U.N. Rough Peacekeeping Usinging Tougher Tactics

After years of getting troops serving in peacekeeping missions under its auspices killed, the United Nations has gradually shifted to the use of military best practices, prioritizing mission accomplishment and force protection over feel-good dogma.

U.N. Forces Using Tougher Tactics to Secure Peace (NYT | RSS)

The United Nations, burdened by its inability to stave off the mass killings in Rwanda in 1994 and by failed missions in Bosnia and Somalia, is allowing its peacekeepers to mount some of the most aggressive operations in its history. The change has been evolving over the last decade, as the Security Council has adopted the notion of “robust peacekeeping” and rejected the idea that the mere presence of blue-helmeted soldiers on the ground helps quell combat.

It is most obvious in Congo, which commands by far the largest deployment of United Nations troops in the world. Peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers, facing enemy sniper attacks as they lumber through rugged dirt paths in the eastern Ituri region, are returning fire. Attack helicopters swoop down over the trees in search of tribal fighters. And peacekeepers are surrounding villages in militia strongholds and searching hut by hut for guns. “The ghost of Rwanda lies very heavily over how the U.N. and the Security Council have chosen to deal with Ituri,” said David Harland, a top official at the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York.

A turning point came in 2000 after rebels in Sierra Leone killed some peacekeepers and took hundreds more hostage. The United Nations commissioned a review, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, which called for troops to be deployed more rapidly in peace enforcement operations. “No amount of good intentions can substitute for the fundamental ability to project credible force,” the so-called Brahimi Report said.


The peacekeepers in Haiti, as well, are using Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows them to protect their soldiers or innocent civilians by using force. Peace missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Burundi and Ivory Coast – each with its own rules of engagement – have also moved well beyond the traditional notion of peacekeeping in which blue helmets occupy a neutral zone between former combatants.

But nowhere do war and peace seem as cloudy as in Congo, where peacekeepers received a beefed-up mandate from the Security Council in 2003 – and where at least one human rights group has complained of civilian casualties. “The trend over the last decade is that you deal with many factions, factions that don’t always have a political agenda and that are not always committed to peace,” said Margaret Carey, an Africa specialist at the United Nations’ peacekeeping office. “Ituri is an extreme example.”

While a large part of the problem is simply overcoming the UN’s naturally pacifistic mindset, the nature of the missions have changed over time as well. The Blue Helmets are seldom called in for “pure” peacekeeping mission in which, as the name implies, there is a peace to keep. Instead, UN forces are inserted between still-hostile factions in an attempt to create peace. That’s a warfighting mission and forces must be trained, equipped, and led with that understanding.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lurking Observer says:

    Given the absence of prosecutions on issues ranging from white slavery to pedophilia, what happens when UN blue helmets perpetrate atrocities?

    Will anyone even hear about them? Or will the press conclude that these are not worth airing?

    Will it be a national or a UN responsibility? Who will be investigating such crimes?

  2. BigFire says:

    For many poor country, getting troops to serve in blue helmet is simply a way to earn both money and brownie point with UN. Who cares if they managed to shipped the worse sex offenders off to unsuspecting foreign countries. They’re doing GLOBAL GOOD…

  3. McGehee says:

    Who will be investigating such crimes?

    Considering how he C’d Kofi Annan’s A with his Oil-for-Graft investigation, I imagine Paul Volcker has the inside track to be the UN’s all-around Inspector General.

  4. HIP says:

    Absolute nonsense where Haiti is concerned:

    see: UN accomodates human rights abuses by Haitian police



    U.N. covers for Haiti’s killer cops, threaten American journalist


    This is on the ground reporting supported by visual evidence.