Peacekeeping needs adjustments

Major General (Retired) Lewis MacKenzie will be granted an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree today during the convocation ceremony. MacKenzie received most of his acclaim for his service as the UN Commander of Sector Saravejo in 1992 as combat raged around the besieged city’s airport. Recognition of his achievements brings to mind the pitfalls of peacekeeping.

UN peacekeeping missions have a multitude of problems, some of which are caused by the belligerent factions and some of which are caused by the attitudes of the UN itself. To be successful, participating peacekeeping nations must be resolved to stay in the beleaguered area. Staying between the lines long enough allows for trust to build between opposing populations and for mediation to settle disputes. Little is gained when troops are deployed for short periods because countries with only a tentative grasp on peace can quickly slide back into the mire of war and/or anarchy. A prime example of this is the ill-fated Somalia mission of 92-93.

Unfortunately, staying in a wartorn area costs billions of dollars and costs UN peacekeepers their lives. The time commitment to re-establish peace can be enormous, sometimes lasting decades. For example the Cyprus mission began in the late ’50s and continues today. The strain on countries providing troops and support wears heavily. For these reasons, nations cannot be blamed for lacking enthusiasm to commit to lengthy missions where there is little prospect of a quick, clean resolution of the conflict.

Also, mission selection greatly reflects the attitudes of the Security Council. While civil wars swept Africa in the early ’90s without any attempt at UN intervention, the UN committed massive resources to a mostly impotent attempt to quell the civil war in the collapsing Republic of Yugoslavia. Why? Perhaps because the idea of a war in Europe (horrible as that is) where Caucasians kill Caucasians is much less acceptable to UN officials than one where black Africans kill black Africans. The failure of the UN to act to avert genocide in Rwanda in 1993 reeks of this distinction between Europe and Africa.

A relatively small UN contingent could have prevented wholesale massacre, but requests and warnings from the field were ignored or disregarded. The apathy shown towards African states on the verge of war or mired in conflict compared to UN efforts in other countries is inexcusable.

Before the UN and Canada commit themselves to other missions, these difficulties should be considered before placing a single peacekeeper on the ground. Recognizing MacKenzie only highlights one aspect of peacekeeping and serves to remind us of the many changes that need to be made regarding UN peacekeeping.

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