Peacekeeping: the Sorcerer's Apprentice

On May 29, 1948, the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire in the Arab-Israel war of 1948 and set up the foundation for the first UN peacekeeping mission by calling for military observers to assist the UN Mediator and the Truce Commission in overseeing the cease-fire.  The result became the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Resolution 50 incorporated about a page of text and was limited to 12 paragraphs, which were each one sentence long.

On May 21, 2004, the Security Council issued its resolution number 1545 establishing the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB), a peacekeeping operation.  That resolution has three pages of single spaced text in the preamblular paragraphs alone and five pages of 23 operational paragraphs.  

Whereas Resolution 50 simply called for a ceasefire and limits on introducing fighting personnel into the conflict, Resolution 1545 authorized the UN peacekeeping operation as well, but then it went on to set out its structure, size, and mandate.  Its mandate included monitoring the ceasefire, investigating violations, promoting confidence building measures, providing security at pre-disarmament assembly sites, collecting weapons, dismantling militias, quartering the Burundi Armed forces, monitoring illegal flow of arms, creating security for humanitarian efforts, protecting civilians and UN personnel.  Then it adds the responsibility to advise the government of Burundi on refugees, institutional reforms, electoral activities, reform of the judiciary, and promotion of human rights.  Like the brooms of the Sorcerer’s apprentice, the number of paragraphs in Security Council resolutions just keep on growing. 
By the time we get to 2006, the Security Council is issuing a resolution, number 8928 calling on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and providing for sanctions.  That resolution is 10 pages long of single spaced text and goes into every detail of the impending sanctions.

In 2008 the Security Council passed 63 resolutions and in 2007, 55.  While this is a decrease from the 100 plus resolutions passed each year in the early 1990s, it still raises the question of man hours devoted to extremely complicated and comprehensive resolutions that seek not only to keep the peace, but also to restructure the states involved in conflict.  It also calls into question the ability of the members of the Security Council to absorb and decide on the details of peacekeeping, post conflict reconstruction and nation building that dominate the recent Security Council approaches to peacekeeping.  The Secretary General and Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) are calling the new resolutions “multi-dimensional.”  

With over 100,000 military and civilian personnel at headquarters and deployed in 16 missions abroad and a DPKO budget off about $7 billion, the peacekeeping functions of the UN dwarf its other responsibilities. The budget for the rest of the Secretariat was $1.9 billion in 2006. Keep in mind that in 1991 there was no Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Now there is a large and growing bureaucracy with vested interest in the perpetuation of ever more complex missions to guard against the failures of the past.  

The question we have to ask now is who is running whom? The member states no longer control the process.  Their staffs are dwarfed by the DPKO.  Even the largest mission in New York, the US mission, would be lost without the full resources of the US government in Washington to keep track of and make decisions on the proposals for peacekeeping provided to the Security Council by the Secretary General based on lengthy reports and recommendations of the DPKO. 

The second question that needs to be asked is “Is all of this necessary.”  We seemed to stumble along with a more limited number of missions and much more narrow objectives in the first 40 years of the UN’s existence. Do we really want the UN in the business of nation building?  In whose image? And under whose direction? The world did not fall apart when it ignored most local conflicts before the 1990s.  And if there was a problem in the area of peacekeeping, that problem appeared to be generated more by headquarters mistrust and dismissal of its commanders and representatives on the ground. Now DPKO is trying to determine every detail of a mission and take away the flexibility of the people running the show in the field who probably are in a position to know and understand a fast moving situation better than a bureaucrat in New York.  Brian Urqhart, long time Undersecretary with responsibility for peacekeeping before the advent of the DPKO, wrote: “Care should be taken in attempting to generalize and improve upon what has been part of the recipe for success [of United Nations peacekeeping], namely improvisation.”