Diplomatic Fallout: Is Failure an Option for Older U.N. Peace Operations?

Diplomatic Fallout: Is Failure an Option for Older U.N. Peace Operations?

The United Nations may be on the verge of launching a new wave of peace operations, beginning with a blue helmet force in Mali in July. Further deployments to Somalia and Syria are also on the horizon. Yet the U.N. still has a huge amount of unfinished business to complete in countries where peacekeepers are already deployed, ranging from Haiti to Liberia and Lebanon. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his advisers look for the resources for a new generation of missions, they will face pressure to cut costs and downsize existing missions -- even if that means leaving some fragile states’ problems unresolved.

U.N. operations have always tended to come in waves. In the early 1990s, the organization deployed an unprecedented number of missions to sort out conflicts left over from the Cold War in Africa and Central America, before stumbling into the disasters of Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda. A decade later, a new set of U.N. missions deployed to West and Central Africa, while others took on outlying trouble spots such as Haiti and Timor-Leste. Throughout the early 2000s, the Security Council and U.N. Secretariat raced to keep up with the number of new missions. All too often, relatively small operations ran into major crises, as when more than 500 U.N. troops were taken hostage in Sierra Leone in 2000, making reinforcements necessary.

Those reinforcements were usually forthcoming. African and Asian states offered the necessary troops, and Western countries were willing to pay for them. The Security Council continued to green-light new operations until 2007, when it mandated more than 25,000 personnel to tackle the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur. The financial crisis the following year finally dampened the council’s appetite for new missions.

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