Sunday, December 21, 2014

PF Jan 2015 - U.N. Peacekeepers Offensive Power - Pro Position

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations

Justification for Force

The justification for offensive force for UN peacekeepers begins in 1999 with the passage of U.N. Resolution 1279 to affirm what was known as the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. This agreement aimed to end a long and horrific conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The conflict which became known as he First Congo War involved several nations and resulted in the deaths of millions from both direct hostilities and humanitarian crises. As the First Congo War raged, the rest of the world struggled with images of the Rwandan massacre, child-soldiers kidnapped and armed with automatic weapons, and waves of refugees streaming into camps under the most horrific conditions.  The world welcomed "peace" and the U.N. subsequently authorized a small group of observers to document compliance with the peace treaty brokered at Lusaka.  The roots of conflict remained and continued to stir, especially in eastern Congo, so the UN continued to expand its role to include assisting in the release of prisoners of war, providing support for humanitarian efforts and assisting in the removal of land-mines. Over the next ten years the UN peacekeeping force expanded to more than 20,000 personnel with close to $9 billion spent to maintain the deployment. It was during this time, the UN peacekeepers were accused of certain abuses such as rape and regional conflict emerged into what has become known as the Second Congo War which has involved nine African countries and resulted in more than five million deaths. In my opinion, the eruption of one of the deadliest wars in the history of planet earth, and the U.N. failure to provide any sort of meaningful deterrence or protection to citizens resulted in the U.N. deciding to take more decisive action to enforce "peace".  (To be sure, the 2013 Congo situation was not the first use of force by the U.N. One need only research Congo -Resolution 169-, Somalia -Resolution 837- and Bosnia -Resolution 836- to realize the U.N. has engaged in offensive operations in the past.) This leads us to where we are today and provides a background for the Pro position.

Neutral Force

One of the key aspects of UN offensive operations is the presumed lack of partiality.  While the Pro acknowledges U.N. Peacekeeping operations have and do involve some offensive operations, these are limited in scope and aimed toward deterring aggression which disturbs peacekeeping missions.  The UN use of force is not attempting to give one side or the other advantage. It is thus an act of forcefully keeping the peace.

Findlay (2002):
It is in this sense that such missions aim to ‘enforce the peace’. They do not attempt to militarily defeat the party concerned, but rather to coerce it to comply with the will of the international community and with its previously agreed commitments. They usually attempt to act impartially in dealing with all the parties, in the manner of an umpire, but in doing so may be forced to penalize one or more of them, including through the use of force. They are not normally only involved in peace enforcement, but will undertake the range of activities involved in expanded peacekeeping, including humanitarian assistance and ‘nation-building’. Like peacekeeping operations, they employ both positive and negative inducements (the proverbial ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’), but they also have the use and threat of the use of force as the ultimate negative inducement. [page 6]

The UN has fairly consistently stuck to a norm which authorized the use of force for self-defense and it is relatively simple to draw distinctions between using force in self-defense and using force in an offensive way. Self-defense is commonly recognized as an application of force which is equal to the threat and generally employed when other reasonable attempts to avoid force have been exhausted. But, it is considered a mission of UN Peacekeepers to act as a deterrent to aggression and this has failed many times. Nevertheless, U.N. peacekeepers are authorized to use force as a deterrent to actions which would interfere with UN mandates.

UNPKO 2014:
In certain volatile situations, the Security Council has given UN peacekeeping operations “robust” mandates authorizing them to “use all necessary means” to deter forceful attempts to disrupt the political process, protect civilians under imminent threat of physical attack, and/or assist the national authorities in maintaining law and order.

Facing Reality

In 2000, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, commissioned a panel headed by Lakhdar Brahimi to review and report on all aspects of U.N. Peacekeeping operations. The resulting landmark document known as the Brahimi Report provided a much needed dose of realism in the idealistic mission of the U.N.

Findlay (2002):
While conceding that ‘there are many tasks which United Nations peacekeeping forces should not be asked to undertake and many places they should not go’, it declared that when the UN does send its forces to uphold the peace ‘they must be prepared to confront the lingering forces of war and violence, with the ability and determination to defeat them’. Although force alone could only create the space in which peace may be built, no amount of good intentions could substitute, it said, for the ‘fundamental ability to project credible force if complex peacekeeping, in particular, is to succeed’. [page 333] 

Part of the failure of past missions and the perceived lack of UN deterrence stemmed from very ambiguous and conflicting Rules of Engagement (ROE).  It needed to be clear both to UN commanders and regional combatants the UN would be prepared to carryout its mandates with sufficient resolve and force.

Findlay (2002):
The panel urged that, once deployed, UN military units must be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and the mission’s mandate. ROE should be ‘sufficiently robust and not force UN contingents to cede the initiative to their attackers’. Mandates should specify an operation’s authority to use force. ROE should not limit contingents to ‘stroke-for-stroke’ responses but allow ‘ripostes sufficient to silence a source of deadly fire’. UN forces should be bigger and better equipped and become ‘a credible deterrent threat, in contrast to the symbolic and non-threatening presence that characterizes traditional peacekeeping’. Brahimi advocated that: ‘UN forces for complex operations should be sized and configured so as to leave no doubt in the minds of would-be spoilers as to which of the two approaches [traditional or complex] the Organization has adopted’ [page 334]

Even before the decision was made in 2013 to send attack helicopters into Congo, the UN had already been softening its non-force position claiming "peacekeeping" was a complex mission which includes more than standing between combatants. In the 2008 document, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Principle and Guidelines, describes the complex characteristics of peacekeeping as related to conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peace building.(UNPKO 2008: 17-18). The UN establishes guidelines for what it terms, "robust" peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

UNPKO (2008):
Although on the ground they may sometimes appear similar, robust peacekeeping should not be confused with peace enforcement, as envisaged under Chapter VII of the Charter. Robust peacekeeping involves the use of force at the tactical level with the authorization of the Security Council and consent of the host nation and/or the main parties to the conflict. By contrast, peace enforcement does not require the consent of the main parties and may involve the use of military force at the strategic or international level, which is normally prohibited for Member States under Article 2(4) of the Charter, unless authorized by the Security Council. 

While the conflicting and intersecting roles of "robust" peace are blurry and not always conforming to set boundaries, Pro should probably limit discussion on peace enforcement as outside the scope of the resolution.


I think Pro must recognize words have power and politicians play word-games in order to influence positions.  Offensive operations conducted under the authority of the UN termed "peace enforcement" have attached a negative view of such operations.  However, the UN, as seen in the Brahimi Report recognizes that so-called "robust" peacekeeping operations can be effective in supporting the mission and mandates of the UN Peacekeeping operations.  The fact that certain terminology is applied should have no bearing on the debate but unless the Pro can properly center the debate on the broader issue rather than semantics, the failure of past missions will loom large. The idea of punitive actions to enforce peace will likely invoke an undesired response in the mind of judge. Finding the right balance between robust peacekeeping and more aggressive responses to restoring peace in places of conflict is part of the general U.N. mandate. Since inception, the UN has reserved for itself the authority to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security" [UN Charter, Chapter VII, article 39]. When considering the role of a UN peacekeeping operation, a similar semantic conundrum exists when considering the differences between preemptive and preventative actions. While preemption deters perceived, imminent threats, preventative action designed to deter future attacks are considered illegal under UN and international law. In the context of peacekeeping, preemptive actions may be considered not only justified, but moral in response to an imminent threat but whether or not preemptive actions may be defined as an exercise of offensive power is a question that must be answered in the round if Pro decides to run it.

R2P Opens the Door

A major component of UN peacekeeping operations is humanitarian in nature.  More often than not, it is population at large; the non-combatants which suffer the most during the time of conflict and as witnessed, for example, by the First and Second Wars of the Congo, starvation, disease and homelessness can affect millions, threatening entire populations. Under these circumstances the UN possesses a framework for robust peacekeeping.

UNR2P (2012);
The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.

Thus the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) establishes a requirement for the international community to intervene in humanitarian crises which are not being mitigated by the state in which the crisis is occurring.  In fact, the R2P emerged out of international frustration over the Rwanda massacre. R2P is based upon three pillars; 1) a state has the prime responsibility to protect its population from genocide; 2) the international community has a responsibility to assist the state in protecting their population; 3) the international community should take collective action when state acts fail to protect their populations.

Gerber (2012):
Peace operations with a civilian protection mandate reinforce all three pillars of the R2P framework, though in varying ways and degrees depending on the form and objectives of the mission. At the strategic level, all UN peace operations are approached as a “pillar 2” tool to “assist States under stress” in protecting their populations through direct security provision and local capacity building. While rare, peace operations such as the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo temporarily assume full “pillar 1” responsibility in the territory they administer. More frequently, POC-mandated peacekeeping missions act under “pillar 3” to ensure protection when local actors prove unable to do so. [POC is Protection of Civilians].

When one considers the overwhelming crush of humanity affected by the Second Congo War, 20,000 peacekeepers have very little ability to effectively carry out this mission in protecting millions of civilians over a region of thousands of square miles.  Robust peacekeeping recognizes the need to give the international force the best chance of success and justification within the limits of its mission to defend itself and the population it is charged to protect. However, while the peacekeepers may take actions to protect themselves, the use of external intervention forces to protect the peacekeepers and local populations violates the principles of self-defense.

Sartre (2011):
To justify the recourse to these interventions, the legitimacy of the duty to protect should be substituted for that of the right to self-defense. This step forward should be established in a doctrine, which I will outline below, which establishes the notion of an intervention force as part of the missions; and gives the Security Council and the Secretariat the tools to limit its use to the protection of the force, its mission and the local population and exclude its use for pursuing the objectives of the operation. By definition, self-defense can only be defensive. Protection, on the other hand, can be seen as temporarily and locally offensive, when an outclassed unit of the peacekeeping force has to be relieved by an intervention operation. If protection is recognized as being a duty that justifies temporary and locally offensive actions then two things that have for a long time been seen as contradictory can be reconciled: giving the operations robust means of reacting against any aggression and prohibiting them from using those means to force the consent of the parties. [page 9]

Sartre quotes Jean-Marie Guehenno's concerns that UN peacekeeping forces provide an illusion of safety for local populations, despite being unsuitable for the enormity of the mission they are expected to carry out. The Democratic Republic of Congo has over 70 million inhabitants (Sartre 2011:11) at risk.

Sartre (2011):
Jean-Marie Guéhenno has warned against making the concern for the protection of civilians, or, we should add, military personnel, the sole reason for the robustness of peacekeeping. In practice, the first objective of robustness should be the freedom of action, the pre-condition for the success of its missions: protecting itself, protecting the populations, and retaining control of the crisis area so that political progress is possible. This freedom of action is all the more necessary because it is normal for a peacekeeping force to lack both numbers and resources. This means that it must retain a mobility that enables it to exert its control of the situation and to protect itself where and when it wants without hindrance. Peacekeeping must indeed not let itself become coercive; this is what distinguishes peacekeeping from enforcement. But it must not give way either, and this is why it should be robust. Whatever violence may be taking place between the parties, it must continually keep open the space needed by the political process to bring peace nearer; neither giving way nor coercing, but protecting to persuade.

The Pro Position

Thus it is clear that over the decades, UN peacekeeping missions have engaged in offensive operations in the past.  The early experiences in Congo in the mid-sixties and later Somalia and Kosovo were considered disastrous and the argument can be made that was mostly due to a very nebulous and poorly defined understanding of what the limits and authority of the operations were supposed to be.  The Brahimi Report helped provide some solidification of the principles and justifications for offensive operations by peacekeepers.  Nevertheless, the requirement that intervention by peacekeepers must take place under the consent of the states involved and mandate that peacekeeping operations should be neutral and non-coercive forces a fuzzy view of what is acceptable or not in times of conflict when rules and international law seem distant and unclear.  The Pro position, not only recognizes the need to engage in offensive operations to effectively carry out its mission, but provides a framework under which that mission can be carried out with in the context of current UN mandates and international law.

Here is the Con position.


Findlay, T. (2002); The use of force in U.N peace operations; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, accessed 12/15/2014

Gerber, R. (2012), Peacekeeping and Responsibility to Protect, The Stanley Foundation, May 2012; accessed 12/15/2014

Sartre, P. (2011), Making UN Peacekeepers More Robust: Protecting the Mission, Persuading the Actors; International Peace Institute, August 2011; accessed 12/16/2014

United Nations Peacekeeping (UNPKO 2014), Principles of U.N. Peacekeeping, accessed 12/15/2014

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO 2008), (Capstone Doctrine) United Nations Peackeeping Operations, Principle and Guidelines; United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support; accessed 12/15/2014

United Nations Prevention of Genocide (UNR2P 2012); Responsibility to protect; accessed 12/15/2014


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