The contemporary debate concerning the protection of
civilians by UN peacekeeping operations has its roots in the crises of the
mid-1990s. In response to the failures of missions in Bosnia and Rwanda to
prevent mass atrocities, practitioners, observers, advocates, and theorists
alike struggled to define the problem and adapt the concept of peacekeeping—and
global governance in general—to a new set of challenges. These efforts
developed along a series of parallel tracks:
humanitarian and political– military;
emergency reaction and long-term prevention;
peace and justice.
As demonstrated by the mandate of the UN Mission in Sierra
Leone in 1999, these trends began to converge around the ambition for
peacekeeping missions to protect civilians in the midst of conflict. The
Security Council has expressed its resolve through a series of documents,
including three resolutions on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:
1265 (in 1999)
1296 (in 2000)
1674 (in 2006).
In resolution 1674
the Security Council expressed its intention of ensuring
that protection of civilians mandates include
clear guidelines as to what missions can and should do to achieve those goals,
(ii) that the protection of civilians be given
priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources, including
information and intelligence resources, in the implementation of the mandates,
(iii) that protection mandates be implemented.
Notwithstanding the clear call for guidance expressed in resolution 1674, none
has been forthcoming. In late 2009, eight UN peacekeeping missions were
explicitly mandated to protect civilians. Yet the UN Secretariat, troop- and
police-contributing countries, host governments, humanitarian actors, human
rights professionals, and the missions themselves continue to struggle with
what it means for a peacekeeping operation to protect civilians, in theory and
The activities carried out by the UN in theperiod 1946 to
2003 employing military and police personnel and coming under the rubric ‘UN
Peacekeeping’. In particular, it seeks to ascertain whether those
operationswhich took place in the period following the improvement of relations
between East andWest in the late 1980s were markedly different in terms of
their nature and objectivesfrom those which had gone before, and the impact
upon operations of the changes in theinternational system post-Cold War.
Certainly, the late 1980s witnessed a number ofsuccesses in peacekeeping,
including the successful resolution of conflicts in CentralAmerica, Africa and
the Middle East, while the early 1990s were marked by a significantincrease in
the number of authorisations of new missions.
The diversity of missions andthe range of new requirements
seemed to fundamentally change the nature ofpeacekeeping; During the Cold War, the UN’s ability to
engage in collective action was seen to havebeen impeded by East-West divisions
which effectively limited the possibility ofcooperation in the UN Security
Council. The end of the Cold War was to have introducedan era of peace with an
emphasis on the rights and privileges of human rights. However,expectations of
more effective peacekeeping post-Cold War proved misplaced.
As earlyas 1994, Adam Roberts described UN peacekeeping as
‘in crisis’.Tried and tested principles and practices had been modified or
abandoned and the distinction between peacekeeping and various enforcement
activities had become blurred. UN efforts in Bosnia had exposed the
organisation to accusations of weakness and the initially successful UN
operation in Angola had been followed by resumption of warfare. The UN role in
these states seemed to do little to address the underlying causes of conflict.
These problems and failures had arisen at a time when, Roberts claimed, there
was a widespread feeling of optimism that the UN could have a more central role
in international security and that peacekeeping could tackle a wide range of
international problems. ‘The international community now wants the UN to
demarcate boundaries, control and eliminate heavy weapons, quell anarchy and
guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid. There are increasing demands that
the UN now enforce the peace as originally envisagedin the UN Charter.’4
Peacekeeping, a concept that was successful during the Cold
War, was now being used in contingencies for which it was not designed. Why was
this the case and what led the UNto engage in such a range of new operations?
The very visual images of suffering in conflict situations certainly led to a
call for ‘international action’ and the CNN factor wasundoubtedly important in
understanding why there was felt to be a need to act. In Washington and the
capitals of Europe, however, there was disenchantment and agrowing reluctance
to become involved in further peace-supporting activities.