Dwindling Trust in the United Nations as an International Peacekeeper

The United Nations was formed in 1945; it is one of the numerous political consequences of World War 2.  It replaced the League of Nations as an international institution committed to achieving cooperation between countries. The objectives stated by the Institution include protection of human rights, working as a mediator between countries to promote amicable relations and solving international disputes to ensure peace.

The UN was created and announced as the impartial need of the hour in the aftermath of World War 2; hence it has enjoyed the position of being a powerful mediator in the decades that followed. It remains the largest international organization, with 193 member states. The current increasing distrust in the UN and its dwindling image as the international peacekeeper result from a series of its failures as a peacekeeper and the inherently skewed power dynamics of the organization.

Image Description: First meeting of the United Nations Security Council at Hunter College (April 3rd, 1946)
Source: UN Multimedia

Nearing the end of the Cold War, the UN peacekeeping missions around the world increased majorly. The UN was facing a very tense geopolitical climate, economic calamities and numerous social crises. Currently, the UN is involved in 13 peacekeeping missions worldwide (Department of Peace Operations, 2021). The UN has faced multiple failures in the past as it aimed to establish its peacekeeping mission. The fiascos have categorically contributed to the argument that the UN is unhelpful at best or downright unethical at worst. As the tragedies such as those of the missions in Somalia (numerous casualties and deaths of soldiers) in 1993 and Rwanda (massacre of around 800,000 civilians) in 1994 remain fresh in people’s minds, the effectiveness of the UN remains on thin ice.

The successes and failures of various peacekeeping missions have been discussed at large by many political and scholarly entities. However, surprisingly little consideration is given to the reasons that go behind establishing a peacekeeping mission in the first place. There is a need to analyze why an international organization chooses a particular conflict region to intervene while ignoring others. In fact, the decision-making process that goes behind setting up a peacekeeping mission may at least “partially influence” the effectiveness of the mission (Mullenbach, 2005). Many instances have been cited where regions that appear to be facing similar issues of civil conflict receive different amounts of attention (or total negligence) from the UN; the Philippines, Ethiopia and Bangladesh are some countries that have faced conflicts in the past where the UN decided not to deploy a peacekeeping mission. The UN’s resounding silence in Israeli terrorism in Palestine is also one such decision that shows the UN has arbitrary reasons for selecting the regions they choose to direct their attention towards. One such reason is the UN’s commitment towards protecting the political and economic interests of the P-5, who retain veto power. Members of the P-5 have used veto power to stall negotiations that could prevent major atrocities in Syria; even draft resolutions to address the issue have been vetoed (Webb, 2014).

Image Description: The UN sends relief convoy to Madaya, a besieged town in Syria in 2016
Source: UN Multimedia and OCHA Syria

   The UN’s biggest cue in making decisions and implementing human rights enforcement is not the violation of human rights or terrorism itself but these countries’ political and economic ambitions. This structure implies an inherent imbalance of power. The argument that this system is detrimental to developing countries gathers more weight as the UN becomes increasingly blatant in selecting the conflicts it chooses to intervene. Research done on the use of the veto power by the P-5 reveals that the system goes against the objectives of the UN and proves to be “counterproductive to the global system” (Folarin and Iyase, 2018). By allowing this system to continue, the UN is not only condoning but perpetuating human rights violations in developing countries. While such a system exists, whereby powerful countries are given leverage unabashedly even in their illegal pursuits, the global peace UN wishes claims to strive for can never be attained.

While the UN is seen as a passive enabler of catastrophes to vulnerable countries at the hands of powerful countries, growing evidence demonstrates the United Nations as an active human rights violator. For instance, armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo steal gold and diamonds during the UN’s peacekeeping deployment. Moreover, the country was dubbed as the “rape capital of the world”. There is evidence of numerous sexual allegations on UN officers, which the UN does not address (Jacobson, 2012). There is a concerning lack of accountability for the UN itself. There is obscurity around how the international law applies to the UN since it is not a state and yet works as a sovereign authority (Mégret and Hoffman, 2003).

Image Description: UN Peacekeeping force
Source: UN Peacekeeping

  The peacekeeping missions have, of course, not all gone in vain. Haiti and Cambodia are cited as prominent examples of the successes of the UN’s peacekeeping missions. However, these events are exceptions where they should have been the norm for such a prominent peacekeeping organization. The organization continues to be relevant despite many failures; the expectations from the UN do not decrease. All eyes are still on the UN during times of international conflicts and humanitarian crises. The need for an international peacekeeper is still very much there and will not diminish shortly. However, the UN needs to revamp its approach and modify its structure to overcome the threat of remaining as a mere symbol of international cooperation.


This article exclusively represents the author’s views and research, not the position of The Youth Center for Research.  YCR’s Habib University Chapter facilitated the curation, editing, and publishing of the article. However, the article is not an official reflection of the beliefs, views, and attitudes of the organization.

About the Author: Rida is a Visiting Researcher at the Youth Center for Research  

References

Folarin, S., & Iyase, B. (2018). A Critique of Veto Power System in the United Nations Security Council. Acta Universitatis Danubius. Relationes Internationales, (2), 104-121.

     Retrieved from https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=741501

Jacobson, T. (2012). UN Peacekeeping: Few Successes, Many Failures, Inherent Flaws. 

 International Diplomacy And Public Policy Center, LLC. Retrieved from https://rinj.org/documents/un/un_peacekeeping_failures.pdf

Megret, F., & Hoffmann, F. (2003). The UN as a Human Rights Violator?

Some Reflections on the United Nations Changing Human Rights Responsibilities. Human Rights Quarterly25(2), 314-342. doi: 10.1353/hrq.2003.0019

Mullenbach, M. (2005). Deciding to Keep Peace: An Analysis of International Influences on the   Establishment of Third-Party Peacekeeping Missions. 

International Studies Quarterly49(3), 529-556. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2005.00376.x

Webb, P. (2014). Deadlock or Restraint?

The Security Council Veto and the Use of Force in  Syria. Journal Of Conflict And Security Law19(3), 471-488. doi: 10.1093/jcsl/kru018

Author: Rida Fatima Ahmed

Date: 19th July 2021

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