December 12, 2013

Crisis resolution in the UN – nothing but peacekeeping?

In reality, human suffering and loss of human life would be many times smaller if there were strength to intervene in the crises much sooner and not even military means.

The UN has been one of the most active players in crisis resolution in the post-WWII world. The concept of current peacekeeping operations, which has been put into use by various regional organizations, has its origins largely in UN peacekeeping missions. Needless to say, this decades-long path has been winding, has had its ups and downs, has been successful, and has also caused headaches. Even Estonia, an active participant in peacekeeping missions, began its international military operations in 1995 with a UN mission to Croatia. However, UN crisis resolution, which also includes peacekeeping activities, has not drawn much attention in Estonia; it is therefore  perhaps fitting to take a look at it.
The basis of UN crisis resolution is naturally the UN Charter, above all its chapters VI and VII. Chapter VI stipulates crisis management with peaceful means, which include “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Chapter VII establishes the legitimacy of the use of force, including military force, both in self-defense and within the context of an international intervention undertaken to ensure peace and security. Article 51 of the Chapter VII of the UN Charter also stipulates the right of every member nation to individual and collective self-defense. The clause of collective defense in the North Atlantic Treaty, which currently provides security guarantees to 28 member nations, is largely based upon this chapter.
Another crucial element upon which UN crisis management relies is the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), established by  the UN in 2005. The conceptual importance of R2P relies in the fact that it views the sovereignty of a state not as a right, but rather as a duty. The objective of R2P is preventing and halting four major categories of offenses: war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The concept can be summarized in three points. First,  every state has a responsibility to protect its people and to ensure a stable and peaceful environment for their everyday life. Second, should the state be unable to do it on its own , it can turn to the international community for help. Third, if the state is unable to protect its citizens against the four aforementioned crimes and the use of peaceful means has failed, the international community has a responsibility to take measures to protect the people. Those measures include military means, which should however be used as a last resort when all else has been tried without result. For instance, R2P was the main argument in favor of an intervention in Libya. While the UN Charter provides crisis management with a legal and procedural foundation, the R2P approach is more philosophical.

The Security Council as the Enforcer of the Charter

The right to invoke Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter has been assigned to the Security Council, which needs to consider whether the particular conflicts that arise in the world are a threat to global peace and security. If yes, then it must decide upon which crisis management method to use and which measures to take. Lately, a way of behavior reminiscent of the Cold War has been rearing its head: the Council never agrees on whether the case at hand is a threat to global peace and security (with the key emphasis on “global”), and the watershed often runs between the permanent members of the Council who have veto powers over the entire process and who have often used those powers of late. However, should the Council reach agreement, a   resolution is then drafted, specifying the details on what will be done in that particular case and that particular place, and which particular methods will be used. In addition to resolutions, the Security Council can make presidential statements or press statements, which also belong in the Council’s crisis management toolbox.
As stated previously, UN peacekeeping is one of the most utilized crisis management measures so far. Peacekeeping went through a particular boom after the end of the Cold War, when the disappearance of Eastern and Western patronage led to an emergence of various conflicts, the managing of which fell to peacekeeping. The number of peacekeeping missions rose abruptly. Regional organizations also began contributing to  peacekeeping operations – at the beginning NATO and OSCE contributed in and also outside Europe ;, they have later been joined by  ANZUS (the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty), and  also the African Union and ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States). Sadly, there have been relatively few operations that have been successful in resolving conflicts. The missions to El Salvador, Mozambique, Liberia, and East Timor are success stories that everybody acknowledges; however, the same cannot be said about the missions to Somalia, the Central African Republic, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, the peacekeeping missions to Cyprus and Kashmir are examples of how the presence of peacekeeping forces can over time become almost an element of the conflict itself, which the locals can no longer live without.
Peacekeeping missions are usually able to restrain the conflict somewhat and then contain it to a degree, but a complete solution to a conflict or a crisis is hard to come by. The conclusion we should draw from this is that conflicts and crises must really be nipped in the bud and their escalation must be prevented, instead of peacekeepers later showing up to put out the fire when the house is already burning. In addition to being a long-term commitment, pure peacekeeping is also a costly endeavor, and the biggest contributors are less and less keen on paying for it or increasing the resources they devote to it.
UN peacekeeping is led and organized by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) under the jurisdiction of the Secretary General of the UN, and it is headed by one of the six Undersecretaries-General. The current head of the DPKO is the French diplomat Hervé Ladsous. The objective of the DPKO is the development of  peacekeeping policy, the planning and execution of particular operations, and the regular provision of reports about their course. The mandate to begin a peacekeeping mission is given by the Security Council resolution, which usually delineates the objectives of the mission, the size of the contingent, and the timeframe of the mission. The results of the mission are inspected on a regular basis, usually once a year;  if its objectives have been met, the mission will  either be terminated  or its mandate extended. In reality, such extensions  are quite common, because a year or two is not enough to create an environment necessary for peace and stability.

New crisis management instruments at the UN – political and peacebuilding missions

In order to enhance the efficiency of crisis management and to increase the number of instruments at its disposal, the UN has more and more begun using methods other than classical peacekeeping in recent years. The current processes at the UN, in terms of peacekeeping, are quite similar to what happened in NATO and the EU ten to fifteen years ago, when after the crises in the Balkans and during the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq the realization came that relying only on military measures does not ensure peace and stability. While these do help end military activities in the conflict zone,  completely different measures and means are necessary in order for the state to be able to function independently after the conflict. There is often a need to help state institutions, to create new infrastructure and rebuild the health care and education system, to advise and teach politicians, civil servants, officials, and specialists, to explain the concept of the rule of law and good practices of governance, and so forth. This means that crisis management has an extensive civilian dimension.
The practical side of this dimension is managed by the UN Peacebuilding Commission, created in 2005 and tasked with helping countries that have overcome a crisis to recover from the conflict and to rebuild and develop their statehood. As it is a relatively new organization and indeed a new approach, the activities of the Peacebuilding Commission are still more or less in the pilot phase. Considering that the UN peacekeeping activities have so far been centered in Africa, the six pilot projects have focused on the African nations Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. The results of most of those projects have been positive, with the exception of the Central African Republic, which still emits troubling signals. Peacebuilding also includes reforming the security and justice sector, something with which Estonia has experience from its own recent past; we have shared those experiences with others.
Another new format in UN crisis management is  special political missions (SPM). The advantage of special missions over classical peacekeeping is their deployment speed and relatively low cost. An SPM is essentially a civilian mission sent to a country in need under the leadership of a special envoy of the  Secretary General, with the goals of demonstrating the UN’s commitment to the peace process with its presence, providing political support and advice to the resolution of the conflict, and assisting in the subsequent reconstruction process. Since the staff of the SPMs is considerably smaller compared to peacekeeping forces and is made up primarily of civilians (who still need security; accordingly, there is nevertheless  a military dimension to this format), the mission can be assembled much faster than in the case of a regular peacekeeping operation. The deployment of SPMs is also streamlined by the fact that they are financed from the Secretary General’s budget, which simplifies the decision making process. Special political missions do have their limits; they are of use mostly in situations where direct military conflict has ended or is only about to take shape. Therefore they should be considered an additional component to crisis management rather than a substitute to peacekeeping. Instead of the DPKO, the overall coordination of SPMs has been assigned to the UN Department of Political Affairs, headed by Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman.

Conflict prevention – way of the future?

The UN has increasingly turned its attention to conflict prevention, because if applied on time and in the right fashion, this is essentially the most efficient and least costly measure. Conflict prevention largely depends on political will. Nations and the international community that they constitute begin to pay attention to conflicts and crises only when they have already become too vulnerable to them, or when the actions in the conflict zone become morally unbearable and a humanitarian intervention is unavoidable.  In reality, human suffering and the loss of human life would be many times smaller if there were strength to intervene in  crises much sooner and even without military means. The latter should remain a measure to be used only after every other option has been exhausted. Special political missions can actually be put to very good use to prevent emerging crises or conflicts. For that purpose, a good early warning system and a prompt reaction capability is needed, particularly on the political level and in the Security Council. Such a mission should be sent to the country when the conflict is already  simmering. Other preventive measures can also be used, such as mediation, which has garnered lots of attention of late. Over the past three to four years, Finland and Turkey have been trying to promote this approach at the UN. Mediation is not an entirely novel concept, but it could be used in a more purposeful way than before, thereby making it a natural part of the new crisis management toolkit.

Estonia’s possibilities

Estonia has also participated in the UN’s crisis management missions. As mentioned before, our first international mission was specifically a UN mission. Additionally, the Estonian Infantry Company and Staff Element have participated in the UNIFIL mission in Middle East [UNIFIL is the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon – ed.], one of our most extensive operations so far –the onlya larger simultaneous deployment of Estonian troops was to Afghanistan. We were also very quick to react to the rescue operation after the Haitian earthquake, where the Estonian rescue team was one of the first to arrive in the operation area. Our contribution to the half -year-long UN mission to Syria must not be forgotten, either.
Estonia’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions is currently low in numbers, primarily because our forces participate in peacekeeping operations under the helm of regional organizations. The same can be said about civilian missions. We know that 2014 will be the final year of the ISAF operation in Afghanistan, to which we have contributed very actively thus far. This means that resources will be freed up, creating a possibility to redeploy them elsewhere. Since participation in peacekeeping operations is one of the main components of Estonian security and defense policy, we must carefully consider where next to  deploy our peacekeepers. The UN offers a variety of possibilities for that end and allows the members of our defense forces, soldiers and officers alike, to hone their skills and knowledge and to test them in an international environment, as well as to gain new experience to utilize later in the development of the Estonian defense forces.
UN’s peacebuilding activities also provide opportunities. Until now, our contribution to the field has been primarily financial in nature, but Estonia possesses quite many positive experiences and knowledge acquired from the reconstruction of our own state. By “positive” I mean particularly in the sense of how we were able to conduct a peaceful transition from one social order to another relatively quickly  while retaining stability. We have people in Estonia with special know-how who could give advice about institution-building, security and defense sector reform, justice system restructuring, etc. . The UN has created lists where specialists from various fields with an interest in international work can sign up and can be invited to participate in a mission. The Estonian state should inform people about such opportunities and emphasize participation in the civilian crisis management activities of the UN alongside the similar activities of the EU. Even though this article does not address the rescue aspects of crisis management, we are fully prepared to participate in that area as well.
The most direct way to participate in UN peacekeeping and crisis management at the highest level is by membership of the Security Council. That is where the globally relevant discussions take place and decisions are made. Estonia has put forward its candidacy for the years 2020–2021. With this step, it should be kept in mind that the Security Council has contiguity with the North Atlantic Treaty, which is why direct knowledge and experience about how the Council operates and acts in crisis management are beneficial if not downright necessary for us. Membership would help us better resolve those crises that touch us directly – although hopefully there will be none – or assist in resolving them.
Translated from the Estonian  by Raivo Hool.


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.