It’s Time for the U.N. to Refresh Its Neglected Cease-Fire Monitoring Skills

It’s Time for the U.N. to Refresh Its Neglected Cease-Fire Monitoring Skills
A Russian soldier on guard in front of a Russian ground attack jet parked at Hemeimeem air base, Syria, March 4, 2016 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

The words “cease-fire monitoring” are unlikely to create ripples of excitement in a group of military officers or civilian security specialists. Ambitious soldiers hanker after kinetic action, not observing static peace lines. Professional peacemakers associate tending to cease-fires with an outdated, Cold War-era approach to conflict management.

This is unfortunate. Making simple cease-fires work is hard, and it seems that neither big powers nor international organizations are much good at it. Over the past week, the cessation of hostilities in Syria has lurched toward collapse, as violence escalated around Aleppo. It may be remarkable that the lull in fighting, which began in February, has lasted this long. It is arguable that the whole thing has been a mirage. Russia and the U.S. have acted as guarantors of the agreement, but Moscow has played a double game, continuing to aid Syrian forces militarily.

Yet it is also depressingly striking that international efforts to monitor the cessation, let alone enforce it, have been paltry. The U.S. and Russia set up two centers to receive reports of violations. The American one reportedly suffered from a lack of Arabic speakers in its early days. Its Russian counterpart pumps out stories full of good news about the general state of stability in Syria that very few objective observers take seriously.

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