only once security had been reestablished. Elsewhere, the Blue Helmets continued to conduct traditional monitoring and peacekeeping operations lasting for years in Cyprus, the Middle East, Western Sahara, Kashmir, and the Ethiopia–Eritrea border. There has been lively discussion about the role of the peace forces and heated polemics about their operations against the background of UN reform and the redefinition of its mechanisms.
Clearly, there are huge obstacles to giving the UN real peace enforcement capabilities. These include the lack of a real military mechanism at the UN, archaic command structures and doctrines, lack of equipment and financial resources, poor coordination, overly decentralized training and supervision of peace forces, inability to react swiftly, and, most important, the UN’s dependence on the countries that supply the Blue Helmet troops.
Hence, it is not surprising to see devolution of military operations to defense organizations, including NATO, and to major powers, such as the United States, which have greater experience and more resources in this area. Another promising approach might be to “regionalize” peace enforcement and provide regional organizations such as the AU with the logistical means, funding, and training in command and coordination that they need to conduct enforcement and combat missions more independently, although still under the aegis of the UN. Hybrid missions of this type would also better reflect the contribution of southern hemisphere countries to UN peace missions: Five nations—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Ghana—are now supplying three quarters of the Blue Helmet troops. At the end of the day, the UN serves the cause of peace more effectively in its role as impartial mediator than in a military capacity. However, it appears that armed force is needed to establish and shore up the peace. This is a battle that the founders of the UN clearly did not foresee and that the Blue Helmets are not equipped to wage.
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