[October 24th will mark the 70th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy five histories connect to the UN, leading up to a weekend post on the worst and best of the US’s relationship to the organization.]
What we can learn from the longest-running and the most recent UN peacekeeping missions.
The first two missions on which UN peacekeepers embarked have also proven to be the organization’s longest-running international efforts. In 1948, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) sent peacekeepers to the Middle East to monitor a ceasefire in Palestine between Israel and the coalition of Arab states that had commenced hostilities against the new nation on the day after the May 14th proclamation of the Israeli state. In 1949, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was created and dispatched to the states of Jammu and Kashmir, in an effort to maintain a ceasefire between India and Pakistan over those contested regions. In both of these cases, multiple subsequent outbreaks of hostilities—and the uneasy peaces that exist even when conflicts have not broken out—have required the peacekeeping forces to remain in place; as we near the 70th anniversary of both missions, it’s fair to say that UN peacekeepers now comprise a permanent part of the community in these contested spaces.
In April 2014, the UN authorized peacekeepers with the newly created United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA; the UN does love its acronyms) to travel to that African nation, hoping to alleviate some of the human rights crises unfolding in the aftermath of civil conflict and genocide and to help the nation transition back to stability. An African-led effort, the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), had already been in place, but in September that organization formally transferred its authority to the UN peacekeepers, ushering in the UN’s official role in the rebuilding nation. It’s far too early to assess the outcome or success of this latest UN peacekeeping mission, but as of the early August moment in which I’m writing this post, the news isn’t good: a Rwandan peacekeeper working for the UN mission has apparently shot and killed four of his colleagues and wounded four others. This act of murder and perhaps terrorism is of course far from unique to the UN or its peacekeepers, but it does reflect an uncomfortable truth about all of the UN’s missions: that they are undertaken by people and groups just as flawed and limited as in any other human endeavors, and yet are consistently asked to perform heroic duties in the world’s worst situations.
It’s easy to see that contradiction as the root of, or at least a primary factor in, the inability of the Palestine and Kashmir peacekeeping missions to keep conflicts and hostilities from reoccurring in those contested spaces; the UN peacekeepers might not be responsible for the conflicts in the same way as the local parties, that is, but they’re just as human and so just as unable to prevent the conflicts as are even progressive leaders in those affected nations. A famous, coincidental photograph currently making the social media rounds expresses with particular clarity that cynical take on the peacekeepering missions and their failures to change the realities on the ground. Yet on the other hand, who’s to say that without the presence of the UN peacekeepers, conflicts in Palestine and Kashmir (both of which include the possibility of nuclear retaliation, let’s note) wouldn’t have intensified far further and more destructively? After all, UN peacekeepers have completed 55 missions over the organization’s 70 years of existence, leaving these affected nations and regions not perfect but unquestionably more stable and healthy than would otherwise have been the case. While we can’t be naïve about the realities, it’s nonetheless worth remembering and celebrating those successes on this anniversary.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think?
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