Humanist Society of Metropolitan New York

The Corliss Lamont Chapter of the American Humanist Association

United Nations Peacekeeping


by Beth K. Lamont
November 25, 2000

THE nightmare of human disaster in Rwanda in 1994, after UN Peacekeeping Forces withdrew, shocked us into questioning the whole concept of peacekeeping. What's a peacekeeper to do when there is no peace to keep? What good are peacekeepers if they can't protect people? The mandate to treat opposing parties with impartiality is ludicrous when one party is clearly the aggressor and the other is clearly the victim. The mandate itself is flawed. How could a witness stand by and remain impartial? It would amount to stifling one's own sense of moral outrage, and in effect, condoning the killing. How absurd to consider expressing impartiality. Would we urge the aggressors to stop killing and urge the victims to stop dying? Insanity! Aggression is aggression is aggression!

There's no getting around this fact, no matter how strongly felt one's cause is, or how justified one's actions are believed to be, those actions must stop short of violence! Long standing human struggles against oppressors around the world, and smoldering enmities that are whipped into flame, are tests of endurance and restraint. Wisdom is perhaps the most essential value, as expressed in these brave and discerning words: "There are many just causes for which I would die, but not a single one for which I would kill."

With all of our blunders and lapses, NATO bombings, for instance, or cruel economic sanctions against the powerless, or by ignoring besieged populations, sad experience has taught us that the essential mandate for effective peacemaking or for peacekeeping must ultimately become zero tolerance for the harming of human beings! A new vision for a permanent UN Peacekeeping Force is long overdue, and is being debated at this time. Perhaps with the new millennium's dedication to new beginnings, a more respectful and humanistic peacekeeping mandate will emerge and be etched in stone for all time.

ALTHOUGH the UN was dedicated after World War II to preventing future wars, it has failed miserably in its dual and conflicting mandate: that of acting in the best interests of We the Peoples of Earth, while respecting the absolute sovereignty of nations. The UN Security Council, with disproportionate and unbalanced power assumed by its permanent Member States, has dominated UN actions. Peacekeeping operations, initiated in the UN Security Council, have tried over the years to meet the needs in numerous crises, but have had little continuity or oversight. The Council has not shown an evenhandedness in choosing or refusing to commit to a situation, nor has it afforded open information exchange from affected parties or nations, nor has it ever been assured of a commitment from every nation for funding or troops and personnel for a peacekeeping operation.

In a November, 2000 New York Times news article UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed doubts that a Palestinian request for UN Peacekeeping forces to provide safety and security for the Palestinian people in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 will even be honored. There must first be agreement by Israel, according to Kofi Annan, but Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has ruled out such a mission. The article further states that while diplomats are divided, it is certain that the US will support Israel, and that Russia and China will not favor intervention, considering Chechnya and Tibet.

After the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Kofi Annan, himself, was criticized for having failed to heed warnings of impending disaster, and for withdrawing the UN peacekeeping troops at the very moment they were most needed. Moving to protect the peacekeepers themselves seemed a justly humane priority inasmuch as they were without any means of enforcing the peacekeeping or even a mandate for them to protect one segment of society from the other. What a tragedy it took to bring focus upon the painfully flawed mandate itself. But even then, the tragedy was not adequately dealt with, since a subsequent report on the Rwanda genocide, commissioned by the Organization of African Unity, was not even accepted to be placed on the agenda of the UN Security Council, nor was any move made by Council Member States to discuss it, much less address the question of mandate.

The sites of human suffering with need for UN help seem to be endless: Ethiopia-Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia, and so many places under-reported, which we learned of years too late, such as Cambodia. As a result of this, and other tragedies like East Timor, the UN Secretary General ordered:

"a comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects," also "a clear set of specific, concrete and practical recommendations to assist the United Nations in conducting such activities better in the future."

A PANEL of eminent personalities from around the world, with a wide-range of experience in the fields of peacekeeping, peace-building, as well as in the fields of development and humanitarian assistance, was assembled. The Chair was Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Foreign Minister of Algeria, who after a seven-month investigation, examining tons of documents and taking testimony from hundreds of sources, analyzed the data, and created an extensive set of recommendations. The Brahimi Report, as it is known, can be downloaded in its 74-page entirety on the UN Web site at

On August 21st, 2000, the Brahimi Report was submitted to both the General Assembly and the Security Council with an introduction from Secretary General Kofi Annan, in which he asks for support from both entities, " converting into reality the far-reaching agenda laid out in the report." And stating that "The expeditious implementation of the Panel's recommendations, in my view, is essential to make the United Nations truly credible as a force for peace."

JPEG photo of Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan.
Lakhdar Brahimi presents the Report to Kofi Annan
UN/DPI Photo by Eskinder Debebe

The Executive Summary of the Brahimi Report begins with an historical perspective, and contains extensive recommendations for change. Excerpts are presented here as follows:

"The United Nations was founded, in the words of its Charter, in order 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.' Meeting this challenge is the most important function of the Organization, and to a very significant degree it is the yardstick with which the Organization is judged by the peoples it exists to serve. Over the last decade, the United Nations has repeatedly failed to meet the challenge, and it can do no better today."

In a next paragraph, entitled Experience of the past, Brahimi states: "It should have come as no surprise to anyone that some of the missions of the past decade would be particularly hard to accomplish: They tended to deploy where conflict had not resulted in victory for any side, where a military stalemate or international pressure or both had brought fighting to a halt, but at least some of the parties to the conflict were not seriously committed to ending the confrontation. United Nations operations thus did not deploy into post-conflict situations but tried to create them."

He goes on to describe in a further paragraph entitled "Implications for peacekeeping: the need for robust doctrine and realistic mandates," "...where one party to a peace agreement clearly and incontrovertibly is violating its terms, continued equal treatment of all parties by the United Nations can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the worst may amount to complicity with evil. No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of the United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor." "...mandates should specify an operation's authority to use force...and afford the field intelligence and other capabilities needed to mount an effective defense against violent challengers. Moreover, United Nations peacekeepers—troops or police—who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it, within their means, in support of basic United Nations principles."

The entire Brahimi Report's analysis and recommendations are contained in 70 different sections detailing the need for preventive initiatives, for sound peace-building strategy, for promoting international human rights instruments, for maintaining high standards of performance with built-in accountability, for rapid deployment of forces, and for on-call expertise. These experts would be available to advise on all aspects of peacekeeping considerations, such as logistics, international law, military and civilian police, human rights, refugees, basic resources, communications, democracy-building and electoral support, along with dozens of other important areas of expertise.

Perhaps the most important suggestion of all is that peacekeeping be treated as a core activity of the United Nations, and that expanded operations and efforts be consolidated within a single branch directly under the Secretary General which would then be directly responsible for establishing strategy and policy, rather than having it emanate piecemeal from various offices and entities. The Brahimi Report especially advocates the use of up-to-the-moment Information Technology for use in intelligence gathering, and for the wide dissemination of information, especially among strategy and policy planners, and for improving field communications during peacekeeping operations.

Essential also is a continuing long-range historical and political analysis of complex regional situations to advise the peacekeeping office of potential problems, and sending fact-finding missions in support of short-term crisis-prevention action, rather than waiting and only then deciding whether or not to respond to a request or a need for peacekeeping after a crisis is full blown. Only in this context will the creation of a coherent mission plan with an achievable exit target ever be possible. An interesting suggested feature is for a Lessons Learned Department to provide feedback and a constant review of ongoing operations to guard against making the same mistake twice, which often happens without this kind of review and overview, and without a constant sharing of information.

The Brahimi Report concludes by applauding a Security Council delegation that flew to Jakarta and Dili in the wake of the East Timor crisis in 1999, (tactfully omitting the fact that the delegation was only ten years late) citing it as an example of action at its best, not just words. It calls upon the leaders of the world assembled at the Millennium Summit:

"to commit to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to fully accomplish the mission which is, indeed, its very raison d'etre: to help communities engulfed in strife to maintain or restore peace." The closing statement ends with a vision of giving "the people of a country the opportunity to build and to hold onto peace, to find reconciliation, to strengthen democracy, to secure human rights. We see, above all, a United Nations that has not only the will but also the ability to fulfill its great promise, and to justify the confidence and trust placed in it by the overwhelming majority of humankind."

Thereafter follows the balance of 74 pages of detailed specifics of the report which can be found on the UN Web site.

OPEN SESSIONS in the usually secretive UN Security Council have allowed NGO observers to witness the response of Nations to the Brahimi Report. At a meeting focused on exit strategy, almost every speaker insisted that a more important consideration was the entrance strategy. What were to be the goals? What would be the criteria for determining when they were met? Many cautioned that conflict would resume upon the departure of the peacekeeping force if it left too soon, amounting to abandonment of a fragile peace.

Some speakers insisted that no exit date should ever be set, but set only exit conditions. Elections should be only one among many goals for a peaceful transition. Governance systems must be in place and functioning. Establishment of the rule of law, maintenance of social and physical infrastructure, even operation of public utilities, creation and operation of a banking system and of tax collection are goals that experience has shown to be vital.

The term mission-creep was heard, describing the expanded role that peacekeepers have been drawn into during their operations, but this was not seen as a problem so much as a short-sighted vision and an inadequate anticipation of the sometimes inevitable long-range problems. Sometimes this seemed more to indicate impatience, reflecting the UN's precarious funding, and its need to terminate quickly so as to cut off the draining expense and the commitment of forces to a prolonged peacekeeping operation which has no far-sighted and clearly defined exit strategy. The new recommendations suggest a budget of about $150 million, considerably more than has ever been allocated in the past. Additional staffing and the reassignment of experienced UN personnel is another recommendation.

The need for robust rules of engagement was another concept discussed, with agreement that a UN peacekeeping force must be capable of defending itself against those who renege on their commitments to a peace accord, or otherwise seek to undermine the peacekeeping force by violence. Many speakers suggested the assignment of a massive and multifaceted peacekeeping force, as a psychological deterrent against challenge.

The difficulties of delivering humanitarian supplies were described. War lords who are disputing their claim to a territory want to seize and control distribution of goods so as to enhance their status with their own followers. This presents a clash of purposes that puts peacekeepers in jeopardy. Confiscation of weapons is another dangerous dilemma. The problems range from the philosophical to the practical, with no easy solutions in sight. Perhaps the Lessons Learned Department will become one of the UN's best resources.

In all the days of UN Security Council testimony in response to the Brahimi Report not one disapproving comment was heard. The general theme was Yes, Yes, Yes, Let's get on with it! Many hazards were described, and continuing difficulties were pointed out as being problems which still must be addressed, but in this relatively short time recommendations for the new peacekeeping mandate already appear to have overwhelming support.

We seem to be coming closer to the public health model; that is, for intervention in the best interests of the many, quarantining if necessary, attempting to prevent an epidemic by intercepting the spread of a dangerous organism, locating and treating those affected, while at the same time, trying to determine the root cause and eliminate the source. It has occurred to many of us that a source of much misery on the face of this earth is caused by dangerous and contagious commodities, bought and sold on the open market, those which exacerbate and promote fear, revenge, power and the accompanying implements of war.

With news of this new effort now at work within the UN to modernize and expand its peacekeeping mandate to allow a new kind of intervention in order to protect threatened peoples from crimes against humanity, most of the world community will joyfully applaud! On August 23, 2000, the US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, responded affirmatively stating:

"The UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) needs more staff, strengthened planning capacity, streamlined logistical structure, more flexible financing and the ability to move resources into the field in real time."


"Our initial perception is the report accurately reflects our main concerns about UN peacekeeping operations. We intend to work closely with the UN Secretariat and other Member States in the coming months to review the report's recommendations and develop specific plans for implementation."

It's reassuring to know that most of the nations, as well as the US State Department, will be supportive of these long-needed changes and will be willing to work toward implementing them. However, the US has been accumulating a peacekeeping debt since the mid-1990s by paying approximately 25 percent rather than the assessed 30 percent. This does not bode well for plans to even further increase UN peacekeeping spending. US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrook, points out that the US is generous in its voluntary contributions to UN programs and UN agencies, estimating the US contribution in the 2001 fiscal year to be over $2.5 billion. This is certainly commendable.

An article by UN reporter Barbara Crossette in The New York Times of November 23, 2000 describes Holbrook as worried that if no action is taken by the UN before the year ends, on the US request for budget reforms and reduction of US payments, "...that the recently improving attitude in Washington, marked by the larger allocation of money, could quickly reverse," reducing again the money for the UN. Holbrook hadn't mentioned that the threat of losing our seat on the Security Council for unpaid bills was a motivating factor for the attitude adjustment.

The US insists that other nations which have become richer since the UN assessments were originally allocated should pay a larger share, but at the UN this " viewed as the spectacle of the world's richest country seeking to avoid paying assessments commensurate with its share of world economic output."

If a new mandate for UN peacekeeping is ever to be implemented there are still many hurdles to cross, and herein lies the most worrisome factor.

The adoption and implementation of any changes in the UN peacekeeping mandate will be fought tooth-and-nail (or verse-and-chapter) by a few US right-wing patriots who have a strangle-hold on our very own US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and who continue to embarrass the US by withholding our fare-share amount of UN dues. Already paranoid about UN black helicopters invading to usurp our sovereignty, they may go completely apoplectic at the idea of our most powerful nation status being nibbled at!

On the other hand, considering that there's always hope that we humans can be better than we have been, and that actually we are all on a learning curve, perhaps we, the most powerful nation on earth, might be persuaded to supply the bulk of the peacekeeping forces and supplies. If not instead of, at least in addition to, our relentless, wasteful and mysterious preparations for war.

Well, why not? Sure it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it! Besides, we've already designated ourselves as the world's policeman. The image of a policeman doesn't necessarily have to be the monstrous Darth Vader figure with helmet and shield. There's the friendly cop-on-the-beat who knows just about everybody in the neighborhood and even helps old people cross the street.

We could even think of it in terms of full employment, and goodness knows, our jobs are going elsewhere, so we may as well follow. Perhaps a new recruitment slogan might be coined: Join the UN Peacekeepers-Visit foreign lands-Meet new people and HELP them! One wonders how the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee would view this effort? Oh, Jesse Helms, are you paying attention? This is a new Millennium challenge!

To get a glimpse of the reaction of the reactionaries to the Brahimi Report, visit the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research at This article, authored by John R. Bolton, describes the Brahimi Report as being intellectually muddled and dishonest, and so badly flawed on doctrine that it amounts to waging war, not peacekeeping. The article further warns that the proposals must be viewed with skepticism, and assures that the US Congress will view them with skepticism as well. Well, well, we shall see....

The irony of a report on the successful UN peacekeeping electoral assistance operation in Bosnia-Hertzigovina, which had observed that Nation's unmarred voting November 7th, the same day as the Presidential Election in the US, was not lost on those of us assembled in the UN Security Council Chamber. Perhaps we need such an electoral assistance force in this country. It seems quite a humiliating comeuppance for the world's greatest touter of democracy. But then, practicing democracy may mean that someday we'll get it right!

Doubly ironic is a report, also by the US State Department's Richard Boucher, on November 2nd, (remember, just five days before the US Presidential election) in which he expresses disappointment that the October 29 Presidential election in Kyrgyzstan was flawed because only six candidates appeared on the ballot, "...but regrets that fourteen other candidates were excluded from the campaign for what appear to be political reasons. In our view, the overall conduct of these elections denied the people of Kyrgyzstan the right to exercise their vote in a free and fair political contest. The United States reaffirms its support for the people of Kyrgyzstan as they continue the difficult task of building a democratic society."

After the American people have spoken out to set right those many crucial domestic matters, newly brought on stage, which question our democracy: matters of uniformity of ballots and of access to the polls; matters of multi-party access to nation-wide debates, and of campaign finance reform, reminding themselves that the "airwaves" purchased by candidates have belonged to the people since 1934; and then, the matter of the horse-and-buggy days electoral college; they may begin to feel powerful enough to take on Jesse Helms in the matter of foreign relations, and that of a wise and proper leadership role for the strongest nation, reminding that it is only one among the many nations on this earth.

~ ~ ~

Beth K. Lamont was the AHA's NGO Representative to the UN. Beth is presently an Executive Board member of and a Program Director for the Humanist Society of Metropolitan New York, the Corliss Lamont Chapter of the AHA, and is an initiator of the AHA's Humanist Advocate Program. She was Chair of AHA's Chapter Assembly, and has been involved with matters Humanistic for most of her years. She is currently a Humanist Chaplain and officiates wedding ceremonies in New York City.

A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2001 (Volume 61, Number 1) issue of The Humanist magazine (ISSN 0018-7399), published by the American Humanist Association.

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