Peacekeeper, quo vadis?
With the beginning of the wars of the new millennium, many are asking why has Canada abandoned traditional peacekeeping? Canadians, proud of the peacekeeping heritage that this nation has established, are looking, not to see where peacekeeping is going, but why it has gone.
In 1988-89, the United Nations Security Council established five new peacekeeping operations, doubling the number of operations “in the field.” Only 13 such missions had been established in the previous 40 years.
UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said these events were “a renaissance of peace-keeping.”
Peacekeeping was a technique of conflict management, control and resolution forged by Lester Pearson to address the Suez Crisis in 1956. It was only 10 years into the Cold War, measured from George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” of 22 Feb 1946, to the U.S. Secretary of State advocating diplomatic containment of the U.S.S.R. The Korean War militarized this containment.
Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956, freezing its assets in Egypt. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden promised a strong reaction, and two days later froze the assets of the Suez Canal Company and took control of Egyptian sterling accounts. France immediately followed suit. The Royal Navy initiated naval activities on 31 July; announced the movement of aircraft carriers and troop ships on 2 August; and called up the reserves. The French announced the mobilization of their Mediterranean fleet.
British and French manoeuvring continued until 23 Sep when they brought the matter before the UN Security Council. The Council passed a resolution on 13 Oct that provided Egypt with the authority to establish tolls and guaranteed open and unbridled passage through the canal.
Then, Israel invaded Egypt on 29 Oct, and British and French warned both to agree to a ceasefire, withdraw ten miles from the canal, and stop fighting, or Anglo-French forces would take military action to protect canal traffic. Israel accepted the ultimatum, provided Cairo also accept it – they didn’t. On 31 Oct, British and French air forces bombed selected targets in the Canal Zone.
On 2 Nov, Pearson proposed a UN military force comprising forces from member nations to maintain a separation between the combatants.
The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) became a reality with the passage of the Canadian draft resolution on 4 Nov. Canadian Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns was appointed commander, virtually as the British and French forces landed in Egypt. Nasser accepted the resolution on 5 Nov after the first air drops of British and French paratroops in Port Said and Port Fuad. This first peacekeeping force was mandated “to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities.” It would be a temporary force and “limited in its operations to the extent that consent of the parties concerned is required under generally recognized international law.”
This first mission established the template for future peacekeeping operations, providing they:
· would always include civilian (i.e., non-military) administrative and political functions
· operate only with the consent of the parties to the conflict
· would remain impartial
· were guaranteed freedom of movement by host nations
· would not be expected to enforce the mandate – belligerents were expected to observe its conditions voluntarily
· would receive general agreement from the international community.
UN member nations provided military personnel on a voluntary basis, under the operational command of the Secretary General. UN military observers are generally unarmed, and peacekeeping contingents may be lightly armed only for self-defence.
Peacekeeping operations were to be temporary, and were never intended to resolve a conflict themselves. Their role was to maintain the status quo, to stop or contain hostilities to create the best possible conditions to permit diplomats to pursue their objectives of a lasting peace agreement by the parties to the conflict.
Generally, this was to be the model for future peacekeeping missions, a concept for which Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, and which gave Canadians a feeling of national pride and ownership over peacekeeping. Commentators, journalists and politicians all believed that the Canadian military was hard wired to be peacekeepers, that it was our natural default position.
Peacekeeping increased in popularity, with as many missions launched in the decade following the end of the Cold War as in the previous 45 years since the Suez Crisis. However, a series of conflicts began a spiral that brought the institution of UN peacekeeping to the point of near-irrelevance.
The first Gulf War, Aug 1990 to Feb 1991 began the end of traditional peacekeeping, even though the operation was sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Westerners were not prepared for the robust use of force.
Iraq’s July-August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and Kuwait’s subsequent appeal for assistance, resulted in the UN Security Council 8 Nov resolution directing Iraq to unconditionally withdraw all its forces by 15 Jan 1991. The UN resolution brought together a 24-member alliance under U.S. leadership that pushed the Iraqi forces back within their own national boundaries. However, Canadians, and doubtlessly other populations, began to ask difficult questions, such as, if the United Nations is prepared to intervene in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, then why aren’t they willing to intervene in troubled areas of Africa?
The answer came quickly.
Somalia was a UN-mandated humanitarian intervention operation in response to a devastating civil war, compounded by drought and famine that killed 300,000. In Dec 1992, the U.S. military sent troops to protect the delivery of food, and in Jan 1993, Canada deployed the Canadian Airborne Regiment to assist the Americans’ efforts to provide relief, joined by 10,000 troops from 23 other nations.
In early 1993, local warlords were literally hijacking the relief supplies and using them to gain loyalty from local populations. The UN took control of the operation from the U.S. and converted the operation from a Chapter VI operation (peacekeeping) to a Chapter VII operation. This permitted robust force to accomplish mission objectives, when necessary. Operation Deliverance was to establish a secure environment within which these supplies could be distributed.
This initiative led to skirmishes, ambushes and battles with local insurgents, principally warlord Mohammad Farah Aidid, whose “soldiers” brought down two U.S. military helicopters on 3 Oct 1993, the famous “Blackhawk Down” incident. The American fatalities were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and abused. The incident changed American attitudes to humanitarian operations. The last U.S. troops left in Mar 1994, followed a year later by the remaining UN force, recognizing the mission as a failure.
UN response to the humanitarian crisis in the Balkans happened virtually concurrently with Somalia. In the decade following Tito’s death, the battle lines were drawn and the leaders of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina eyed the remains like it was carrion. As the federation fragmented and interethnic violence began, the Security Council created the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) on 21 Feb 1992 to ensure the safety of the UN Protected Areas, protect non-combatants, continue operation of Sarajevo airport, monitor the “no-fly” zone in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and monitor the frontier of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The belligerents in Bosnia made UN operations in Bosnia untenable, forcing the various contingents to establish armed camps with shelters, to endure artillery strikes, and even being disarmed and having their vehicles hijacked by local soldiers at the various roadblocks.
The Dayton Peace Accord, brokered by American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, went into effect Dec 1995. A UN Security Council resolution authorized a multinational peace implementation force, named IFOR, under NATO leadership, to maintain the cease-fire and the inter-ethnic boundary line separating Bosnia Herzegovina from Serbia and Croatia. The contempt that the UN peacekeepers had endured disappeared with the arrival of multilateral forces prepared and equipped to use robust force to achieve their objectives.
IFOR became SFOR (stabilization force) in Dec 1996 with a new objective, to provide a safe and secure environment for local authorities and international agencies, and to promote a lasting peace to permit the gradual withdrawal of SFOR forces.
The Bosnian Serb Army’s (BSA) disregard for the UN resolutions and directives regarding “Safe Areas” and “heavy weapon exclusion zones,” and the 28 Aug 1995 shelling of the Sarajevo marketplace that killed 38, caused NATO to begin an air campaign targeting BSA forces and heavy weapons, command and control resources, and military infrastructure and communications. Targets were jointly approved by NATO and the United Nations.
This was the first time that the Alliance undertook military operations in response to a United Nations’ request for support.
As the UN became more involved in humanitarian interventions and internal conflict, Rwanda represented the unfortunate pause before leaping across the abyss of continued interventions. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR, was established on 5 Oct 1993 to implement the Arusha peace accord, maintain security in the capital Kigali, assist humanitarian efforts, and monitor the cease-fire until the transitional government could conduct democratic elections.
As Hutus began slaughtering 880,000 Tutsis, the UN had only a small security force of 5,500 under the command of Canadian Major-General Roméo Dallaire. As violence began and grew, instead of increasing the numbers of peacekeepers (member nations declined to send their forces into the Rwandan bloodbath), the UN could only withdraw the force.
To his credit, Dallaire and a small band of peacekeepers refused to leave, staying to do whatever he could to stem the tide of genocide.
The international debate to define the legitimate boundaries of the UN Security Council to deal with internal conflict and humanitarian crisis left Rwanda a victim to the intransigence that happens when such debates take place.
Until its 17 Feb 2008 declaration of independence, Kosovo was a semi-autonomous province with a largely ethnic Albanian population. When Slobodan Milosevic launched a program of ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars, NATO began Operation Allied Force, the air campaign against Serbian forces, beginning 24 March and lasting until 11 Jun 1999. The objectives were to halt all Serbian military activity and all ethnic violence in Kosovo; withdrawal of all Serbian security forces; establishment of an international military force for security (KFOR); and return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and allow them access to on-site humanitarian agencies.
Before NATO could stop the Serbian action, an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovars were killed and hundreds of thousands driven into neighbouring areas.
This was NATO’s second military operation, and the first time that an international alliance undertook military operations against a state without UN Security Council approval to protect a minority within that state. While Russia and China saw the operation as a flagrant disregard of international law, NATO felt compelled to act in the wake of the international failures to effectively address previous atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda.
The end of the Cold War ended the practice of superpowers’ “client states” to represent their geographic interests, and also the capability of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to exert effective control over them to ensure their behavior stayed within the limitations of international acceptability. Concomitant with the end of the Cold War, interstate conflict began to disappear, replaced by intrastate conflict that is, as Professor Janice Stein has noted, more difficult to contain and address, requiring extraordinary abilities by military leaders who are unfamiliar with the local culture.
The 11 Sep 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon changed the world. The Taliban government of Afghanistan sheltered and supported the al Qaeda terrorist network and provided it a home base. So in another “first,” NATO began allied operations in Afghanistan under the Alliance’s Article 5, which, in effect, says that an attack on one is considered an attack on all.
To answer why Canada has abandoned traditional peacekeeping, we have only to look at Professor Stein’s description of Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier’s perspective, that our role in Afghanistan is not a crystal ball look into the future, but a roadmap.
The proliferation of failed and failing states will create increased and often unbearable pressures on the international network of nations and cultures. This will, in turn, cause increased pressures on the international community to address the resulting conflicts.
We are witnessing the end of the age when peacekeeping was an effective mechanism of management and resolution of interstate conflict; intrastate violence is much more aggressive and conscienceless, and has, so far, defied our capabilities to manage and resolve it.
Canada hasn’t abandoned peacekeeping, it simply disappeared.
Tim Dunne is a retired Canadian military public affairs officer who served on peacekeeping missions in Israel, Egypt, Syria and the Balkans, and with NATO’s peace support missions in Bosnia Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. He is currently the Military Affairs Advisor with the Nova Scotia Department of Intergovernmental Affairs.