The UN claims that peacekeeping forces only stay for as long as is necessary to establish a peaceful transition, however, there are several countries in which peacekeepers have been stationed for five years or more, with seemingly little outcome. As the Indian ambassador to the UN stated in an interview for the Guardian, “Peacekeeping is not an end in itself. The end is political stability and peacekeeping is just a tool to bring about political stability. What’s happening now is the cart is being put before the horse. I think that’s a very unfortunate development.”
For example, even after their failure to stop the killing of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Peacekeepers were present in Bosnia for nearly seven years after the genocide was over and a ceasefire was declared. This seems less like facilitating a transition and more like the UN attempting to have control over that transition rather than leaving it to the people of the country. Additionally, in Haiti, UN Peacekeepers have been active in the region since as early as 1990, meaning that there has been a UN military presence in Haiti for over 25 years, a presence that is not slated to end until late 2016. This has not served to make the country more peaceful, as evidenced by the violence surrounding the country’s most recent election.
The reason that the presence of peacekeepers often results in little measurable outcome is because UN Peacekeepers have very little jurisdiction to help out in troubled situations, and sometimes they end up getting in the way rather than helping. For example in Rwanda, Peacekeepers could do little more than stand by while innocent people were murdered right in front of them because their mandate from the UN did not cover using force to protect people from slaughter.
They were not allowed to use military force to stop the violence, which rendered them essentially useless. Additionally, troops were pulled out of the region just as the genocide was at its worst, which proved to be not only a tactical failure but a public relations disaster that the UN is still trying to mitigate.
There have also been major issues in the UN mission in South Sudan, where there have been significant problems of sexual abuse and violence that the peacekeepers have done little to stop. According to the UN news website, the organization has denounced the violence and claims to be working with community leaders, but it has so little jurisdiction for action that there is little hope of real results.
According to Al Jazeera, the fighting that has plagued the country since the latest election has continued to spiral, causing a massive flight of Sudanese people out of the country. Soon the Peacekeepers may have more than reported sexual violence to contend with, though it remains to be seen whether they will be given wider jurisdiction to deal with the crisis.
All of this is especially troubling when one considers the massive portion of the UN’s budget that goes towards peacekeeping efforts. The over 100,000 soldiers who are engaged in 16 peacekeeping missions around the world suck a full $8 billion out of the UN’s budget, but most of the conflicts they are involved in just continue to get worse. T
his money could instead be going to efforts such as disaster relief or economic development in struggling countries rather than an extraneous force that accomplishes no real good. Based on the UN’s peacekeeping track record, it is more than likely that these missions will keep draining money from the coffers of the international community while conflicts continue to rage on around the world with no end in sight.
So why do UN Peacekeeping missions continue to expand even with minimal results? The main driving force behind the continued spending is a desire on the part of the UN to publicly appear as though they are effectively addressing the world’s problems. Putting boots on the ground is a way of physically justifying their role in the international community by proving that they are taking action in the midst of violence and instability. Much like the TSA at the airport, they serve as a security blanket that makes people feel better, but does not actually make anyone safer.
It has also been proven repeatedly that the UN’s processes for addressing humanitarian crises in ways other than through peacekeeping forces are largely ineffective. For instance, the Advocates for Human Rights recommends that issues of violence or violations of treaties should be addressed on a domestic level since UN procedures are slow and cumbersome in general.
This makes sense, considering that ultimately the UN only has the authority that is granted to it by sovereign states, and it is not in itself a sovereign entity. Sending troops in its name gives it the illusion of sovereignty, and insures that money will keep flowing for these missions that they want the world to view as vital. In essence, the UN is justifying its authority and existence through the use of troops, while communities like those in Rwanda and Srebrenica continue to suffer tragic losses in the face of their inaction.