UN Peacekeepers: Ready for Libya?
A UN peacekeeper looks on as he patrols in a street on January 8, 2011 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (Getty Images)
August 26th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

UN Peacekeepers: Ready for Libya?

Editor's Note: Stewart M. Patrick is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he writes the blog The Internationalist) and Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance.

By Stewart M. PatrickCFR.org

With the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) preparing to meet Friday for a “thematic debate” on UN Peacekeeping, and NATO calling for a UN force to lead any post-war operation in Libya, it’s time to take stock of the world’s multilateral efforts to field troops in post-conflict zones.

The number of “blue helmets” deployed under the UN flag has grown from 20,000 in the year 2000, to 100,000 as of March 2011, with Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India ranking as the top three troop-contributing countries (TCCs). Peacekeepers are currently active in fifteen missions around the globe.

Peacekeeping is an excellent deal for U.S. taxpayers. For every U.S. quarter dollar contributed, foreign donors provide 75 cents. These operations are squarely in U.S. national interests, allowing the United States to respond to humanitarian crises and threats to regional stability, without putting its own troops in harm’s way.  Without the UN missions, the United States would likely shoulder this entire burden itself—or sit idly by as violent conflagrations erupted and atrocities ran rampant.

UN peacekeeping can also boast some major successes. In 2003, the UN Security Council (UNSC) deployed a peacekeeping force to Liberia after a 15-year civil war had devastated the country, displaced almost a third of the population, and led to over 250,000 deaths. The mission oversaw the disarmament of soldiers, while simultaneously providing political space for a new, civilian led government as well as security for UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid and restore vital infrastructure. As a result, Liberia is on the verge of another round of peaceful postwar elections.

Today, UN peacekeepers underpin a tenuous peace in Lebanon, maintain social order in post-earthquake Haiti, and patrol the volatile Kashmir region. Most recently, they supported the peaceful referendum resulting in the independence of South Sudan, the site of some of the world’s most horrific violence during the past two decades.

The critical question is whether such activism can be sustained. As Alain Le Roy, the departing UN undersecretary general for peace operations, recently explained, the United Nations is struggling to keep pace with the broadening scope and quickening tempo of peace missions. Meanwhile, fiscal pressures are threatening the financial support traditionally provided by major donors, including the United States.

Read: Getting Gadhafi to The Hague: The Case for ICC Prosecution

This is hardly the first crisis in UN peacekeeping. In 2000, a high-level review panel led by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi released a ground-breaking report on UN peace operations. The so-called “Brahimi report” envisioned a slew of reforms designed “to make peacekeeping faster, more capable, and more effective,” proposing extensive changes to existing management, organization, doctrine, training and personnel systems.  Many of these were approved and implemented.

Still, fundamental shortcomings remain: The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) still lacks its own analytical capabilities, forcing it to rely on member states for timely intelligence relevant to its field operations. Missions often suffer from poor senior leadership, inadequately trained (or unprofessional) peacekeeping contingents, a dearth of civilian experts and police units, and a chronic shortage of logistical and military capabilities, especially when it comes to “heavy lift” aircraft and attack helicopters. The actual rules of engagement are often unclear to field personnel. Finally, a damning 2005 report cited “grave concern” over widespread sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers — a black mark from which DPKO has yet to fully recover.

Perhaps most problematic, the Security Council too often saddles missions with dozens of ambitious objectives, ignoring the major Brahimi recommendation, to set realistic goals. “The Secretariat must tell the Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear,” the report insisted. Likewise, the Council does not adequately allocate funds and resources or provide sufficient political follow-through to ensure mission success. A case in point is the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), which charged a  20,000-person force with responsibility for protecting all civilians in a vast, often impassable area the size of Western Europe.

A final, gnawing problem is the often fractious relationship between the UNSC and major TCCs. Hoping to bridge this gap, President Obama held a sidebar meeting with representatives of leading troop contributors in his first trip to the United Nations in September 2009. There has been little follow up to this outreach, however, and some TCCs are growing reluctant to provide troops. Earlier this month, India moved to address the gap, circulating a note to other UNSC members in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting. It highlighted overstretched mandates of UN missions and inadequate communication between the Security Council and TCCs.

Read: A “Global” War on Terror: Multilateral Achievements since 9/11

In 2009, DPKO adopted a promising New Horizons initiative, a multi-year blueprint designed to improve UN peace operations in four critical areas, but implementing it will take time.

In the face of such strains, would it be responsible for the United States to advocate an ambitious UN Assistance Mission in Libya?

Certainly, the need is great. As my friends Richard Gowan, Bruce Jones and Jake Sherman noted in an April commentary, regardless of Gadhafi’s future, Libya will be left “in an unholy mess:”

Cities have been pummeled by artillery bombardments and refugees cluster on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. The tribal political settlement that underpinned Gadhafi’s [sic] rule has broken down. The rebels have armed thousands of ill-disciplined young men who may not lay down their arms willingly. In these circumstances, there will be no easy transition to peace.

It’s almost certain that some sort of international peacekeeping force will be required to stabilize the situation.

NATO is wise to resist sending ground troops to stabilize Libya. Not only is it preoccupied in Afghanistan, but a U.S.-European occupation would “fuel Arab suspicions that the West wants to occupy the country for its oil.” Nor does the African Union possess sufficient capabilities, particularly given its arduous mission in Somalia. Which leaves UN peacekeepers as the obvious choice.

Accordingly, the United States should work within the UNSC, with its coalition partners, and with Libya’s Transitional National Council to win support for a UN Peace Operation in Libya (UNPOL). The forces should be drawn primarily from African and Arab militaries, supplemented by troops from select European countries and rising powers like India, Brazil, and China.

Washington’s call for a UN force will be more credible if it formulates a coherent peacekeeping policy and demonstrates a clear commitment to meet its financial obligations to the United Nations. The Obama administration should promptly re-launch the peacekeeping policy review it suspended abruptly in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. And Congress must reject the ongoing efforts of House Republicans, including Representative Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to slash the country’s annual assessed contributions to UN peace operations. Such efforts to evade legal commitments will only encourage other states to pick and choose among their own international obligations.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Stewart M. Patrick.


soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Matt

    If I was them I would worry about their own buildings.

    August 26, 2011 at 10:03 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Matt, the U.N. isn't in a bad shape! I know previous adminstrations refused to contribute financially to the U.N. out of politically reasons. The idea of sending Peace-keeping troops to Libya is realistic. Once again it all depends on the quality of the forces deployed and the situation on the ground in Libya. Some missions were successful and some turned out to be disasters.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    UN Peacekeepers in Libya? Better said UN Occupiers for the right-wing thugs in Washington as they will rule Libya by proxy! This whole has been nothing but a charade from the start as the West completes it's conquest of that country through the use of these native so-called "liberators"!

    August 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • p41

      So true. And whats with showing these two black guys? Just the other day there was a story depicting about 50 "UN Peacekeepers", and only ONE was black. You could hardly tell he was black too.

      August 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
      • Jean

        Peacekeepers come from member countries' military forces. Since the above photo is in Ivory Coast it makes sense African nations would have volunteered soldiers.

        August 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Jean

      Your cynicism might not be warranted. Peacekeepers have often done a good job of keeping combatants apart and helping create space for free elections.

      August 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Reply
    • forest

      i agree with the first part ,no respect or credeblity for the u.n.in my opinion punch of theives robbing libyan oil just like they doing in iraq.

      August 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  3. 100% ETHIOPIAN

    Well, 95% of the main job is accomplished by NATO. Without NATO, the Libyan Rebels are just like Balloons on the Air.
    At the past, we heard that UN peace keepers had negative consequences;
    -weak on financially, Pakistan troops were doing illegal businesses in Somalia, under Petros Petros Ghali (former UN secretarial general) with so much expense he helped Rebel groups to divided Ethiopia in to Two, to protect the interest of his Country Egypt who is using Ethiopians Blue Nile River by force and by organizing and assisting Rebel groups to fight against Ethiopia.

    Since Petros Petros Ghali is a criminal of Genocide that starves and killed Millions of Ethiopians, he was being praised by Jihadists, Egypt s Muslim Brotherhoods and by Westerners. Now, he is living with blood tints on his hand with internationally protected without being questioned his Past crimes.

    However, the current UN Secretarial, Ban Key Moon is expected to do good job.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      What the UN Secretary General Ban Key Moon will do is to carry out orders from the right-wing thugs in Washington since he's already on there payroll!!! If you consider working for the right-wing thugs in Washington a good thing, he'll indeed do a good job!

      August 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Reply
      • 100% ETHIOPIAN

        I love America! The internal American problems can be dealt accordingly.
        But, One thing must be done to protect America and to give good reward for Founding Fathers.
        *Anyone before entering American Soil, Must be Christian and God fear.
        *Anyone who are not Christian, must be deported.
        *America never had luck of professionals. Most of the buildings and Medical equipments were built by real Americans(British Roots), Centuries ago.

        *American problems can be solved by Christians only. Today, we do have a lots of Christians who are being disadvantaged by other Religious groups in America, who also kills Christians in other Countries.

        August 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • forest

      100%ethiopian.if there is a championship for morons and idiots you will be the undisputed champion.what an idiot you are .where the hell you get your info from?

      August 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  4. Joe Fattal

    Don't get to in a hurry. Pro-Gaddafi forces are still around as long as Gaddafi is around some place encourage them to fight and pay them for it.

    August 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  5. Rudy

    First the UN Peacekeepers did not save the day in Haiti it was the deployment of the "AMERICAN TROOPS" I was here and the UN troops were disturbed that the American were here because the Haitians had more respect for the US Troops over any others who were here. Before the Earth Quake the UN had about 7,000 plus troops but they were not impressive at all when the quake hit.

    It was the AMERICAN TROOPS who saved the day so give them credit they deserve!!!!!! Finally, the ony way UN Troops could survive in Libya is after all the snipers etc...are out normally UN Troops are not good at all in a real battle only US Troops can handle that part!

    August 28, 2011 at 10:47 am | Reply
  6. califtodd

    If they would take seed for growing food in Family/Village/Tribe sized packages so they can stay home and feed their own children and neighbors they would not have any reason to pick up a gun unless their gardens were being raided,Cash has only led to corruption,ie Pakistan, Afghanistan,Iraq,The seed Companies could make the USA look good to the world and get full tax benefits with just their surplus and not short the USA of any,A very small item that would make a big splash....

    August 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply

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