THE THIN BLUE LINE: United Nations Peacekeeping Missions

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Are peacekeeping missions undertaken by the United Nations a good idea? Is there a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking? What sort of conflicts should the UN become involved in and which should it avoid? What are the alternatives to UN peacekeeping missions? Why have the number of UN missions increased so dramatically since the beginning of the 1990s?

Recorded on Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, War, Peace and the United Nations. Military uniforms are, of course, intended to provide battlefield protection, but they also take on symbolic significance. One look at this, a World War II German helmet, and we think of Hitler and Nazi aggression. One look at this, a World War II America helmet, and we think of G.I. Joe, heroically risking his life for his country. One look at this, a United Nations helmet, and, well, what do we think? The blue is intended to stand for peace. But it is, after all, a real helmet; suggesting the capacity to wage war.

On our show today, how should the United Nations go about its peacekeeping missions? Is there a difference between peacekeeping and peace making? And why is it that in the one decade since the end of the cold war there have been more United Nations peacekeeping missions than in the four decades before that.

With us, two guests. Abraham Sofaer is a fellow at the Hoover institution. And Stephen Stedman is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Title: The Thin Blue Line

Peter Robinson: As best I can count, between 1948, when the UN was founded and 1992, first four, in decades, of UN's existence, there were 26 UN peacekeeping missions. Between 1993and today, that is not quite all of the last decade, there have been 31 peacekeeping missions, 15 of them still in progress. Has the UN been keeping a little too much peace?

Steven Stedman: Definitely.

Peter Robinson: Abe?

Abraham Sofaer: It's been trying too much. But it's not succeeded enough.

Peter Robinson: Not succeeded enough. Alright. Peacekeeping versus peace ma--making. During the first four decades the UN usually limited itself to true peacekeeping. It would move into a region after the opposing sides in the conflicts had worn themselves out or had had enough. So, peacekeeping mission from '56 to '67 in Gaza in the Sinai. Israel and Egypt had fought eachother to exhaustion. They were--both had had enough. The UN moves in and keeps the peace. In the Golan Heights were there's a peacekeeping mission even today, Israel and Syria, they've both had enough. The UN comes in.

But now, Somalia, Bosnia, Sierra Lione, the UN is moving in to impose a peace before the parties to the conflict has had enough. They're quite willing to continue fighting. Is that a mistake in is--in and of itself? Should the UN not engage in peace making, but only true peacekeeping? Steve.

Stephen Stedman: Peace making is much more difficult than peacekeeping. But if you are short of the resources and you have major powers who are willing to--to take risks with their soldiers, then you can do it. But if you don't have those conditions, then you don't do it.

Peter Robinson: Abe? Peace making versus peace--peacekeeping.

Abraham Sofaer: I'm happy to hear Steve say that, that it is more difficult. But it is something that only a--recently became pa--a possibility. When the Soviet Empire fell apart and the Security Council could actually agree…

Peter Robinson: Security Council is composed of France, Britain,...

Abraham Sofaer: ...Russia...

Peter Robinson: ...Russia, the United States...

Abraham Sofaer: ...and China...

Peter Robinson: ...and China. Alright. And each one has a veto power.

Abraham Sofaer: Right.

Peter Robinson: So, you can only move forward--the UN can only move forward, on any mission, if all five members of the Security Council say, "Okay."

Abraham Sofaer: And that is the reason why, until 1990 or thereabouts, it was virtually impossible to do anything other than maintain peace that had been a--achieve or agreed upon in a given area. Because the Soviets had their interests. And we usually had our interests. And so we would never agree on a resolution. But after the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the end of the cold war, peacemaking became an opportunity. And, initially, it was looked upon of a great--the dawning of a great new era. And that's the way George Bush looked at it, initially. That's the way Clinton looked at it when he first came in. And, as Steve said, it turned out to be a lot tougher to make peace than to keep peace.

Peter Robinson: Let's explore differences between peacekeeping in intrastate and interstate conflicts.

Title: Home Is Where the hate Is

Peter Robinson: The scholar Robert Wright, writes as follows, I quote, "The United Nations was designed to stop war between nations, not within them. If world leaders want the United Nations to addr--address intrastate, within one nation, conflict, they should recognize that it will involve deciding who the bad guys are and then killing them until the white flag appears." Killing until the white flag appears. Is that the business the UN should be in?

Stephen Stedman: In certain circumstances. You see it's not some--in some circumstances, it's not an easy line between peacekeeping and peace making, or peace enforcement. There have been situations in civil wars where you've had a very developed peace agreement. And the warring parties have given consent. It's a detailed document. And the UN has felt confident that we can go in under traditional rules; neutrality, impartiality, consent; limited rules of engagement. And we'll be able to monitor and build confidence. And they'll be able to implement their agreement. The problem, however, is, what happens when one of the parties who signed the peace agreement then renigs on it's commitments and it turns out that it withdraws it's consent, like in Angola or Rwanda. Or if you have factions who are violently opposed, called spoilers, who have a vested interested in seeing peace destroyed. What do you do? You've gone in--in thinking that you're doing peacekeeping. But, all of the sudden, one of the warring factions is telling you, "This isn't peacekeeping at all." Now how are you going to respond?

Peter Robinson: Could I just--is--is, in some cases, that a failure of intelligence? That is to say, should the UN have known, in the first place, that there was going to be a spoiler, or that one of the parties was likely to try to pull out after the UN got troupes on the ground?

Stephen Stedman: I would argue yes. This is something that you should be able to predict, at least that you're going to have some kind of opposition and you should strategically plan. What--what do we do when--when one of the factions decides that it doesn't want us there?

Peter Robinson: UN Charter, now. I quote the UN Charter. "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the U--United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." Shou--Isn't the obvious meaning of that that the UN should not get involved in missions inside a sovereign state?

Abraham Sofaer: Except where there is a proper basis for doing so.

Peter Robinson: So fine legal minds can find their way around the UN Charter.

Abraham Sofaer: So long as there is, in fact, a will to do so. The--we're trapped in this. This is not something that everyone is dancing in the streets over anymore. You know, maybe--maybe when Bush succeeded in Kuwait, which is one of these clear cut, international vio--violations that...

Peter Robinson: ...that's between nations.

Abraham Sofaer: ...perfectly appropriate for the Security Council to pass a resolution, go in, win the war, unfortunately not finish it completely, but none-the-less, certainly push them out of Kuwait. And then you declare a new world order, get all excited, you can go in there and go things together for a change, instead of living in this horrible cold war, where people were being slaughtered in different places, Cambodia and other places, no one even thought of being able to do anything. And suddenly we have this opportunity, but we've--we're over that period of joy about having this opportunity. We recognize now, is a burden.

Peter Robinson: Next topic, some specific cases where UN peacekeeping missions went awry.

Title: Missions Impossible

Peter Robinson: I'm interested in having you sketch out a couple of case studies, where things went wrong, that show that--the dangers.

Stephen Stedman: Okay, well, UN gets involved in civil wars. Their first two involvements are successes, robust success. Namibia--Namibia, Nicaragua. Immediately the members states and the Security Council think, "Ah ha." You know, "We--we--"...

Peter Robinson: It works.

Stephen Stedman: ..."it works. We can do this anywhere. And we can do it cheaper." Right? 'Cause I'm--we're--we're sure that there were cost overruns and stuff. So we're actually--we're going to want you to do it in a leaner fashion. So, now go do Angola, now do Western Sahara, now do El Salvador, now do Cambodia, and very quickly over committed, under funded. Right? And--and this is the kicker, in much more difficult cases than Nicaragua and Namibia. It turns out that Nicaragua and Namibia were easy, right? There was no sense that these were successes because they were easy cases. All the sudden then you drop the UN into Cambodia, where you have a Khmer Rouge where you don't have a functioning state, where you have a hundred and forty thousand troupes out there, alright, with--with one of the factions who has--has been genocidal in the past and--and has clearly signed a peace agreement for tactical reasons. Right? That's a much more difficult situation.

Peter Robinson: How many troupes does the UN take into Cambodia?

Stephen Stedman: That was, in fact, one of the biggest missions at the time. They had about twenty thousand peacekeepers.

Peter Robinson: But that's still twenty thousand peacekeepers that's...

Stephen Stedman: But--but totally inadequate if you're going to war with the Khmer Rouge. You can't go to war with the Khmer Rouge with twenty thousand peacekeepers. That--that wasn't their job. And there wouldn't have been any support for that from the contributing states.

Peter Robinson: Alright. To fast forward us through Cambodia, what happens there?

Stephen Stedman: What happens is Cambodia--they actually muddle through. And, it's not a robust success at all. The war continues. But you have--they at least marginalize the Khmer Rouge so that after a period of time the Khmer Rouge is basically disintegrated. You don't have Democracy in Cambodia. But, it's more stable today than it was, certainly, when they went in, in '92. And, more stable than it's been in 30 or 40 years.

Peter Robinson: So it worked.

Stephen Stedman: It worked.

Peter Robinson: So, if it's stable...

Stephen Stedman: As I--as I was saying...

Peter Robinson: Yes. Go ahead.

Stephen Stedman: An--Angola actually precedes Somalia. You have an election in Angola. And one of the warring factions, lead by Jonas Savimbi says, "No, I don't believe that this was a free and fair election. And I'm going back to war." And the world simply said, "Fine. You go back to war." And, what people missed was, in 1993 about three hundred thousand people died in Angola. Everybody...

Peter Robinson: How many?

Stephen Stedman: About three hundred thousand.

Peter Robinson: Three hundred thousand in 1993.

Stephen Stedman: When--when--when NETA(?) went back to war in 1992, the affects were devastating. And everybody was focused on Somalia at this time. But Angola should have sent them a big, big signal that it's much more easy to get involved in these--these conflicts than to--to actually resolve them. If one of the factions decides...

Peter Robinson: Let's consider some alternatives to UN peacekeeping missions.

Title: With a Little Help from My Friends

Peter Robinson: What about regional coalitions of nations solving problems in their own back yard. It's the NATO that swings into action in Bosnia. Nigeria leads a West African force into Sierra Leone to attempt to clean things up. So we have examples of regional groupings, temporary coalitions, sovereign nations coming together to solve problems in their own region. Why not that instead of the UN?

Abraham Sofaer: It's better than nothing. If you can't get the UN to work effectively. We don't want to intervene through the UN if it's not going to be affective. When you talk about allowing things to happen in the world without the blessing of the UN Security Council and not through the UN, there is always a possibility that states are going to be exploiting the opportunity to do peacekeeping, peace making, etcetera, in order to build their own influence.

Peter Robinson: So what is distinctively useful about the United Nations is that it is seen as impartial.

Abraham Sofaer: In the Security Council we offset eachother. We can veto what the Russians want to do, what the Chinese want to do. They can veto what we want to do. And what we did in Kosovo that was so shocking is we said, "We're going ahead without your approval. We--we know you're going to veto this resolution."

Peter Robinson: Because of the traditional, centuries old friendship between Russia and the Serbs, both orthodox--tra--is that what--what we were afraid of, that Russia would--would cast the veto?

Abraham Sofaer: We weren't. We knew they were going to veto it. We--we weren't afraid. We knew they were going to veto it.

Peter Robinson: Okay. So we did wrong?

Abraham Sofaer: No. I don't think we did wrong. But...

Stephen Stedman: It's--it's--it's one of the limitations on--on the United Nations that if you believe that there are certain circumstances in which you're going to intervene for reasons of human rights or to prevent genocide, the fact of the matter is that there are certain circumstances under which intervention will not take place if you go through the United Nations. A, if the genocide or the civil war or the human rights violations are taking place within one of the five members of the--one of the permanent five members. So you're not going to intervene in Chechnya, no matter what.

Peter Robinson: Taint going to happen.

Stephen Stedman: You go through the United Nations, it's not going to happen. It's not going to happen in an alley of one of the big five, right? So, it's not going to happen in Serbia through a United Nations authorized intervention. Because Russia will veto it.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Stephen Stedman: Right? Understand that power matters at the United Nations. And if you go to the United Nations, there are going to be some opportunities that--some crisis's that are not going to be dealt with because of the interest and power of the permanent five members.

Peter Robinson: Okay, let's talk about our interests.

Abraham Sofaer: But I still think--I still think it's preferable to go through the United Nations.

Peter Robinson: That is the first recourse.

Abraham Sofaer: And--and you mu--and you must realized that NATO has already lost it's appetite for intervention after one. So, who is going to do all these interventions and peacemaking around the world, if not the UN?

Stephen Stedman: It has been shown that, in certain circumstances where you have relatively easy cases, the UN can do a good job.

Peter Robinson: And the UN should be the first recourse in those cases.

Stephen Stedman: It should be the first recourse. And in the most difficult cases, where a war is ongoing, there is no consent, then you--then you going to have to rely on those countries, those states that have a vested security interest in that country.

Peter Robinson: How much responsibility does the United States bear for the failures of the Untied Nations?

Title: Fault Lines

Peter Robinson: I quote Ambassador Charles Hill, former Special Assistant to former UN Security General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "The fundamental cause of one failure after another of the UN has been the unwillingness of the United States to take the lead in the UN, make tough decisions and provide the resources for success. The result is an imperate institution where the usefulness to the United States has been jeopardized largely by the United States." So, the UN could do more if only we stepped up. Right Abe?

Abraham Sofaer: Wrong. It would--it would take more than us stepping up. We definitely need to step up. And if the UN can't do something, part of the responsibility is--is we aren't letting it do something, as in Rwanda...

Peter Robinson: Explain Rwanda.

Abraham Sofaer: Well we basically...

Peter Robinson: Rwanda was our fault?

Abraham Sofaer: ...were so humiliated in Somalia.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Hold on. These are important. Steve, why were we humiliated in Somalia?

Stephen Stedman: We underestimated the difficulties of making peace in a country where you had, you know, ten factions were at war with eachother and there was no state what so ever functioning. We totally...

Peter Robinson: And we sent American troupes in as part of a UN peacekeeping force.

Stephen Stedman: We sent them first, as the lead troupes under our command. And secondly we supported a multilateral UN intervention. But we also supplied our troupes, which we still kept under our command.

Peter Robinson: This sounds to me as though we were stepping up the way Charley Hill would like to have us step up. The United S...

Abraham Sofaer: We were not stepping up. We stepped up the rhetoric far beyond what we stepped up our--our--the military support. And--and the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, was depriving our forces of tanks, of armored personnel carries and pulling out the Green Berets, the most experienced...

Peter Robinson: Why? Why? What was he thinking?

Stephen Stedman: We have no identifiable security interests in Somalia. So why are we going to risk blood and treasure there? That's why.

Peter Robinson: So should we have stayed out of the peacekeeping force in the first place?

Stephen Stedman: I argue that that--yes.

Peter Robinson: We should have stayed out?

Stephen Stedman: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Indeed, the UN should never have gotten in.

Stephen Stedman: That's what I argued at the time and that's what I believe now.

Peter Robinson: What do you think of that?

Abraham Sofaer: I don't agree with Steve. But I do agree that, having done it the way we did it; we would have been better off staying out. I think he--he, in retrospect, he's right.

Peter Robinson: So this is the old lesson, Colin Powell's lesson of Vietnam. If you're going to go in, go in big and win.

Abraham Sofaer: Absolutely. That is the most fundamental lesson of national security that anyone should know after Vietnam. Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: So you say we shouldn't have gone in. And you say we should have gone in big.

Abraham Sofaer: No. It's not a question of big. We have to modify our rhetoric, atleast. We can't issue an arrest warrant that we can't serve. We can't start talking about peace-building and Democracy-building in a chaotic atmosphere like that without a huge force. So we don't talk that way. We just don't...

Peter Robinson: And what happened in Somalia?

Stephen Stedman: Our ambitions were great. And we quickly ran into the fact that we were not willing to risk blood and treasure because it--it--it was...

Peter Robinson: We did expend some blood and treasure. We lost how many of our soldiers?

Stephen Stedman: We did. But when--when push--when push came to shove, a decision was made that it makes no sense for us to continue here.

Peter Robinson: What would have been the correct course for American diplomacy to say, in the Security Council to say, "Look fellas. This is one that we can't win. Why don't you just stay out of it?"

Stephen Stedman: I--I...

Abraham Sofaer: We did succeed in--in feeding people and getting things stabilized on the ground in Somalia. And I think that--that we simply should have resisted any efforts to expand that mission to a point that we weren't willing to back up.

Peter Robinson: So we should have fed people, done what little we can--when I say we I mean we as--in concert with the UN, as part of the UN mission, we should have fed people, done what we could to stabilize the situation and then gone home.

Abraham Sofaer: Exactly. We had a specific mission under way with regard to the warlords that we couldn't do. And that is we were going to disarm them. Now think about that. We had a decision. We're going to go out there and take away their guns. We started raiding warehouses. We started raiding meetings of the warlords to try to, you know, capture them. And...

Peter Robinson: And surprise, surprise, they fought back.

Abraham Sofaer: We were unable--we were unable to do it. We didn't have the means to do that.

Stephen Stedman: We know enough now that, in any of these cases, it's now predictable whether it's going to be a difficult case or not.

Peter Robinson: You make it sound quite an easy, in fact. I mean...

Stephen Stedman: I can tell you--I can tell you what makes a difficult case. Okay?

Peter Robinson: Right.

Stephen Stedman: You have more than two warring parties. Right? Do you have a functioning state? If you don't have a functioning state, it's going to be a much more difficult case.

Peter Robinson: You're listening to this checklist. If there anything you object to?

Abraham Sofaer: No.

Peter Robinson: Alright.

Stephen Stedman: Are there--are there valuable commodities like diamonds and timber. If there are, chances are it's going to be a much more difficult case because the warring parties can grab those commodities and keep fueling the war. Are there spoilers? Are there factions who oppose the peace and are likely to use violence to oppose any kind of intervention? Right? Is, you know, how detailed and robust is the peace agreement? If it's not robust and--and detailed, chances are it's--it's flimsy and you're going to have a much more difficult time. Are there neighbors who are in favor of the peace agreement or not? If neighbors seem to be undermining the peace agreement, it's going to be much more difficult. There's a checklist now...

Peter Robinson: Isn't that--isn't it the case that, once you go through that whole checklist, you end up with a strong state with no more than two parties with a detailed peace agreement and a relatively poor region of the country with--with no--no "tough-guy" neighbors around. I mean, one of those will come along in a decade.

Stephen Stedman: I'm telling you that if you want the--if you want the UN to be involved in making peace, it has to be a relatively easy case on those dimensions. That the more difficult...

Peter Robinson: Last topic. We've outlined the problems with UN missions. What should be done about them?

Title: Stand and Deliver

Peter Robinson: You have both agreed that the UN should be the first recourse when there's a conflict of the kind we've been discussing. So let's fix the UN. Give them a standing army. Abe?

Abraham Sofaer: No. I...

Peter Robinson: Fifty thousand troupes under Kofi Annan.

Abraham Sofaer: First of all there is--it's not going to happen, first of all. But, secondly, you don't have to call it a UN standing army. You don't need a UN standing army. What the report that recently was published calls for, and I think it's a perfectly doable thing...

Peter Robinson: Kofi Annan's report.

Abraham Sofaer: It's not his report. There's a committee that--that...

Stephen Stedman: It's the Groheme(?) Commission.

Abraham Sofaer: And we've had some very able people on that.

Peter Robinson: It's by the UN, is what I mean to say. Alright. Go ahead.

Abraham Sofaer: And--and they--they recommend that certain battalion size forces be kept in readiness to serve--battalion type--size forces in--in--in countries, like a U.S....

Peter Robinson: So we set aside a couple of battalions and say, "You are the UN--we--we're holding you..."

Abraham Sofaer: Right. Exactly.

Stephen Stedman: You earmark certain units.

Abraham Sofaer: You earmark certain units for the service.

Stephen Stedman: You pre-commit.

Peter Robinson: And you think that could happen?

Stephen Stedman: Well, one of the points that the--the report makes is that as--as the UN functions right now, the Security Council tells the Secretariat, "Get involved." Right? "We're--we're--we're going to have an operation in Sierra Leone." Right? We make a decision. We're getting involved in Sierra Leone. Now find whose willing to come through on their commitments. And what--and what the report says is, before the Security Council authorizes any decision to intervene, the Security--the Secretariat...

Peter Robinson: The Security Council has to find the resources.

Stephen Stedman: ...the Secretariat has to first go to countries and say, "Are you in or not?" And if they're not in, then they--the mission should not be authorized,...

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Stephen Stedman: ...which makes perfect sense.

Peter Robinson: Give me one...

Abraham Sofaer: They shouldn't be passing Security Council resolutions until they know the resources are there.

Peter Robinson: You're satisfied with this report?

Abraham Sofaer: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: It does everything that's necessary?

Abraham Sofaer: No it does not. It does not.

Peter Robinson: If I make you Dictator of the United Nations for a day. What one reform would you implement, Abe, to make this piece of...?

Abraham Sofaer: I would make George Shultz the Secretary General. I, you know...

Peter Robinson: In other words, what you need there is a figure respected around the world, more powerful figure than Kofi Annan?

Abraham Sofaer: There--there is--exactly. Someone willing to--someone who wants to win. I mean--and is going to marshal the resources and political will to win. We can't have the general assembly going over the rules of engagement. And here they are in charge of our military operations around the world.

Peter Robinson: Keep strong leaders in a clear military chain of command and keep it out of the hands of the diplomats once they've decided to take action. Is that right?

Abraham Sofaer: Absolutely. You need a...

Peter Robinson: You're a Dictator of the UN for a day, Secretary General for a--for--with dictatorial powers for a day. What reform do you make, Steve?

Stephen Stedman: First rule, from Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood, a man's gotta know it's--his own limitations. An organization has to know it's own limitations. There are some things that the UN cannot do and should not do. Second, no posturing. The Security Council and the permanent five me--members get a free ride on all kinds of symbolic pronouncements. "We're for everything. We're for peace in Sierra Leone. We're for peace in Rwanda. We're for peace in--in Bosnia." But when it comes time to pony up the resources, everybody runs and hides. Right? And who do they blame? They then blame the United Nations. There's this neat, slick move that the--the member states of the United Nations can symbolically pronounce what the UN should be doing. But when they don't provide the resources, they can then scapegoat the UN for its failures.

Abraham Sofaer: If we're going to have an effective UN, in--in this connection, leave the other aspects of the UN. They need to be reformed, clearly. But you will never reform them adequately to have affective military operations. You need a--you need to separate that. And the report does have several e--elements in it that calls for a separate intelligence operations, a separate bureaucracy in affect, people assigned to this separate bureaucracy to have an affect, like a National Security Council. And, we need some tough headed people to get in there and look at each of these situations and go to the Security Council and say, "Before you pass a resolution, here's what we are telling you." And Stedman could be on that committee. And tell those people, "Here's what you need to do in order to succeed in country X."

Peter Robinson: And don't start it unless you intend to do all these. It's television men. We have to close this out. I'm going to ask you to make a prediction. During the last decade, a little under the last decade, as I said, there were more than 30 UN peacekeeping missions. At the end of the present decade, will we have seen more UN peacekeeping missions, or fewer?

Stephen Stedman: Fewer.

Peter Robinson: Fewer? But better?

Stephen Stedman: Fewer, but better.

Peter Robinson: So, the UN will have learned.

Stephen Stedman: The UN will have learned. This is--the Groheme(?) Report is the best document that's ever been done in terms of recommendations for UN peacekeeping. And if they implement them, fewer--fewer--fewer missions but better missions.

Peter Robinson: And acted on. Abe. Fewer and better?

Abraham Sofaer: Yes. And not just because of the report. But because of what happened in Kosovo. Essentially the Charter plan broke down and everyone is so concerned about that that they don't want a--a free wheeling, regional groups to be taking over these highly sensitive things. They would like a more effective UN. And I think that's what we all have to work for.

Peter Robinson: Abe, Steve, thank you very much.

Peter Robinson: The future of United Nations peacekeeping missions; according to our guests, they will be fewer but better. If our guests are right maybe one day this powder blue helmet will command as much respect as this live drab. I'm Peter Robinson. Thanks for joining us.

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