UN Needs to Break Peacekeeping Deadlock in Syria

October 25, 2016 Updated: October 25, 2016

The International Peace Institute has noted that the number of uniformed Americans serving in UN-led peacekeeping operations has remained low since 1989, with the exception of the years 1992 to 1996.The deaths of eighteen U.S. commandos and wounding of 70 others in Somalia in 1993 convinced Washington policy makers that the U.S. military should operate outside the limitations of UN command, focus on traditional combat operations, and leave peacekeeping to other countries. 

In Canada, however, Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 for his peacekeeping initiative of creating the UN Emergency Force during the Suez Canal crisis; many Canadians have since considered peacekeeping as part of the country’s identity. Canada today is home to the world’s first monument to peacekeepers. Since 1947, more than 125,000 Canadian military personnel and thousands of civilians have been deployed in conflicts from Ethiopia/Eritrea, to East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia, Cyprus, Sierra Leone, Central America and a host of other “hot spots.”

Peacekeeping missions today take many forms, although all involve military from several countries, with participants serving under the authority of the UN Security Council. In 1988, UN Peacekeeping Forces were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Classic peacekeeping was used in conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Between 1948 and 1988, the UN undertook 13 peacekeeping missions, often involving lightly armed troops from Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland, India, Ireland, and Italy. The “Blue Helmets” in these missions were allowed to use force only in self-defence. They enjoyed the consent of the conflict parties and the support of the Security Council and the troop-contributing countries.

After 1989, in order to respond to situations in which civilians were victimized, “second-generation” peacekeeping began to achieve multiple objectives, often involving a combination of civilian experts, relief specialists and soldiers. Soldiers in some such missions were authorized to employ force for reasons other than self-defence.

In the 1990s, second-generation peacekeeping was undertaken in Cambodia, former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and elsewhere. In former Yugoslavia, the Security Council created “safe areas” to protect the Bosnian Muslim population from Serbian attacks where UN troops were authorized to defend them with force. At their peak in 1993, more than 80,000 peacekeeping troops representing 77 nations were deployed on missions.

In 1994, Romeo Dallaire of Canada was appointed the UN mission commander to Rwanda, with one Canadian assistant and not a single Canadian soldier under his command.  The lack of troops—and the overall handling of the mission from national capitals and New York— brought appalling consequences, as Dallaire later wrote in his book, “Shake Hands with the Devil. Only after the worst of the genocide ended were Canadian troops released from other assignments to join him in Rwanda.

The dominant role of the United States in UN peacemaking in Korea in 1950-53 and the Persian Gulf in 1990–91 prompted much debate over whether collective security could ever be achieved apart from the interests of powerful countries.

U.S. bombing of Iraq subsequent to the Gulf War created controversy about whether the raids were justified under existing UN Security Council resolutions and whether the United States was entitled to undertake military actions in the name of collective security without explicit U.N. approval.

This year, approximately 100,000 uniformed personnel from 123 countries are serving in 16 peacekeeping operations.

The ongoing Syrian civil war has caused an estimated 400,000 deaths and forced approximately half the population from their homes during more than 2000 days.  Russian/Syrian planes on Sept. 19 destroyed 18 trucks in a U.N. convoy carrying humanitarian aid to east Aleppo.  Secretary of State John Kerry subsequently called for a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria.

Tensions worsened in the Security Council on Oct. 9 when Russia vetoed a resolution drafted by France, demanding an immediate end to the bombing campaign in Aleppo. A measure put forward by Russia, which called for a cease-fire but made no mention of a halt to the airstrikes, was rejected after failing to obtain nine votes from the 15-member council.

It was the fifth time since 2011 that Moscow vetoed U.N. action in Syria and evoked many more calls for reforming veto use by the five permanent veto-holding governments on the Council.

The peacekeeping and peacemaking roles of the UN Security Council are in shambles at present, primarily because of multiple veto abuse by Russia and China over the Syrian catastrophe.  

Last Friday, Canada and 71 other nations asked for a special meeting of the General Assembly to discuss ways to halt the hostilities and achieve humanitarian access, invoking a rare but valid procedure to provide a role to the General Assembly when the Security Council is deadlocked. All 193 member states of the United Nations should support the initiative.

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.