A2 History (Unit 3) IR 1945-2004 (24) the role of the UN in post Cold war era 1991-2004


Youtube documentary: History of UN Peacekeeping missions

Focus on 1990s – Rwanda, Bosnia & Sierra Leone

More general look at peacekeeping

Focal points

  • Invasion of Kuwait/Gulf War
  • Rwanda 1994
  • Bosnia 1995
  • ‘War on terror’: Afghanistan War

source: http://elibrary.kiu.ac.ug:8080/jspui/bitstream/1/161/1/United%20Nations%20Interventionism.pdf

The above e-source has chapters on; Cambodia, Former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, East Timor, Kosovo & Sierra Leone


The impact of the Cold War and its aftermath The Cold War silenced the debate between pluralists and solidarists. The use of the veto, primarily until 1966 by the Soviet Union and thereafter, by the West, also ensured that even pluralist conceptions of legitimate intervention were seldom put to the test. By the same token, the stand-off between the two superpowers ensured that there was little room for contesting the political vocabulary of international affairs. Thus, state sovereignty was the principle that not only took priority over all others – except of course when it stood in the way of state or alliance interests – but was also regarded as self-evident: either you had it or you did not. By entrenching sovereignty on either side of the ideological divide, other awkward questions were put safely out of reach. Eventually, virtually all states signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the majority also ratified the two supporting conventions,5 but it was governments alone which decided how they should implement their commitments. With the exception of South Africa, whose apartheid policy was singled out for international criticism from 1960 onwards, governments were not held to account for their human rights record. And even South Africa, which fell prey to an alliance between the ex-colonial states and the Soviet bloc, and which made the mistake of violating the professed values of the Western democracies, was nonetheless protected by the West from effective international sanctions. Respect for sovereignty not only prevented humanitarian intervention but entailed respect for the territorial integrity of existing states. The merits of claims for national self-determination were never considered. Despite the right of all peoples to self-determination contained in the Charter, the exercisex of this right came to be identified only with European decolonisation. Subsequent secessions and/or irredentist enlargements were ruled out. This meant that the criteria for state creation and recognition, other than in the context of decolonisation, were never examined. The transfer of power generally followed a test of local opinion, but in many cases the independence election was the last to be held during the Cold War period. Authoritarian regimes replaced democratically elected ones, without it affecting in any way their membership of the international society. Article 2 (7) of the Charter 5 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. 6 James Mayall did not discriminate in the protection it provided to regimes from interference in their domestic affairs. Finally, the combination of paralysis in the Security Council, caused by the virtually automatic use of the veto by one or the other side, and the conventional, static and unreflective interpretation given to the principle of state sovereignty marginalised the UN in what had been intended as its central role – the provision of a credible system of international peace and security. It is, of course, by no means certain that the outcome would have been any different in the absence of the Cold War. Indeed, a counterfactual analysis reinforces some of the negative evidence reviewed in this book. On this view, it is the ungoverned nature of the state system and the deep attachment to the principle of state sovereignty, however chimerical it may prove to be, that explains the resistance of international society to improvement of a solidarist kind, rather than any particular configuration of power. However, what seems likely is that, without the Cold War, the issue would have been settled one way or the other long before now. The Cold War left two other legacies which cast a long and ambiguous shadow over subsequent attempts at reform. The first was the introduction of a distinction between the humanitarian and the political, and security dimensions of the international society. Since there was little prospect of forcing states to honour their obligations with respect to human rights, non-governmental organisations became adept at working to relieve suffering, with the tacit consent of state authorities and without confronting, let alone challenging, their sovereignty. So did UN agencies such as the UNHCR and UNICEF. This practice, while hardly ideal, worked well enough so long as the states in question were propped up by one or the other side in the Cold War, or indeed by their own efforts. But the idea that there could be an international humanitarian order, somehow divorced from political or strategic considerations, was an illusion, as we shall see, became abundantly clear when the state collapsed in Yugoslavia and Somalia. The point was driven home when Rwanda was abandoned to its genocide in 1994 and when the Indonesian military was left in charge of security in the run up to the referendum in East Timor in 1999, thus triggering the humanitarian catastrophe with which the UN then had to deal. The second legacy of the Cold War to international society was the theory and practice of peacekeeping. The Charter had envisioned international action to repel or deter aggression under Chapter VII and measures, falling short of enforcement, to facilitate the pacific settlement of disputes under Chapter VI. It has generally been assumed that Introduction 7 peacekeeping falls under Chapter VI, although it was an improvisation, largely developed by the second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjo¨ld, as a way of insulating areas of conflict from the Cold War. Peacekeeping operations depended on a mandate from the Security Council, and could therefore be mounted only where there was no objection from one or the other of the superpowers. These operations also depended on the consent of the conflicting parties and circumstances where a ceasefire had been agreed, and there was, therefore, a peace to keep. Since the ceasefire agreements that the UN was called upon to police were generally precarious, success depended on the peacekeeping forces being trusted by both sides. This in turn required strict impartiality. The expertise developed by the UN during the Cold War stands as one of the organisation’s major achievements. The legacy is ambiguous only to the extent that peacekeeping techniques were developed within the constraints imposed by the Cold War, thus making a virtue out of necessity. Once it was over, the organisation found itself drawn into conflicts with different characteristics and for different reasons. For a time it became fashionable to talk of peace enforcement by the UN in situations which, it was claimed, fell halfway between Chapter VI and Chapter VII. As we shall see, in entertaining the possibility of a Chapter Six-and-a-half solution, the UN ran serious risks of becoming part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Much the same conclusion was reached by Boutros Boutros-Ghali himself in the Supplement to Agenda for Peace, which he published in 1995.6 The three UN interventions examined in the first edition of this book, and reprinted here, all bear the imprint of the Cold War and the structure it imposed on international relations. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 was never accepted by the majority of UN member states, despite the fact that the government installed by Vietnam replaced the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Throughout the second phase of the Cold War, Vietnam was protected by the Soviet Union largely for power and for political reasons stemming from its rivalry with China and the United States. After 1985, when the Soviets progressively withdrew their support, possibilities for a political resolution of the conflict emerged. Even then, so strong was the regional interest in favour of sovereignty and against the recognition of regimes imposed from outside, that it was possible to involve the Vietnamese-imposed government only by creating a Supreme National Council, on which all 6 Supplement to an Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, A/50/60, S/1995/1, 3 January 1995, paras. 33–46. 8 James Mayall Cambodian factions including the Khmer Rouge were represented. It was this council that was held to embody national sovereignty and which occupied the Cambodian seat at the UN.7 Simultaneously, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established with the unenviable, and ultimately impossible, task of creating a neutral political environment. If the Cambodian intervention drew the UN into a complicated internal conflict concerning the legitimacy of the incumbent regime and its right to international recognition, its involvement in former Yugoslavia arose from the failure of international society to address two other issues: legitimate secession and the protection of minority rights. Although communist, Yugoslavia occupied a kind of ideological no-man’s land during the Cold War. Indeed, after the rift with Stalin in 1948, Tito was able to exploit this status to extract tacit guarantees of the country’s independence. After his death the structure he had created disintegrated; and since economically Yugoslavia had little to offer, the outside world lost interest in it. The major powers appear to have given little thought to secession and the problems of recognition that it might pose. The working definition of self-determination as decolonisation had been tested several times during the Cold War, but only Bangladesh had fought itself successfully to independence, and then only after the decisive intervention of the Indian army. When the Yugoslav federation fell apart, the Western powers supported the restoration of democracy in the national republics, but paid little attention to the fears of minorities that would predictably arise. The Charter does not recognise minorities as having rights, vesting these entirely with the sovereign state on the one hand and the individual on the other. The collapse of communism led to an exaggerated optimism about the possibility of basing the international order on democratic foundations and about the utility of elections as a technique for conflict resolution. When, in multicultural societies such as Yugoslavia, they had the opposite effect, the UN was called upon to relieve the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe, without any clear understanding of what it could or should do. Humanitarian disaster was the sole reason for the UN’s third major post-Cold War intervention in Somalia. In this case there was no unresolved international problem deriving from the Cold War, since Somali irredentism had been finally abandoned after the country’s defeat in the battle for the Ogaden in 1978. Nonetheless, the Cold War had largely shaped the crisis that led to eventual UN intervention in 1992. 7 See chapter 2, pp. 33–5. Introduction 9 Somalia, a desperately poor country, had one saleable asset, namely its strategic coastline on the Red Sea. Under its dictatorial president, Siyad Barre, this asset was traded first to the Soviet Union and then to the United States, primarily in return for military hardware. This was in turn used to fuel inter-clan competition – the traditional pattern of politics in a society where the state was an exotic import – and to establish a dangerously unstable clan hegemony, unprecedented in Somali history.8 The end of the Cold War left Siyad Barre without any international cards to play, and exposed him to attack by rival clan alliances, that had been put together to break his hegemonic control of the state. The aftermath of the battle left Somalia without a state of any kind, and so confronted the UN with an unfamiliar problem: how to deal with a country without a government. In a variety of ways, the Cold War thus bequeathed to the UN the three major crises in which the capacity of its members to forge a new order would be tested. Even then, it is by no means certain that the Security Council would have mounted these operations – or at least those in former Yugoslavia and Somalia, where military intervention preceded rather than followed the implementation of a serious ceasefire – had it not been for the dramatic success of Operation Desert Storm in driving Iraq out of Kuwait in February 1991. With hindsight, it is clear that the Gulf War was atypical of the crises that the UN would be called upon to deal with in the post-Cold War world. It arose out of a straight-forward attack by one member of the UN on another. Iraq not only violated an internationally recognised political boundary, ostensibly in pursuit of an irredentist claim, but proceeded to annex Kuwait. As a result, it proved relatively easy to put together a wide-ranging alliance, including the majority of states in the immediate region, and, on the basis of unanimity among the P5, to repel the invasion. It was, more or less, the Charter working as originally intended. The subsequent involvement in Iraq’s internal affairs – to impose from the air safe havens for the Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south – was far more controversial9 even though they were apparently accepted by Saddam Hussein in a series of memoranda of 8 See chapter 4, pp. 102–7. 9 This was because the legal rather than the moral basis on which these actions were taken was questionable. While some writers have seen it as the first move in the evolution of a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention, it was greeted with suspicion by several members of the Security Council who saw it as evidence of weakening Western resolve to uphold Article 2 (7). See Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury, ‘The UN’s Role in International Society’, in Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury (eds.), United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s Role in International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 35–6. 10 James Mayall understanding. The circumstances that made it possible – and indeed morally necessary – arose directly out of Iraq’s defeat in the war and the proximity of Turkish airfields to northern Iraq. They were not likely to be repeated elsewhere; yet it was this aspect of the operation that led those who favoured a more active UN role in international security to see it as a precedent for a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention. This enthusiasm even communicated itself to governments. As Anthony Parsons, a former British permanent representative to the UN, observed: When the Security Council met at the level of heads of government in January 1992, all speakers expressed confidence regarding the peace-making and peacekeeping capability of the Organisation in the post cold war climate, and many undertook to strengthen its capacity to act pre-emptively before disputes degenerated into conflict. There was no hint from any delegation that the UN was anything but a major asset in terms of national interest, let alone global peace – a far cry from the equivocations of the mid-1980s.10 It was against this background of hope tinged with euphoria that the UN embarked on three operations of a scale and complexity never previously attempted.

The post-Cold War context The Cold War was less obviously a major influence in this second wave of crises, although even here, particularly in Kosovo and East Timor, trace elements of Cold War structures can be detected amongst their underlying causes. In these cases, however, it was the early efforts of the UN itself to put in place a new security framework – and most notably the failures that accompanied some of these efforts – rather than the Cold War that provided the international background against which the drama was enacted. The UN was soon aware that it was sailing into largely uncharted seas and that it needed to learn lessons from its exposure in the new world of expanded peacekeeping and building, if its performance was to improve. As we shall see, the gap between perceiving the need to learn from experience, and actually learning from it, proved harder to bridge. What were widely represented as UN failures in Bosnia and Somalia initially had a negative impact on the Rwandan and Kosovo crises. The international response to the Rwandan genocide is rightly seen as the lowest point in the UN’s post-Cold War history. Most of the blame 10 Anthony Parsons, ‘The UN and the National Interests of States’, in Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury (eds.), United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s Role in International Relations, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 117. Introduction 11 attaches to the members of the Security Council, but the organisation itself and its secretariat do not emerge unscathed. Essentially, when faced with the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the post-Cold War era, the international community did nothing. The crisis blew up in the immediate aftermath of the American withdrawal from Somalia. The Security Council first sounded a retreat from Chapter VII to Chapter VI, reluctantly agreeing to an inadequately resourced peacekeeping mission, and repeatedly ignoring evidence that the Arusha powersharing agreement that it was meant to underwrite, was under threat from Hutu extremists. Then, when the genocide started in April 1994, even this force was reduced to a size that was barely capable of defending itself, let alone intervening to stop the slaughter, for which, in any case, it had no mandate. All the major powers avoided doing anything that might have encouraged reference to the 1948 Genocide Convention, and the United States refused to provide logistical support to the Nigerian government when it offered to lead a force for stopping the killing and enforcing a cease-fire. If the Rwandan crisis was the UN’s unfinest hour in Africa, the Kosovo crisis saw it ignored altogether in Europe. The reasons were different, although in both cases they hinged on American policy. In Rwanda, the United States was unwilling to take any action within the United Nations or outside it. In Kosovo, they were prepared to act but not under the auspices of the UN. Their reluctance to use the UN was a reflection of the frustration that had led them to abandon it in seeking an end to the wars of the Yugoslav succession. American diplomatic efforts finally led to the convening of a peace conference on Bosnia-Herzegovina, at a US Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. This conference led to a comprehensive peace agreement that was formally signed in Paris on 14 December 1995. Under it, the UN handed over peacekeeping responsibility to NATO, a move that had become politically necessary after the Somali crisis if US ground troops were to participate. At Dayton, the Americans had decided against pressing the Kosovo issue in order to secure the agreement of Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic´. From the American point of view, therefore, NATO rather than the UN was already the organisation of choice once it was no longer possible for the Western powers to ignore the plight of the Kosovar Albanians. There were also both legal and political reasons that stood in the way of using the UN to force a resolution of the Kosovo crisis. Neither the break up of the Soviet Union nor of Yugoslavia had been welcomed with enthusiasm by the international community. In the former, a loose analogy with post-1945 European decolonisation, plus the fact that Stalin’s nationality policy had led to the creation of Soviet Republics 12 James Mayall along ethnic lines, allowed the UN to accommodate the successor states without altering its position on secession. By the same token the aspirations of the Chechnyans for self-determination were ignored because Chechnya was part of the Russian Federation and not a Republic in its own right. In the latter case, the same end was achieved by treating the internal boundaries between the national states of the former Yugoslav Federation as international boundaries. As with Chechnya, Kosovo was excluded from this accommodation, since it was an integral part of Serbia, albeit, theoretically with a special status. There was no difference between the United States and the rest of the Security Council on the issue of secession. Indeed, at Dayton, the United States expended huge diplomatic and financial resources to ensure an outcome that maintained the fiction that the boundaries on the ground had not been changed by force. As it stands at present international law denies a right of unilateral secession in pursuit of selfdetermination. This was most recently confirmed in an Advisory opinion sought by the Supreme Court of Canada in relation to Quebec, although it is true that the opinion also stated that there was some evidence that in cases of sustained and large-scale human rights abuse of a minority population, a customary right might be evolving. Whether this will eventually be proved in Kosovo remains to be seen. Meanwhile, six years after its ‘liberation’, the unwillingness of international society to sanction the dismemberment of even an unpopular member state remains a formidable obstacle to achieving a final status for the territory. Despite the damage done to its reputation by its failure to act effectively in Rwanda, and its initial marginalisation in Kosovo, the UN also derived some longer-term benefits from its experience in these conflicts. As Bruce Jones demonstrates in chapter 5, the Rwandan crisis delivered some necessary shock therapy to an institution that from the beginning has been a dumping ground for some of the world’s most intractable problems. In 2001, President Clinton declared in Kigali that a similar tragedy must never be allowed to recur. The path to hell is paved with good intentions and sadly little has been done since to give one much confidence that world leaders will be able to deliver on Clinton’s commitment. Indeed, the vacillating and ineffective response to the Darfur crisis in western Sudan, when it forced its way into public consciousness in 2004, as well as the totally inadequate international response to the prolonged and murderous, yet largely invisible, crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, suggest that they will not. Nonetheless, since the Rwandan debacle, whenever the authority of the UN has been directly challenged in a crisis in which it is already involved, as in East Timor Introduction 13 and Sierra Leone, both the Secretariat and the Security Council have reacted more robustly than they did in Rwanda. Similarly, as Spyros Economides argues in chapter 8, while NATO had been able to initiate the intervention outside the UN, it could not end the crisis without bringing it back in. The political reason was that Russia supported Serbia for both cultural and geopolitical reasons. The NATO powers could not seek Security Council authorisation for fear of a Russian veto. On the other hand, they could not transform their military victory into a diplomatic and political settlement without Russian cooperation. The end result was the creation of a de facto UN trusteeship over Kosovo. This was itself problematic, and faced the UN with a new set of challenges, not all of which have been successfully overcome, but at least it established that the world body could not simply be dispensed with, and that it was the most obviously legitimate lead agency in post-conflict reconstruction. Two of the remaining three interventions that we examine – East Timor and Sierra Leone – were in different ways directly influenced by the UN’s cathartic failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide and its exclusion from the military campaign but subsequent involvement in the post-conflict reconstruction of Kosovo. In other respects, all three built on and were continuous with the first wave of UN interventions during the period of post-Cold War activism. Haiti arguably stands alone, in that the intervention was driven by the US interest in stemming the flow of sea-borne refugees following the overthrow of the Aristide government. But, like Somalia, Haiti demonstrated that when the Security Council has a will to act, the traditional interpretation of a threat to international peace and security as an actual or threatened aggression across a recognised international border, need not necessarily inhibit action under Chapter VII of the Charter. As in former Yugoslavia, the international reaction to the Haitian crisis also reflected the complex division of labour and the evolving relationship between regional organisations and the UN. In Central America, the Organisation of American States (OAS) had been instrumental in persuading the UN to view democratisation as an instrument of conflict resolution; and Haiti was the first case where the overthrow of a democratically elected government was interpreted by the Security Council as a threat to international peace and security. From a legal point of view, East Timor was the least complicated and most successful of the second wave of UN interventions. In these respects it had much in common with Cambodia. In both cases the UN was brought in to help resolve a long-standing international dispute, along lines that had been previously agreed. East Timor was also 14 James Mayall relatively uncomplicated politically because it was unfinished business from the Cold War era. By rights, it should have become an independent state under the convention that equated the Charter right of selfdetermination with European decolonisation. By the mid-1960s, it had been accepted that colonies had a right to independence in accordance with the principle of uti possidetis juris, that is within the boundaries established by the outgoing colonial power. Portugal’s African colonies – Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique – had achieved independence following the 1974 Portuguese Revolution under this formula. In East Timor, Indonesia had pre-empted this possibility by annexing the territory in 1975, justifying its action on ethnic grounds, despite the fact that the Indonesian nationalist movement had never previously claimed ethnicity as the basis of the nation. The annexation took place in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and the forced US withdrawal from Indochina, so it was perhaps not surprising that the West acquiesced in the annexation, since it removed the danger of another post-colonial Marxist regime. Nonetheless, with the exception of Australia, no Western country recognised Indonesia’s takeover. The end of the Cold War had no immediate impact on Indonesia’s determination to hold onto the territory, but the velvet revolution in Eastern Europe and the spread of democracy in Africa and Latin America, inevitably raised expectations in other parts of the world, including East Timor. As Boutros Boutros-Ghali had been careful to point out in his Agenda for Peace, not every dissatisfied group could expect to have its claims to statehood recognised. But for East Timor, like Eritrea before it, the cards were stacked in its favour. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the downfall of President Suharto opened a window of opportunity. Coming hard on the heels of the establishment of its administration in Kosovo, the UN again found itself called upon to set up an administration, in this case to prepare East Timor for independence in 2002. The intervention in Sierra Leone was at times threatened with disaster but in the end finished up by doing more to restore the UN’s tarnished reputation than any other operation. As Adekeye Adebajo and David Keen show in their contribution to this volume there was a major element of luck – or at least fortuna – in this outcome. It could certainly have gone the other way. The problem for the UN in Sierra Leone was not the mandate: Haiti had established that the restoration of an elected government could be interpreted as a legitimate reason for invoking Chapter VII; operations in both Somalia and former Yugoslavia had been justified by the need to halt a humanitarian catastrophe; and the Yugoslav and Haitian operations had been carried out in close Introduction 15 cooperation with regional organisations. Rather the problem in Sierra Leone was how to generate both the resources and the political will to act in a crisis that lay beyond the spotlight of world affairs. Although potentially much richer, unlike the Horn of Africa, West Africa had never been a major zone of super-power confrontation. Moreover, given Nigeria’s periodic aspirations to act as a regional hegemon, it was both convenient and relatively easy for the P5 to look the other way when first Liberia and then Sierra Leone collapsed into civil war and anarchy. Curiously, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has always worked better as a security organisation than as a mechanism for promoting economic integration. The most probable explanation is that in the latter area, a lack of complementarity between regional economies and fear of Nigerian dominance inhibit serious cooperation, whereas in the former, joint action addresses the shared fear of regional governments of insurgencies spreading from state to state. It also allows Nigeria to exercise legitimate leadership and the smaller states to protect their interests with its help. Nonetheless, by largely ignoring the humanitarian consequences of state collapse in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Western members of the Security Council, and particularly Britain, found themselves caught in a contradiction. Following the drawing up of the Harare Declaration at the Commonwealth summit in 1991, those who took power by force were suspended from Commonwealth membership. Nigeria itself was suspended in 1995 after its military dictator, Sani Abacha, had ignored Commonwealth pressure and executed the writer, Ken Sara Wiwa, and nine other Ngoni activists, as was Sierra Leone following the overthrow of the elected government of Ahmad Kabbah by Major Johnny Paul Koroma in 1997. Governments, which were preaching democratisation, not merely as an instrument of conflict resolution but as the basis of the post-Cold War international order, found themselves in the invidious position of depending on an odious military dictator to restore to power the elected government in Freetown. The death of Abacha in June 1998 paved the way for Nigeria’s return to civilian rule, but the newly elected President Obansanjo quickly called the international community’s bluff, making the perfectly reasonable argument that he could not be expected to address the manifold problems that had to be tackled at home in order to entrench democracy and simultaneously carry the main burden of policing the West African region. The stage was set for the UN, helped at a critical point by the United Kingdom acting unilaterally but in support of UN objectives, to both secure the Sierra Leone government against any recurrence of the insurgency and to oversee the country’s reconstruction. 16 James Mayall So much for the international and diplomatic background to the eight UN interventions that are the subject of this study. The countries involved were on four different continents, and apart from having been marked by the Cold War in the ways just described, and in the case of the second wave by ambiguous legacy of earlier UN interventions, the conflicts in which they were caught up had widely different origins. Nonetheless, we shall be able to assess how the organisation coped with the challenge only if we can identify common themes which united these operations, despite the contrasts.

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