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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Head to head: Good peacekeeping?
John Bolton (left) and Jean-Marie Guehenno (composite image)
Bolton (left) and Guehenno

In the fifth and final part of our series on peacekeeping, John Bolton, former US envoy to the United Nations, and Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of UN peacekeeping operations, debate some of the thorniest issues for the UN.

You have to judge it by its consequences, by its output not its input, and I think that is where peacekeeping is at its most vulnerable
John Bolton

John Bolton: From the US perspective, there is certainly nothing neo-colonial about it. If anyone has any ambitions to neo-colonialism, let them go off and do it and let them pay for it without the 27% US share of the UN peacekeeping budget.

The intentions when a peacekeeping force is established are quite benign, but the real problem is that you can't simply judge peacekeeping by its intentions. Like any other government or inter-governmental programme, you have to judge it by its consequences, by its output not its input, and I think that is where peacekeeping is at its most vulnerable.

In many cases - Ethiopia-Eritrea and Western Sahara are examples in addition to Cyprus - the peacekeeping force comes close to having perpetual life and that doesn't benefit the people for whom the peacekeeping force was supposedly set up. Just leaving these problems there in perpetuity doesn't benefit anybody.

It is very difficult for any one group of actors to use UN peacekeepers for any covert agendas
Jean-Marie Guehenno
Jean-Marie Guehenno: Depending on the context, Blue Helmets suffer from both unrealistically high expectations or an unfairly negative predisposition. In parts of the world, they are seen as a possible panacea to all of the world's conflicts.

In some quarters, as soon as a conflict erupts there are calls for a UN mission to be deployed immediately to contain the problem. In others the Blue Helmets are perceived as agents of particular political agendas and are unwelcome.

In reality, UN peacekeeping rests on a firm legal framework that provides a vehicle for international legitimacy and burden-sharing. UN mandates are issued transparently and our peacekeepers cannot even begin to mobilise, let alone deploy, without a Security Council mandate. It is very difficult for any one group of actors to use UN peacekeepers for any covert agendas. There is simply too much scrutiny of how we do our business and there are simply too many actors involved.

Unfortunately those disagreements within the regional groups are often simply transmitted to the UN
John Bolton

John Bolton: The effectiveness of the various regional organisations depends on the organisation and depends on the nature of the mission.

Interestingly, the effective uses of Nato in peacekeeping operations have been outside Nato's traditional area of operations, meaning that Nato was not faced with internal division within its own backyard as opposed to, let us say, the African Union in Darfur where there are lots of disagreements within the African Union itself over what the AU peacekeeping force should do.

[The UN] was formed to stop all-out world wars, not to resolve small internal wars
chrisg, belfast
BBC News website reader

So I would say that frequently, and I think this has been true in a number of West African contexts as well, the regional organisations are very split themselves on how to handle a particular conflict. That means the regional organisations are not necessarily very well placed to do anything about such conflicts.

Unfortunately those disagreements within the regional groups are often simply transmitted to the UN. Again, Darfur is a good example, which means that neither the UN nor the regional organisation is really well equipped to do much to resolve the underlying problem.

Entities such as Nato and Security Council-authorized coalitions of the willing can make invaluable contributions
Jean-Marie Guehenno
Jean-Marie Guehenno: Unfortunately, in peacekeeping the demand outstrips the supply, so increasingly the international crisis response system is developing a menu of options where UN peacekeepers are but one potential choice.

Each organisation brings different capacities to the table, and their engagement in a particular situation will depend on the circumstances of a given crisis and on their own organisation's priorities. In situations where strong political leverage or military muscle is required, other entities such as Nato and Security Council-authorised coalitions of the willing can make invaluable contributions. The development of EU "Battle groups" and the AU Standby Brigade are also promising new initiatives.

But in our view, these regional organisations, groupings and alliances complement and supplement the deployment of UN peacekeepers. In many cases the regional political leverage brought by the membership of these organisations is essential.

At other times, because of the need to take a firm impartial stance, and the need to be seen to be impartial, it is more appropriate to have a more multilateral response, which is less vested in the regional political equation.

Too often we get involved in one of these operations because people say it's important to show we are concerned
John Bolton

John Bolton: I think it is a distortion to some extent but the real issue, in cases of civil war or conflicts across borders, is whether in fact the UN is contributing to a solution to the problem or is actually helping to perpetuate the problem.

Too often we get involved in one of these operations because people say it's important to show we are concerned about a particular humanitarian situation. I think in these cases people look at the conflict and say "This is too hard to solve but I don't want to be blamed for ignoring it so I'll set up a peacekeeping operation."

That then allows them to say "Well, the UN is handling that" which, in many cases, is a not very subtle way of saying "Nobody is handling it".

But for the diplomats, it gets the issue off their desks, and oftentimes that is the real objective. Unfortunately, it leaves the people who are the victims of the conflict without an immediate solution and oftentimes means that the conflict will go on and on, with nobody particularly seeking to find a way to bring an end to it.

The classic formula for successful peacekeeping is consent of all the parties. What that really means, if you are not careful, is that when the UN gets dragged in, it becomes another party to the conflict.

UN peacekeeping provides a window of opportunity so that a country can rebuild itself
Jean-Marie Guehenno

Jean-Marie Guehenno: Clearly, contemporary UN peacekeeping operations have evolved and no longer mean simply placing troops on a line on a map to observe and monitor.

The UN now has built into our operations civilian capabilities which support political dialogue and transitional governments, help disarm and demobilise combatants and support policing and other elements of the criminal justice system. By doing this, UN peacekeeping provides a window of opportunity so that a country can rebuild itself.

The fact that current UN peacekeeping operations are more "multi-dimensional" does indeed represent a shift from the traditional concept of UN peacekeeping. But this development hasn't happened overnight; it's the product of 10 years of hard-won lessons and rigorous introspection. We act in line with an impartial and transparent mandate, and with the consent of the parties to our presence.

In Haiti, we are indeed facing one of our greatest tests but we don't have a failed state. We had a collapse of a government and a period of conflict and lawlessness into which peacekeepers were deployed. The UN mission was deployed to help provide security and support to a political process and assist in maintaining a transitional government. That part was successfully completed with elections last year. Now the UN mission is helping with long-term stabilisation, in particular with helping the Haitian government subdue the criminal gangs who have terrorised the population of Port-au-Prince for years.

Too often the member-governments on the Security Council are all too happy to get a particular issue off the front pages of the newspapers and consign it to a peacekeeping force
John Bolton

John Bolton: Yes, I think there is a lot to that and, really, I don't blame the UN Secretariat there. I blame the Security Council. I think that too often the member-governments on the Security Council are all too happy to get a particular issue off the front pages of the newspapers and consign it to a peacekeeping force and a special representative of the secretary general, and then every six months they simply renew the peacekeeping mandate without really looking for a solution.

I think that one of the main things that the Security Council needs to do better is look to solve problems, not simply massage them.

The particular problem the UN faces at the moment is overload. It has approximately 18 operations with over 80,000 troops deployed. Being stretched too thin leaves open the prospect of another disaster simply because there is not time or attention for the UN to handle all of these operations effectively. It is a question of being more selective about what the UN thinks it can handle and in the short term solving some of the problems that have been around for a long time.

I think that it is too often the case that the conflict is simply perpetuated, which could well have the impact of benefiting one side more than the other. That is why when I was at the UN one of the things I tried to say was that if the parties to the conflict themselves were not prepared to move toward a resolution, the Security Council had to consider terminating the peacekeeping operation. Otherwise, these things could go on forever and that was not helpful to anybody.

The UN can be a broker, a supporter, a referee and an advisor... but the actual power... lies with sovereign member-states
Jean-Marie Guehenno

Jean-Marie Guehenno: Sometimes the UN peacekeeping missions are criticised for hanging around without helping to solve the actual conflict. In these situations, the key question is would the removal of a UN peacekeeping operation improve the situation, or make matters worse?

Preventing war is not equivalent to achieving sustainable peace, but it is still very valuable. For peace to take root, the political will of the parties to the conflict and the active engagement of the international community are needed. Some other times we are accused of not doing enough - of trying to put a Band Aid on a deep wound.

And we do indeed have a generation of operations which were established (mainly during the Cold War) primarily to observe and monitor and not much more than that. Those operations were never meant to be a massive military presence capable of enforcing peace, but a largely symbolic UN presence can help contain the conflicts spread and prevent small skirmishes from escalating out of control.

In Cyprus, the UN has been a dynamic actor. Secretary General Annan pushed very hard for a solution but to no avail.

We must remember the UN can be a broker, a supporter, a referee and an advisor in solving conflict between and within states, but the actual power and the politics required to bring about lasting peace lies with sovereign member-states and their people. UN peacekeeping creates the conditions for political dialogue to take place. It is for the parties to take advantage of this opportunity.

Interviews taken by Patrick Jackson, BBC News


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