Funding for the United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Force has been drastically reduced in recent years, with over US$1.9 billion owed to the organization in contributions from its members. Since its inception, peacekeeping has been harshly scrutinized by the international community, with glaring failures in Rwanda and Srebrenica in 1994 and 1995 respectively often cited as examples of the enterprise’s inherent shortcomings. A dependence upon electoral process, poorly trained ground forces, and a lack of local knowledge are amongst the issues raised with the Blue Helmets endeavours to restore peace.
Previously peacekeeping had persisted under a banner of international cooperation, with the power of United States backing a significant force in convincing other states of its potential for positive change. But today this backing has faltered, with the United States as the greatest culprit in the funding deficit. The U.S owes more than US$1 billion to the UN, an unfortunate yet unsurprising reality given President Donald Trump’s public attitude toward the intergovernmental organization. Trump has often called into question the UN’s monetary dependence upon the United States, as well as the integrity of the institution as a whole, as indicated in one of his prior inflammatory tweets, “The United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America.”
Serving as a ground force for the United Nations’ optimistic mission to maintain international peace and security, peacekeeping is naturally susceptible to public criticism. Often concerns raised over peacekeeping operations have legitimate foundations. Peacekeeping forces are primarily made up of individuals from less developed nations, and are rarely trained in the local language and culture. An investigation into a mission in the Afghani capital of Kabul found that of the 140 diplomats, only three spoke the local language. Often too, these forces are not solely guided by their UN mandate, but also their national loyalty. In one instant amongst the atrocities of the Srebrenica massacre, Dutch peacekeeping forces under Dutch direction were ordered to stand by as a Serbian armed groups killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Although issues abound, the shortcomings of peacekeeping can only be resolved by finding alternate avenues to effective assistance in crisis scenarios. A rethink of how and why intervention fails is necessary, not the stripping of monetary support. Currently peacekeeping operations are attempting to regulate peace in a quarter of the world’s conflict, yet only receives a meek 0.5% of global military spending. Too regularly peacekeeping entails the dismantling of local support infrastructure, stripping local entities of their power, so as to supplant a fresh, foreign grown agenda. This logic has led to the UN’s successful facilitation of elections, which swiftly crumble without sustainable local enterprise. Whilst it might run contrary to current efforts of international aid, real progress is more realistic from the bottom up.
In war torn Congo, the island community of Idjwi has found peace amidst intense conflict. The Life and Peace Institute has facilitated community support programs which empower locals to contribute to a robust support network of organizations and churches. With a mixture of education and faith allowing the island to exist in peaceful isolation, locals have taken to developing local enterprise, with ecological tourism growing in the area. The work of the Institute depends on the generous donations of aid organisations, and suggests a more targeted approach peacebuilding, where aid workers give locals the tools to be their own saviors. Facing a fiscal deficit and an overwhelming negative public perception, it is not a stretch to suggest peacekeeping is approaching crisis. But development and peacebuilding is an inherently difficult business, one that must always use its past failures to inform its future. Progress such as achieved in Idjwi highlights a new direction for international aid, where local empowerment precedes intervention. But the future of peacebuilding is, and always will be, dependent upon its support from member states, whose power and influence dictate so much of what is possible in international affairs.
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