The prospect of disasters in Africa concentrates the world’s mind wonderfully on the problems and failures of international peacekeeping. We should focus also on the parallel danger of creeping apartheid. Sensitivity to body bags has made Western powers increasingly averse to the perils of peacekeeping. In conflict-prone areas outside their own neighborhood, they leave risky operations to nonwhite soldiers. The result is that those with the military muscle to mount effective operations lack the courage of their convictions; those with the will lack the military means. Such a tribalization of peacekeeping undermines the solidarity of the international community in the shared management of a fragile world order.
One source of bitterness for developing countries has been the tendency of industrialized countries to volunteer for peacekeeping duties where their national interests are strongly engaged, as in the Balkans, but not in Africa. The hurried withdrawal of the United Nations from Somalia was essentially dictated by Western countries unwilling to run further risks there following the deaths of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in October 1993. The shameful withdrawal of most U.N. troops from Rwanda at the height of the genocide in April 1994 was also necessitated by Western, particularly U.S., refusal to intervene meaningfully. This has now led to a broader pattern of Western flight from peacekeeping duties in Africa. The message has not been lost on African warlords, for whom this is excellent news.
Western U.N. contingents in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda could not prevent ultimate failure of these operations, but in their absence, success seems a much longer shot for high-risk U.N. operations. Western governments are still prepared to volunteer troops for classic peace-monitoring operations such as that on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border following a ceasefire earlier this year. However, most wars today resist tidy solutions and involve the U.N. in staring down a variety of combatants prone to shifting alliances and goals. These are the duties Western governments prefer to avoid.
In August, a panel of high-level experts, led by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi and including Hisako Shimura of Japan, issued a frank report on measures to improve U.N. peacekeeping. The recommendations need to be implemented urgently.
Many of the problems can be traced to radical under-resourcing of the U.N. headquarters unit directing peacekeeping staff in the field. Industrialized countries, which foot most of the U.N. bill, will be called on to find additional cash to fund improvements in peacekeeping. The Brahimi recommendations, while requiring modest increases in U.N. spending for its political and peacekeeping departments (80 percent of U.N. funding continues to be directed to economic, social and development goals), would allow for better equipment and coordination of national contingents making up U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Developing countries, which provide the bulk of peacekeepers today and in whose regions the major requirements for peacekeeping arise, have everything to gain from implementation of the Brahimi report. Their fears that action on its recommendations will drain funds from development into peacekeeping are misguided. Rather than a zero-sum gain, implementation of the Brahimi report promises not only more resources for peacekeeping but also greater development aid for countries emerging from war with U.N. assistance. In the absence of stability and good governance, donors will not commit funding for development purposes, fearing that their assistance could fuel fighting. Successful peacekeeping will lead to increases in development assistance to the affected regions. This is a win-win proposition for the developing world.
Western countries now offer to train and equip militaries in the developing world to cope with peacekeeping missions deemed too risky for their own personnel. Such training is to be encouraged. But as retired U.S. Marine General Anthony Zinni told the Washington Post some weeks ago, U.S. efforts to train regional African peacekeepers are small and “half-baked.” They do not compensate morally or practically for U.S. and other Western nonparticipation in African peacekeeping.
An intervention, in extremis, by Britain earlier this year to stabilize the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone showed what Western high-tech militaries can achieve, even with small numbers. This U.N. operation, UNAMSIL, was staffed in part by ill-equipped and poorly trained troops and undermined by infighting between its two largest contingents. UNAMSIL troops would doubtless welcome further Western company.
U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been a powerful advocate for Africa at the U.N. His commitment to addressing the problems of this vast and desperately underdeveloped continent, whose fate is intertwined with our own through patterns of health and migration, is much admired. But the impact of his message is undermined by the persistent unwillingness of Congress to allow American participation in peacekeeping in Africa or even financial appropriation of the U.S. share of U.N. missions on the continent.
A heavy responsibility falls on African leaders, such as the democratically elected and highly regarded presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, to address government behavior within the continent predisposing it to depredation and war. African leaders have increasingly been attempting to police their own, as in the current Ivory Coast crisis of democracy. This is promising.
In addition, however, international actors need to craft a virtuous cycle of peace missions to replace Africa’s vicious spiral of death. First, early implementation of the Brahimi recommendations will provide better support for countries already participating in peacekeeping and encourage others to join in. Second, industrialized countries, while supporting U.N. peacekeeping financially and technically, need to reflect on the morality and political viability of avoiding peacekeeping in Africa. And finally, African governments need to face up to their own responsibilities.
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