UN peacekeeping Forces Need More Teeth: Expert

  • 11 April 2013

Helicopters and combat aircraft are what the United Nations needs most from the UAE in its peacekeeping missions.

According to Richard Gowan, associate director for Crisis Diplomacy and Peace Operations at the New York University Centre on International Cooperation, USA, the UAE should help the UN’s international peacekeeping missions with what it lacks and not with what it already has.

“Don’t send us infantry! We have plenty,” said Gowan during the conference, The Future of Warfare in the 21st Century, organised by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“What the UN lacks is helicopters and other aircraft, even combat aircraft. Special forces are another gap. We also need extra diplomatic muscle. We don’t have Arab translators. When the Baghdad bomb killed UN’s diplomatic Arab speaker in 2003, it took us three years to recover from that loss,” he stressed.

Gowan further emphasised that when it comes to peacekeeping, the UN is trapped in the 1930s-1970s. Both its technology and logistics are in dire need of updating. So far, the UN base in Congo has only 80 personnel, three vehicles and no translator, and only now equipment is being provided.

“That’s how good we are at technology,” pointed out Gowan. When the African Union intervened in Mogadishu, it didn’t have enough food and two soldiers died because of vitamin deficiency. “That’s how good we are at logistics,” went on Gowan.

Yet, despite its flaws, the UN’s peacekeeping and diplomacy works, preventing wars from West Africa to Kyrgyzstan.

The crises in Libya, Mali and Syria have highlighted the limitations of international crises management. In each case, diplomats and international officials responded to the first signs of conflict with a mixture of caution and confusion, allowing violence to escalate.

While a Nato-led coalition eventually responded to the deteriorating situation in Libya with significant force, the campaign was hampered by gaps between the European military capabilities. The coalition left the post-conflict peace building to a small UN mission, which was able to facilitate credible elections, but could not prevent southern Libya slipping into chaos.

A similar series of events is now unfolding in Mali, where the French intervention has finally brought an escalating crisis under control, but the transition to a UN-led peacekeeping force has been confused.

The situation in Syria is far worse. A series of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have failed, in part because of tensions between Russia and the West. “Syria didn’t truly have a peacekeeping force, but a war watching one,” stressed Gowan.

There may not been any effective UN intervention in Syria yet, but he claimed the organisation is ready to go back in.

The UN, though, cannot and does not act alone. Non-Western regional organisations such as the Arab League and the African Union are increasingly involved in these crises. “They play a significant role, but they lack experience,” said Gowan.

“We need to identify what is wrong with the peacekeeping oraganisation,” he added, referring to both Western and non-Western ones.

This will eventually lead to the success of future conflict management efforts, along with better command, better communication and better cooperation.