Peace, in its popular sense, refers to a state of being which is free from conflict and hostility. Peacekeeping, in the contemporary world, refers to facilitating and maintaining peace between nations and communities in conflict. On a global scale, peacekeeping with the most coverage and reportage since the second half of the 20th century has involved the United Nations (UN) in some capacity.
The well-known association between peacekeeping and the UN came to the limelight in the Israel-Arab conflict era when the UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization) was established and sent to the middle east, where a ceasefire had taken place between the Arab states and the state of Israel, just after its creation. Ironically, to this day, the conflict between Palestinians and Israel shows no signs of desisting on a stable level. The creation of UNTSO generated a series of peacekeeping efforts by the UN across the globe in war-torn areas with varied success rates, such as the UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan) which was tasked with monitoring the state of relations between the two countries and to report on the efficacy and violations of the ceasefire. Led by some of the world’s most powerful nations i.e. the US, Russia, England, China and France, the UN sent its peacekeeping missions to various conflict zones which include Israel, Lebanon, Congo, Cyprus, Egypt, Western Sahara, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and so on.
However, the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping efforts, and the correlation between the political interests of nations having a notable influence in the decision making of the UN, and the countries where UN peacekeeping missions are deployed, have been points of varying arguments. Perhaps sometimes the limit and scope of the UN’s peacekeeping efforts are at the mercy of the economic and political interests of its powerful member nations and their international diplomatic agendas. As a result, the peacekeeping efforts fall prey to and make way for other interests of the powerful member nations and their personnel.
Indeed, it has been argued that the peacekeeping agendas can be like imperialist agendas of the past when powerful western nations sought to assert control over weak states, acquire their territories and have remote countries engulfed in conflicts and divisions. Rather than helping the local societies transform into a sustainable, peaceful state of existence keeping in view their local traditions and their economic, political and social needs, the powerful states at the helm of UN’s peacekeeping missions can be accused of influencing the politics and reshaping the societies according to their version of moralities and political preferences through their missions. Resultantly, more often than not, their efforts serve only to maintain the political and social status quo at the international level – the same political order which may have indirectly led towards the creation of the conflicts in the first place – an idea acknowledged by Critical Theory in the works of Pawlowska and Pugh.
Not all states are the same. They vary culturally, historically, politically, religiously, etc. It is also important to realise that each regional conflict has its particular roots and causes, and UN peacekeeping cannot successfully implement the formula or strategy which worked in one region in a different region without involving local representation from both sides of the conflict. While letting the local nationals be actively involved in deciding the fate of their own countries can risk bias and the various actors working to further their agendas instead of focusing on sustained peace which benefits both sides, an effective and lasting peace is unlikely to be attained if the peacekeepers are unable to aptly comprehend the basis of the conflict at the grassroots level – an understanding which cannot be garnered without adequate participation of the local actors.
At many of the UN’s peacekeeping missions, an inclination towards quick fixes and striking deals between the elite can be observed, rather than strategizing its peacekeeping efforts to be a custom fit with the local societal limitations by deploying local knowledge and understanding the host community’s core needs. Nicholas Sambanis, a Professor of Political Science at The University of Pennsylvania and a researcher of civil wars and ethnic conflicts, commented on the efficacy of the UN’s peacekeeping efforts. He noted that the positive effects of UN’s missions dwindle once the UN peacekeepers leave the country, suggesting that long-lasting peace has not always been the forte of UN’s missions, or at the forefront of its key agendas.
Scholars such as David Chandler and Joshua Craze argue that peacebuilding should not start with a forced introduction of international blueprints or techniques that were effective elsewhere. Peacebuilders should start with an in-depth understanding of the crux of the local conflicts – which may be common across different missions but with different underlying foundations. By the same token, John Paul Lederach, a Professor of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame and a leading policy academic, highlighted the ineffectiveness of the ‘top-down’ approach of peacekeeping which focuses more on the elite interactions and does not always cover the interests of the society. Top to bottom approach often lets the roots of the conflict continue to spread unabated. Severine Autesserre, a French political scientist, also lends support to the idea of ‘bottom-up’ peacebuilding. That idea focuses on efforts that empower local communities; to promote peace in the best way.
The importance of international peacekeeping interventions cannot be undervalued, however; it is critical that they align with the local peacebuilding agenda rather than enforce their version. There is a greater need to unite local perceptions and societal expectations into the decision making and planning processes when deploying peacekeeping efforts across regions. All this is necessary to enforce long-lasting and effective peace in the world.