Monday, December 22, 2014

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

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

Con Position

To support the idea that peacekeepers should be allowed to engage in offensive operations would support a contradiction of terms.  Simply put, the UN claims UN Peacekeeping operations are guided by three principles (UNPKO undated), and indeed these principles are found repeated throughout their literature: 1) Consent of the parties.  This means the factions involved in conflict must mutually agree to allow the UN to conduct peacekeeping functions. It implies, there is an explicit agreement as what those operations shall be. 2) Impartiality. This means the UN peacekeeping force will take no actions which advantage a particular side in the conflict; the UN will not favor a position or act in a way which demonstrates partiality. 3) Non-use of force (except in self-defense and defence of the mandate). In other words, the UN peacekeepers will only exercise force in order to protect themselves or their mission.  Self-defense is rarely ambiguous.  It must be proportional to the threat (not excessive force), must be in response to imminent danger (basically the enemy has started the attack) and typically the use of force in self-defense is the last resort.  If there is any wiggle-room in these precepts it is in the third pillar phrase "defense of the mandate" and this where the UN gets into trouble and spills-over into what is termed peace enforcement.

Oliver (2002):
The meaning of the term peace enforcement is often misunderstood. Consider that when soldiers are performing enforcement actions under a UN Security Council mandate, they are still called peacekeepers. The term’s origins are found in the UN Charter under Chapter VII and Articles 39, 41, and 42. Article 47 goes on to outline the procedures for managing “breaches of peace and acts of aggression”. It establishes a Military Staff Committee to manage the armed forces placed at the disposal of the UN Security Council.4 Unfortunately, the Member States that comprise the Military Staff Committee never came to an agreement on how the UN would use military forces placed at its disposal. {page 101]

Back To Basics

Let's start this analysis with a review of two infamous UN peacekeeping missions.

In the 1991-1993 time frame, civil war in Somalia resulted in a flood of refugees and starving, dying civilians in need of aid.  Cease-fire agreements were made and the UN sent a peacekeeping force to oversee relief operations.  However, the warlords continued their fighting and threatened relief operations.  The U.S. offered to head a task force to secure relief operations but other countries failed to send troops so the force was understaffed while conditions continued to deteriorate. It was 1993 when the UN-sanctioned task force headed by the US assumed an enforcement role under Chapter 7 of the UN charter aimed toward securing the safety of the mission by kidnapping warlord Mohamed Farrah Adid. The ensuing Battle of Mogadishu culminated in the infamous events described in the novel "Blackhawk Down" resulting in loss of US troops and a failed mission. Not long afterwards, the UN ceased peacemaking efforts in Somalia.

In 1995, during the Bosnian War in former Yugoslavia, UN peacekeepers established a "safe-area" for the Bosnian Muslims in the area of Srebrenica. In July of the year, Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serbs resulting in the mass murder of thousands of Muslim civilians.  The massacre was blamed on UN deficiencies in personnel and resources.  The event resulted in the UN declaring that borders would no longer protect leaders who abuse their citizens and authorized an enforcement campaign. Subsequently NATO launched punishing airstrikes against Serbia under US command.

Hillen (1995):
in January 1995 the secretary general retreated from An Agenda for Peace and stated, "The UN operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina . . . [was] given additional mandates which required the use of force. These were incompatible with existing mandates requiring consent of the parties, impartiality, and the non-use of force. The resultant combination was inherently contradictory. It jeopardized the safety and success of the peacekeeping mission." What the secretary general did not recognize is that, along with the strategic incoherence of those operations, the effort to pump vast amounts of humanitarian aid into the former Yugoslavia and to use UN forces to keep a lid on tensions in the region has backfired. 

To be sure, the UN has conducted many more than two Peacekeeping missions (see the link here). which demonstrates UN Peacekeeping is capable of performing an important and vital mission to promote an agenda of peace and humanitarian aid.  What examples like Somalia and Bosnia illustrate is how the peace mission fails when the UN attempts to move pass the security of its three foundational pillars and take a more pro-active, offensive role in peacekeeping. In Somalia we see the result of peace enforcement by attempting to prevent a warlord from disrupting peace operations and in Bosnia there is a kind of peace enforcement which sought to punish the country of Serbia for UN failures to uphold the peace.

NYTimes (1995):
The use of major powers' troops for enforcement operations under a U.N. flag, like the British, French and Russians in Bosnia or the Americans in Somalia, has not worked well and should not be repeated. Enforcement missions require the kind of firepower that only major powers can supply, but these powers do not easily subordinate their armies to U.N. command. There should be a shift back toward more limited objectives like policing cease-fires. These missions should be carried out by specialized forces from smaller and neutral states operating under U.N. command. When major enforcement missions are clearly warranted, they should be assigned to the armies of major military powers, under Security Council mandate but national combat command. This will only be possible where there is a consensus on the Security Council and where an appropriate country is willing to undertake the mission -- for example, the French last summer in Rwanda. U.N. peacekeeping does what it can do very well. It makes no sense to continue eroding its credibility by asking it to do what it cannot.

We can conclude this contention with a statement made by the former Special Assistant to the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and tie in the second contention.

Tharoor (1995):
Can the United Nations expect to mix peace-keeping and coercion, as the Security Council has obliged it to do in Somalia and now in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The United Nations Operation in Somalia's'" ("UNOSOM") attempts to impose peace led to the loss of political support and its eventual withdrawal from Somalia; the United Nations Protection Force ("UNPROFOR") has been blamed for failing to do things it was never mandated, staffed, financed, equipped, or deployed to do. Public opinion and political rhetoric have tended to outstrip both the mandate and means given to the United Nations [page 417].

The Impacts

Peace enforcement or any kind of offensive force carried out by "peacekeepers" can have a multitude of negative impacts arising from injecting oneself into a politically charged conflict.  Offensive force can change the balance of power, which actually results in prolonging conflict and it can strengthen the resolve of combatants by a "rally around the flag" effect which strengthens the power of illegitimate leaders. In fact, even non-offensive peacekeeping missions can prolong hostilities. Consider the comments of Richard Betts with respect to the Bosnian war.

Betts (1994):
There, the West's attempt at limited but impartial involvement abetted slow-motion savagery. The effort wound up doing things that helped one side, and counterbalancing them by actions that helped the other. This alienated both and enabled them to keep fighting. The United Nations tried to prevent the Serbs from consolidating their victory, but without going all the way to consistent military support of the Muslims and Croats. The main U.N. mission was humanitarian delivery of food and medicine to besieged communities, but this amounted to breaking the sieges—a military and political effect. {Page 24]

Intervention by UN peacekeepers, even if authorized by the UN General Assembly, engages the participants as combatants and thus exposes them as participants in the conflict they are resolved to mitigate. Even when the UN positions itself as a possible aggressor, it opens itself to defensive and preventative attacks from regional forces which could subject the peacekeepers to capture, and possible death.  In fact, this happened in the former Yugoslavia when NATO forces, acting under UN authority threatened to bomb certain targets. UN Peacekeepers were abducted and tied to the targets as human-shields.

If UN Peacekeepers carry out offensive operations, an enemy must be identified and struck.  This removes the pretense of impartiality and threatens the balance of power in a regional conflict which could erupt into a wider war.

Hanson, et al (2004):
From the concept pursued in this new peacekeeping doctrine, it is evident that peacekeeping must engender two dimensions of activity. One brings it closer to a state of war (i.e. peacekeepers must always be prepared for combat and maintain an enforcement capability). At the same time, however, the impartiality principle prescribes that it must also be capable of building consent so as to limit the necessity for the enforcement of compliance. If this is not achieved, it becomes far more likely that peacekeepers will be drawn into a prolonged military enforcement role, thus increasing the danger of ‚crossing the Mogadishu line‘, i.e. of taking sides and being drawn into the conflict directly. Unless practitioners engage seriously in the consent-promoting dimension of peacekeeping, by focusing on the goals of conflict resolution and post-conflict peace-building, they will, under this new doctrine, run the risk of becoming embroiled in full-scale warfare.

Coalition of the Unwilling

Con needs to point out that allowing the UN to conduct offensive operations means someone has to launch the missiles, drop the bombs, or fire the bullets and these "someones" are international troops assembled from participating countries.  Usually, when a decisive action must be taken, a world-power must be enlisted to "drop the hammer" because only powerful armies have the resources to get the job done effectively.  Thus, enforcement or offensive peacekeeping requires cooperation by powers which are often politically unmotivated or unwilling to engage in such operations.

The answer is, to keep a strong distinction between UN Charter Chapters 6 and 7.  One is for appeals for redress and aid, the other for war.  By standing on the foundational pillars, the UN peacekeeping missions have the best chance of success and if the combatants are not interested in keeping the peace, then it may be best to leave and perhaps authorize other actions.  It is confusing for the UN Security Council, the Peacekeepers, and the world to mix the responses and try to justify offensive actions by peacekeepers.

For all these reasons and more, we urge a Con ballot.


Betts, RK (1994), The delusion of partial intervention; Foreign Affairs, Vol 3 No. 6; accessed 12/16/2014.

Hanson, W; Ramsbotham, O.; Woodhouse, T (2004); Hawks and Doves: Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution;  Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management - Edited version Aug 2004; accessed 12/16/2014

Hillen, JF III (1995); Killing with Kindness: The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia; Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 34, Jun 30, 1995; accessed 12/16/2014

NYTimes (1995); The Future of U.N. Peacekeeping, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 8, 1995; archived source; accessed 12/16/2014.

Oliver, GF; 2002, The Other Side of Peacekeeping: Peace Enforcement and Who Should Do It?; International Peacekeeping: The Yearbook of International Peace Operations, Volume 8, 2002, p. 99-117; accessed 12/16/2014.

Tharoor, S (1995); The Changing Face of Peace-Keeping andPeace-Enforcement; Fordham International Law Journal, Vol 19, Issue 2, Article 20, 1995; accessed 12/16/2014

UNPKO (undated) What is peacekeeping?; United Nations Peacekeeping; Peacekeeping Operations; accessed: 12/16/2014

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