The world community calls them “Blue Helmets” or “peacekeepers,” and the UN defines their mission as “a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace” by implementing and monitoring post-conflict peace processes former combatants have agreed to under provisions of the UN Charter. The Charter empowers the Security Council to take collective action to maintain international peace and security that includes authorizing peacekeeping operations provided a host country agrees to have them under Rules of Engagement developed and approved by all parties. At that point, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations enlists member nations to provide force contingents to be deployed once the Security Council gives final approval.
Once in place, Blue Helmets are supposed to help in various ways including monitoring the withdrawal of combatants, building confidence, enforcing power-sharing agreements, providing electoral support, aiding reconstruction, upholding the rule of law, maintaining order, and helping efforts toward economic and social development. Above all, “peacekeeping” missions are supposed to be benevolent interventions. They’re sent to conflict areas to restore order, maintain peace and security and provide for the needs of people during a transitional period until a local government takes over on its own.
Far too often, however, things don’t turn out that way, and Blue Helmets end up either creating more conflict than its resolution or being counterproductive or ineffective. In the first instance, peacekeepers become paramilitary enforcers for an outside authority. In the second, they do more harm than good because they’ve done nothing to ameliorate conditions or improve the situation on the ground and end up more a hindrance than a help. This article focuses mostly on the former using Haiti as the primary case study example after reviewing peacekeeping operations briefly in six other countries. In each case, the examples chosen show people on the ground as helpless victims of imperial exploitation (usually US-directed) with UN Blue Helmets used by outside powers for social control and domination, not keeping the peace.
First, a brief account of other failed “peacekeeping” missions is reviewed after an overview of the UN, its founding purpose and how the US dominates and undermines the world body for its own interests.
The UN – Its Founding Purpose and Mission
The UN was established in 1945 after WW II when 50 original member countries signed its Charter in San Francisco. Today 192 nations are member states. Its founding Charter states its purpose and mandate is: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war….reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights….(support) equal rights of men and women….of nations large and small….establish conditions under which justice….can be maintained….promote social progress….practice tolerance and live in peace (and promote) economic and social advancement of all peoples.” From its founding date till now, the world body failed on all counts even though some of its agencies (like UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and UNESCO) have a history of providing important services in areas of health, education, food assistance, aiding refugees, social development and more.
Nonetheless, the UN is hamstrung by a serious obstacle. Its dominant member is the US that undermines the world body’s authority and effectiveness for its own imperial interests. It does it through its Security Council veto power, by withholding dues, disengaging from UN activities or just muscling or bribing member states to get its way. It gets away with it by being the world’s leading economic, political and military superpower beholden to no interests but its own. It takes full advantage, and for over half a century used the UN as its foreign policy instrument or rendered it ineffective by inaction or obstruction. If allowed to be a voice for all member states, the UN could be a powerful one for global democratic governance and promotion of social equity and equal justice. Instead one dominant nation’s veto power trumped the will of all others causing a shameful history of UN failure and ineffectiveness. As long as a single nation’s monkey wrench can jam its works, the UN will never fulfill its founding purpose.
It’s apparent in its Charter-mandated peacekeeping role. If the UN functioned as a neutral international body pursuing its founding mission, it would always act to establish and maintain peace in every conflict area. It doesn’t because its dominant member won’t let it. So it failed to act when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 slaughtering hundreds of thousands in a secretly US-authorized aggression including the arming and supporting of Indonesian military TNI forces. It stood by again after the East Timorese voted by referendum for independence in 1999 after which TNI forces attacked and slaughtered thousands more.
The UN did nothing during South Africa‘s border wars and invasion of Namibia in the 1960s and 70s and allowed a 36 year civil war to go on in Guatemala following the CIA fomented coup in 1954 ousting the country’s democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. It ignored a succession of oppressive military and civilian governments still ruling the country. It allowed them to compile the hemisphere’s worst human rights record even after the UN brokered a Peace Accord formally ending the civil conflict mainly against the country’s indigenous Mayan majority slaughtering 200,000 of them. It still ignores the government’s shameless human rights abuses in a country Amnesty International calls a “land of injustice.” But it happens to be one the US considers a close ally, and that’s all that counts as Washington has the final say on most everything at the UN.
These are a few of the many examples of UN failures to address injustice throughout the world on every continent. It belies discredited former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s standing up for the Security Council claiming it has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It can’t even prevent human rights abuses because it’s mostly a talking shop, and the world body overall is a wholly owned subsidiary of the nation where its headquartered. It uses it to pursue its imperial agenda knowing no nation will dare try stopping it most often. And when the threat arises, Washington ignores it to do what it pleases like attacking Iraq without required Security Council approval and threatening now to extend the conflict to Iran on blatantly false cooked up charges that smell as bad as the WMD ones about its occupied neighbor.
UN Peacekeeping Operations
UN peacekeeping operations began in 1948 with its first one ever UNTSO mission to monitor the Arab-Israeli first of two brief failed truces in Israel‘s “War of Independence” beginning in June, 1948. The operation is still ongoing, peace was never achieved, the UN plays no active role, and UNTSO wastes money and takes up space observing and reporting what it wishes selectively while Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have total control of everything on the ground. UNTSO ineffectiveness shows in the way the IDF continues repressing and assaulting defenseless Palestinians while the UN gets out of their way functioning as little more than worthless window dressing. In 2006 it had a meager staff of 371 military and civilian observers and a budget of $30 million, all of which could have been better spent elsewhere on a real mission for a real purpose if there are any.
That inauspicious start was symbolic of what lay ahead in 61 total peacekeeping missions undertaken to date ignoring all the other conflicts it should have intervened in but didn’t. Currently 16 missions are ongoing as of year end 2006 plus two other small special political and/or peacebuilding ones with 113 countries contributing 99,817 military troops, observers, police and civilians budgeted for the 12 months through June, 2007 at $4.75 billion under names like UNIFIL in Lebanon created in 1978 for the same purpose it’s still there for and now enlarged following Israel’s withdrawal from the country last summer after its horrific invasion and assault weeks earlier.
UNIFIL Blue Helmets in Lebanon