Worldwatch Paper #114: Critical Juncture: The Future of Peacekeeping

May 1993
Michael Renner
ISBN: 1-878071-15-7
74 pages

The collapse of Bosnia, far from being a unique horror, may presage many other post-Cold War conflicts unless the international community rapidly strengthens its peacekeeping machinery, concludes Critical Juncture: The Future of Peacekeeping, a study from the Worldwatch Institute, a policy research group based in Washington, D.C.

"The world now confronts a critical moment of decision," says Michael Renner, senior researcher at Worldwatch and author of the report. "Either nations commit to collective security, or they may face a rapidly unraveling world order."

Critical Juncture details a multi-tiered "machinery for peace" that could turn the United Nations into a peacemaker of first recourse, rather than peacekeeper of last resort. The components range from early-warning initiatives and preventive diplomacy to peace enforcement by U.N. combat troops.

Critical Juncture stresses that although additional funding will be required, U.N. peacekeeping and peacemaking are still the bargain of the century in financial terms--not to mention the incalculable savings in human lives and suffering. Expenditures on U.N. peacekeeping grew six-fold between 1987 and 1992, to $1.4 billion. During the same period, the world's nations spent close to $1 trillion every year on their militaries. As recently as 1991, governments devoted $1,877 to military purposes for each $1 the U.N. charges them for peacekeeping.

Already, United Nations peacekeeping operations have expanded considerably. During the U.N.'s first 40 years, it carried out only 14 peacekeeping missions. It has undertaken the same number of missions during the last five years alone, including the largest three ever--in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and Somalia. The number of peacekeepers has surged from 10,500 to about 60,000 in just three years, and will likely rise toward 100,000 during 1993.

During the Cold War, peacekeeping focused primarily on monitoring cease-fires and separating combatants. The new peacemaking--already underway--includes supervising the disarming of armed factions, monitoring elections and human rights violations, and helping rebuild civil society.

The number of major armed conflicts declined from 36 in 1987 to 30 in 1991, but an upturn last year portends a new surge of warfare as long-suppressed ethnic antagonisms surface in the Cold War's aftermath.

To turn the United Nations into a credible, effective peacemaker of first recourse, Critical Juncture recommends that the world community:

Establish an early-warning office that continuously monitors potential troublespots around the world, alerting the Security Council to impending threats to peace and security.

Set up permanent conflict resolution committees in each region of the world to defuse tensions before violence erupts.

Deploy peacekeepers pro-actively to prevent aggression, when warranted by an early-warning alert or requested by a government.

Create a two-tier U.N. peace force consisting of a permanent, individually- recruited, non-combat force, as well as a specially trained back-up army comprised of national troop contingents available to the Security Council on short notice. A primarily defensive capability could help create safe havens for oppressed groups or civilians caught in the crossfire.

In every region, develop training programs in non-military peacekeeping and peacemaking, such as conflict resolution techniques and human rights monitoring.

Empower the U.N. to create "trusteeships," where needed, to secure the stable conditions needed for peacebuilding, in countries destroyed by years of warfare.

As the U.N.'s capabilities are bolstered, the world community would need to define a set of criteria--in effect create a kind of trigger mechanism--that would activate appropriate elements of this peace machinery.

In addition, the Byzantine nature of the current peacekeeping system would need to be reformed so that U.N. units could be dispatched immediately. Currently, units are assembled and financed on a mission-by-mission basis, and governments often contribute contingents sluggishly.

Furthermore, governments would need to pay off the money they owe to the U.N.-- now some $645 million worth of arrears on peacekeeping assessments--establish a regular annual peacekeeping budget, and create a reserve fund to cover unforeseen expenses.

For the U.N. to take a more active role in peace promotion, it also needs all the political legitimacy it can muster. In particular, the composition of the Security Council needs to reflect the realities of today's world rather than that of 1945. The report recommends, for instance, abolishing veto rights for the permanent members of the Council.

The world community is faced with an anguishing dilemma, the report stresses. Continued reliance on military means--even by the U.N. on behalf of the world community--inevitably relegitimizes the use of violence for political ends. Yet when the world stands by in the face of national violence, it in effect endorses political change by violent means.

Peacekeepers to date have succeeded by adhering to nonviolent principles. But the U.N.'s authority is increasingly being undermined in the former Yugoslavia, Angola, and Cambodia, where armed factions had agreed to cease-fire or peace agreements which they now violate with impunity.

Armed U.N. intervention may be justifiable if it will result in the loss of fewer innocent lives than would be the case without such intervention, the report argues.

"If the international community wants to be more than a helpless spectator to a flood of new conflicts," says Renner, "it will need to move urgently to equip the U.N. to identify emerging crises, prevent disputes from escalating into armed conflicts, and enforce the terms of cease-fire and peace agreements. We now have a window of opportunity to make changes of historic proportions in how we cope with human conflict," Critical Juncture concludes.