What it is: Action by groups of international soldiers or police and other civilians to prevent renewed conflict during a ceasefire, so that negotiations can take place to settle the dispute. It's essential that the members of peacekeeping groups are impartial and don't take sides. If armed, they can only use their weapons in self-defence, and even then only in extreme circumstances. Most peacekeeping is associated with the United Nations. UN peacekeeping forces are easily recognised by their light blue helmets and berets and white-painted vehicles. By 2003 'peacekeeping' was being attempted by other organisations as well. These included the military alliance NATO (in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan), the European Union (in Bosnia and Macedonia), the Economic Community of West African States (in Côte d'Ivoire), and the Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (in the Indonesian province of Aceh). Individual countries have also taken independent peacekeeping action, especially in former colonies (for example, France in Côte d'Ivoire, Britain in Sierra Leone). Private security firms have also sprung up, hiring out their own 'peacekeeping' teams.
What it means: The idea of official peacekeeping came from the United Nations soon after it was created. The first international peacekeepers were unarmed military observers: in 1948 the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) was set up to oversee a truce between Arabs and Israelis. UNTSO observers have been in the Middle East ever since. Another observer mission, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), began work in 1949, monitoring the ceasefire line in Kashmir between Indian and Pakistani forces. (The UNMOGIP observers in 2003 came from Belgium, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, South Korea, Sweden and Uruguay: international staffing is a sign of peacekeeping's essential neutrality.) In 1956 the first armed UN peacekeepers went on duty: a UN Emergency Force supervised the withdrawal of British, French and Israeli forces from the Suez Canal Zone, cleared the Canal, and then patrolled the frontier between Egypt and Israel for 10 years. By 2005 there had been 60 UN peacekeeping operations round the world. Over 2020 peacekeepers had died. The range of activities was now wider: as well as monitoring ceasefires, UN teams have protected agencies delivering humanitarian aid, trained local civilian police, collected and de-activated weapons of ex-fighters, defused landmines, helped with the administration of newly independent regions, and supervised elections. But despite good intentions and some successes, UN peacekeeping has had a troubled history. Perhaps that isn't surprising. Peacekeeping needs a peace to keep - yet UN missions have been sent to regions where ceasefires are being disregarded, agreements disrespected, and peace processes disrupted. The more powerful UN member countries have often lacked the political will to provide troops (or even equipment) for peacekeeping missions that don't concern them or are not in the news. Many missions have been too small for the job they are doing - only a few people to police a long ceasefire line or protect several thousand civilians. Teams have been forced to watch, helpless, as fighting continued or massacres were carried out. This inadequacy has been despised by the fighters they are meant to stop, and deplored by civilians they are meant to protect. The UN Security Council, which in effect makes the decisions about peacekeeping, has often asked peacekeepers to perform impossible tasks - yet, when this has become obvious, hasn't withdrawn them altogether, afraid that 'it would have a negative impact on public opinion'. Peacekeeping operations are also difficult in 'weak' states where the government has little control. But peacekeeping isn't designed for such situations: it can only hope to function when a ceasefire has been agreed by everyone - and when the Security Council is united in the wish to work for peace in a particular country. When the UN was created, the aim was simply to prevent interstate war from happening again - the increase in civil war and ethnic conflicts wasn't foreseen, and peacekeepers have had to try to adapt to this change as best they can.
Think about it: In the Bosnian civil war (1992-95), a British soldier serving with UN peacekeepers wondered 'how my children will regard our role in this genocidal conflict. How did we stand by and watch the systematic destruction of Sarajevo? What did we think while we watched entire communities dispossessed and fleeing into a cauldron of shellfire to die on the streets?' During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 a Rwandan politician said, 'The UN had armoured carriers and tanks. What did they bring these weapons for if they were going to stand by when people are being butchered before their very eyes?' Yes, what are the weapons for? Do peacekeepers really have to be armed? - after all, humanitarian aid workers in war zones aren't. Is it really common sense to use armed forces when trying to clear up the complex disasters war creates? How would you suggest peacekeeping should - and could - be done?
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