Thursday, August 01, 2013

Warkeeping or vibeswatching? The contaminated UN

The United Nations is bursting with peace missions, peacekeepers, peace rhetoric, peace documents, peacemaking, peacebuilding--and armed agents who threaten and commit acts of violence. Really? This is the world body for peace?

It wasn't always this way. The first UN peacekeeping missions were unarmed, beginning with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (Brom, 2004).When French Observer Commandant Rene Labarriere was killed in early June, 1948, in that first mission of military observers to enforce the truce between Israel and Palestinian fighters, pressure was enormous to arm the peacekeepers. Clearly, nonviolence didn't work.

So they were armed. Since then, more than 3,000 have been killed. Is anyone saying that maybe violence doesn't work?

Never mind that the early UN peacekeepers were not trained in nonviolence and the nongovernmental organizations who send out trained personnel have a remarkably good survival record. The need to arm anyone who is there to keep the peace is like a one-way check valve. Anyone gets hurt and everyone gets armed--it's the way of the nation-state system.

For much of the Cold War, the UN peacekeeping operations were sometimes clearly operating in favor of surrogates of one superpower or another, and were also frequently operating in a neocolonial fashion at the behest of the P-5, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, according to Adekeye Adebajo (2011), former Rhodes Scholar and current Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Capetown, South Africa. He calls for reform.

Peacekeeping is when they keep the belligerents apart. Peacemaking is when they bring belligerents together. Peacebuilding is when they create sustainable peace, structural nonviolence, and empowerment of all parties.

When all these UN activities are done nonviolently, in a disarmed fashion, we will have an honest peacekeeping regime and a truly comprehensive reform. Until then, they should look to civil society for instruction, from Peace Brigades International to Nonviolent Peaceforce. Violence is the bad old way; nonviolence is not the past, it is the future.


Adebajo, Adekeye (2011). UN peacekeeping Africa: From the Suez crisis to the Sudan conflicts. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Brom, S. (2004). The Role of International Monitoring in the Israeli- Palestinian Arena. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture, 11(2), 62-68.

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