Maintaining Peace In Unconventional Conflicts

By Eddie Neufville

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 9, 2003

Since the end of the cold war, the world has seen major changes in the number and nature of armed conflicts. The proliferation of civil wars and other internal conflicts within states now threaten international peace and security and cause massive human suffering. Peacekeeping, which developed as a means of dealing with inter-state conflicts, is now being applied increasingly to intra-state conflicts and civil wars. As a result, peacekeepers often find themselves in internal conflicts where irregular forces and militias ignore ceasefire agreements, where the rule of law is nonexistent and the constant shifting lines of confrontation often complicate their tasks. Local parties sign peace accords to "buy time" and renege on their commitments and in many times undermine the peace agreements by resorting to violence, such as was the case in Cambodia, Liberia, Angola, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, just to name a few. In these situations, peacekeepers have sought to stabilize the situations and minimize the suffering of non-combatants through negotiations and political pressure.

However, there are times when the jobs of peacekeepers have become impossible. Questions of what tasks should peacekeepers undertake and how prepared are the peacekeepers to confront the lingering forces of war and violence are being raised in the aftermath of the crisis in Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Somalia. These conflicts demonstrate the limits of peacekeeping and the unwillingness of sponsors to place their forces in harm's way unless occasioned through peace enforcement activities under national control, such as the Kosovo mission. The memories of dead American soldiers in Somalia, the dead Belgian peacekeepers in Rwanda, and the kidnapping of United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone explain some of the difficulties that United Nations member states face when they attempt to convince their legislatures and their citizens to support United Nations peace operations.
The traditional idea of peacekeeping tries to prevent hostilities from erupting or resuming or to help a society rebuild in the aftermath of the war by using the minimum level of force necessary to achieve their aims. However, internal conflicts and civil wars where multiple armed factions with different political objectives and fractured lines of command demand that peacekeepers' mandates become more clear and defined to address current international humanitarian and security concerns.

In order to be successful in maintaining the peace in present times, peacekeeping missions must have a sound peace-building strategy, must have a clear and definite mandate that authorizes the use of an adequate amount of force to protect the civilian population, must have the political support and the cooperation of United Nations countries or regional members, and must be able to rapidly deploy in trouble spots.

Lessons learned from the Sierra Leonean conflict and some recommendations

The intervention of the United Nations, ECOWAS and the United Kingdom was justified. In order to avert the disintegration of an already deteriorating humanitarian situation and massive human rights abuses, foreign intervention was required. The intervention into the Sierra Leone crisis was necessary to halt the senseless fighting between supporters of the government and the RUF rebels that had led to the displacement, both internally and externally, of thousands of civilians. The migration of civilians traumatized by years of senseless fighting created a refugee crisis within the West African sub-region and also threatened regional and international security in many ways. The civil conflict and the influx of refugees to neighboring states led to the rise of human trafficking, identity theft such as passport fraud, prostitution, slavery, and the spread of various diseases.

The conflict also posed an international environmental threat because rebel forces exploited the natural resources of the country, without any regard to any environmental consequences. The continued fighting contributed to the degradation of the environment because of the toxins released from firearms and the pollution of rivers and drinking water by the dumping human remains into rivers and wells.

The intervention of the foreign community into the Sierra Leone crisis was the result of a sense of the moral duty of all nations to respond and aid other nations when they are being faced with a humanitarian or civil disaster. The nations facing the greatest threat from such a disaster must be willing to contribute and bear the greater responsibility of aiding the nation in need. If the nations that face the greatest threat cannot respond adequately, then it should be the moral duty of other nations to aid them in their endeavors to ensure that any peacekeeping, peace enforcement or rescue operations have a clear mission and are carryout effectively.

The intervention in the civil conflict in Sierra Leone has raised the question of when is it appropriate for the United Nations or other coalition of the willing states to use force. It is paramount that the use of force must always be the last resort of any peacekeeping mission or diplomatic policy. When all diplomatic efforts and all peace initiatives have been fully exhausted, the use of force must be used only if such force will save the lives of the civilian population, lives of members of the peace operations and personnel not involved in the conflict and such use of force will avert a humanitarian and/or massive human rights disaster. The use of force should be sanctioned when continued fighting and instability pose a potential, immediate and significant threat to the world and regional peace and security.
The United Nations should be willing to endorse ad hoc coalitions such as the United Kingdom's role in Sierra Leone and regional peacekeeping efforts such as ECOMOG's role in Sierra Leone and Liberia because of the following reasons:

1. the willingness of a nation or a group of nations to respond to the humanitarian or civil disaster of another nations should be encouraged; and,

2. the ability of that nation or group of nations to respond immediately to the situation so as to avoid a humanitarian or civil disaster should be taken into account when endorsing such actions.

Even though all the sides in Sierra Leonean conflict did not approve of the intervention, these interventions were necessary to save lives and respond to the immediate threat it posed to regional stability. The United Nations should not object to moves made by coalition of willing states to intervene in these situations. The coalition of willing states should be approved when United Nations sanctions and intervention efforts have failed and when such coalitions would protect and enhance international security.

The United Nations should create categories in which situations could be classified. Situations could be classified into three categories:

1. Inter-state conflicts - conflict between nations that would be dealt with in accordance with traditional peacekeeping and diplomatic policies.

2. Intra-state conflicts - when dealing with intra-state conflicts, the United Nations should look at the humanitarian situation on the ground and the willingness of the parties to reach a peaceful situation. If the parties are willing to negotiate a peaceful solution, policies administered under traditional peacekeeping and diplomacy should be applied.

3. Unconventional conflicts - where massive human rights abuses have occurred or occurring and there is a degrading humanitarian situation on the ground, traditional peacekeeping and diplomatic policies should not be used. Peace enforcement under the United Nations or a coalition of willing states or ad hoc coalition of willing states should be allowed. If there is no legitimate central authority, coalition or United Nations' forces must establish a presence in the area and create an atmosphere to create dialogue, to respond to the humanitarian disaster and halt massive human rights abuses. When there is a legitimate authority present, coalition or United Nations' forces must secure an area, create a buffer zone, to respond immediately to the humanitarian crisis while discussing ways to implement a cease-fire.

In each situation discussed above, coalition or United Nations' forces must make every attempt to protect civilians and use force only if necessary. The United Nations must do all it can to intervene very at the beginning of every crisis. If the need arise to send in peacekeeping troops, they must be well armed, the mission must be supported both financially and politically by members of the United Nations, and the United Nations must make sure that the peacekeeping soldiers are well trained.

Further, the impartiality of the United Nations must not be seen as weakness. The United Nations must respond to each attack with the necessary amount of force needed to repel and subdue the attacking forces and should treat each warring parties according to their behavior. The United Nations must also be willing to sign or ratify a resolution agreeing to the use of peace enforcement if a situation like Sierra Leone occurs. If the United Nations must imposed sanctions on a nation or a warring faction, sanctions should target high-ranking members of the regime and all measures must be taken to limit the impact on the civilian population. Some examples of targeting members of a regime or organization under sanctions could be the freezing of foreign assets by nations of the United Nations, a United Nations' ban on travel by high ranking officials and their families, the expulsion by foreign nations of certain individuals who are connected to the regime or organization and the halting of any kind of economic aid by foreign governments. However, there should continue to be attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis and continuous pressure should be applied on all sides to the conflict.