Violence in the world takes on many forms, the most obvious being actual physical violence (genocide, murder, war). Violence, however, is not merely limited to the corporeal. Destruction of immaterial structures like economic systems and tribal communities constitute a form of violence that is more insidious and harder to identify, stripping (as argued by Audra Mitchell of the University of York) human beings of their identity and self-determination and damaging the human security of specific regions.
In response to the existence of various forms of violence in the world, the international community established the principle of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), a norm (not law) that provides for the mobilization of Chapter VII powers of the UN Charter to prevent mass atrocities. UN peacekeeping missions have spanned the globe over the last decade, from Sub-Saharan Africa to South America and Eastern Europe. While these operations are applaudable in principle, they often lack real teeth and most important are not efficiently executed.
Recently appointed UN Special Representative to Syria Lakdhar Brahimi published a very influential report on UN peacekeeping operations in 2001, now referred to as the Brahimi report. In this report, Mr. Brahimi criticizes peacekeeping operations for being underfunded, unaware of the dynamics of the conflict they seek to ameliorate, and lacking a clear mandate. As was the case in Rwanda, peacekeeping missions often lack real power to play an effective role in preventing conflicts and thus prove to be almost entirely ineffectual and even at times on obstacle to peace.
I had the privilege to speak personally with Mr. Brahimi in the spring about the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan. Mr. Brahimi explained that Afghanistan, like most previous UN peacekeeping operation, had many political considerations beyond just constructing lasting peace that has prevented it from fulfilling its original purpose. Specifically, it was clear by 2003 that the operation was not going to be the focus of US involvement in the region, who had their sights set on Iraq. Consequently, the operation was underfunded, undermanned, and unable to cope with the changing dynamics of the situation.
This is not a problem that rests solely with the United States. The main thrust of these peacekeeping operations comes from the resolution of the UN Security Council, which contains 5 of the world’s great powers, each with their own agendas, defense budgets, and internal politics. Thus, the process becomes an exercise in political realism between various states and the actual human beings on the ground who are suffering and dying are hardly ever taken into consideration.
This problem is especially potent given the nature of peace-keeping. A simple ceasefire, thought by many to be the entire purpose of these missions, is not enough to ensure a lasting peace in these volatile regions of the world. Often, a barrier is just placed between warring parties who truly are not even prepared to negotiated with each other by a peace-keeping force that has very little to no understanding of the sectarian, religious, or historic elements of the conflict. This sort of peace, far from being lasting, is most likely to fall apart within just a few years.
The R2P must be formally written into the UN Charter and the UN peacekeeping forces must be given more power to influence events in these areas. Peacekeeping forces and most importantly supporting posts such as medical staff and construction workers should be made up of members of the community rather than outside forces seeking to impose a manufactured peace on a region. If the community in conflict does not have a large stake in the outcome or if the process becomes overly politicized, these operations are likely to fail before they even begin and the human security of the region will disintegrate into unconstructed violence.