UN Peacekeepers and their Role in Modern Operations

Reviewed by Associate Editor Upasna Saha

In “The Use of Force in UN Peacekeeping Operations,” Antonia Miller considers how the changing role of UN peacekeepers in the modern world and their ability – or lack thereof – to use force as part of their operational duties impacts peacekeeping operations’ eventual success. Miller believes that the UN has not paid enough attention to how the use of force may be used by peacekeepers. The interaction between these aspects of international law and management has implications for what the UN stands for.

Miller starts by discussing the theory behind and the definitions that underlie peacekeeping in general. She also provides a short history of how peacekeeping originated – in the Middle East in 1956 – and how operations have changed from peacekeeping’s “original concept” as conflicts have increasingly deviated from traditional forms of war. Miller uses this section to propose the question, where is the line between peacekeeping and enforcement actions?

She then moves to discuss the laws outlined in the UN Charter which govern the use of force, noting that there is no such equivalent for peacekeeping missions, and if and how peacekeepers can use force. A large amount of attention is given to the Brahimi Report, which outlines recommendations for peacekeepers and which Miller sees as a turning point in reconciling with the difficulties that arise from the ambiguity. Nevertheless, Miller still shows how, even though the UN took this monumental step, it has been insufficient. She uses the peacekeeping mission that was established in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1999 as a case study to show how the UN’s failure in delineating exactly what force peacekeepers may and may not use constrained these peacekeepers, who were unable to use the necessary military force and so could not effectively resolve the ongoing conflict and subsequent expressions of violence.

Miller concludes her paper with another look at peacekeeping in the DRC, showing how these same issues arise in the operation that began in 2013. Her final policy recommendations for this mission are that the UN should clarify what use of force by the peacekeepers is legal and appropriate. She also recommends that the UN should work with regional organizations whose mission matches its own.

In regards to Miller’s use of case studies, it would be more helpful if she paid more attention to how the peacekeepers’ inability to use appropriate force really impacted the people negatively instead of discussing the conflict in broad terms. For instance, she mentions that the peacekeepers were unequipped to stop the rape of 300 people in the DRC. It would have been useful to see what actions they tried to take to prevent this tragedy from occurring and why they were inadequate, as well as what uses of force had been used in other peacekeeping operations or by other enforcement officers that might have effectively prevented this. Moreover, to further prove her argument about the vagueness underlying peacekeepers’ use of force, other case studies that can similarly show the misfortunes which occur because of peacekeepers’ inadequacies would be necessary. Miller’s argument is ultimately very interesting to read and potentially has large-scale policy implications for current operations, so it would be illuminating to see how this phenomenon has played out historically and what lessons can be translated to the present-day.

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