UN Peacekeeping Myth and Reality: Foreword

UN Peacekeeping Myth and Reality


(Translated from Polish by Ireneusz Adach)

The history of mankind is branded with armed conflicts of greater or lesser cruelty. In the twentieth century, which was no exception, violent conflagrations reached, in fact, a tragic peak in the number of mainly civilian victims and in the scale of abhorrent crimes committed. The drama of the Second World War and the suffering of victims of the totalitarian Nazi and Stalinist regimes gave rise to a search for effective international countermeasures. The United Nations Charter and the Universal Human Rights Declaration were supposed to provide the foundations of a new order in international relations which would make it possible, not only to react effectively to brutal violations of basic human rights, but also to prevent such violations; a strong desire prevailed among the communities affected by war atrocities as well as their elite: no more Auschwitz, Katyn, Hiroshima, or mass deportations. The cold war put an early end to such hopes. The genocide perpetrated on the people of Cambodia, though without doubt the largest in scale, was only one example of the atrocities committed in defiance of basic human values. The United Nations, an international organization that came into existence to prevent such crimes, proved to be helpless.1

The objective of Solidarnosc, the popular Polish movement of the 1980s, was to reclaim personal freedom and dignity through recognition and respect of basic human rights. The struggle against the totalitarian regime on the domestic front was also a struggle for a reshaping of international relations. Both the democratic transformations in Poland and the coming down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, along with its symbolism, gave rise to expectations that international organizations would change their ways as well. Such hopes looked closest to fulfillment in Europe.

The early 1990s seemed to provide a solid basis for optimism. Peaceful deve opment in international relations was solemnly heralded in Paris. NATO invited new members to join the alliance, the European Union announced its intention of enlargement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe became more active, and democratic transformations were being felt throughout the continent. In this context, the war in Yugoslavia came as a complete shock. Initially
Europe hoped to be able to deal with the conflict by itself. It soon turned out, however, that the European structures were incapable of coping with armed conflicts of this kind, and the involvement of the United Nations became indispensable. Significantly enough, it was not until August 1992 that the UN Human Rights Commission started considering the subject: and only after the drama of Vukovar’s fall, after the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, and many other tragic manifestations of that war.

In the August of 1992, I accepted nomination as the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia, not without serious doubts. Still, while being aware of the large scale of war crimes committed there,
I was overwhelmed with what the reality represented. I noticed at the same time that the attitude to the conflict of the international community was equivocal and full of contradictions. On the one hand, there were calls for peace, mediation,
numerous appeals for a cease-fire, a wide stream of humanitarian aid, and, on the other, an evident lack of political will to engage forcefully in stopping the conflict. The performance of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Balkans provided
a dramatic illustration of this attitude.

The author of this work presents the mechanisms of the functioning of peacekeeping operations very convincingly. Time and again, I was witness to the dis-heartening effects of the overall confusion concerning the role of the United Nations troops in Bosnia. But, reflecting on the impact of the particular military commanders, or on the contribution of these or other national contingents of the Blue Helmets to the outcome of the mission, is of rather limited usefulness. There
are far more important issues to be discussed. Is the present system of reacting to such conflicts adequate to the challenge? In his book, Andrzej Sitkowski attempts to give answers to all these questions. I am not going to make an assessment of the solutions suggested by the author, but I fully share his diagnosis of the present state of affairs. My assignment in the former Yugoslavia made me once again acutely aware of the old truth: in order to avoid war one has to be equipped with tools of effective action, armed operations included, and be prepared to make use of them.

Is it ever possible to devise a universal tool kit that will be applicable wherever armed conflicts cause a breakdown of law and order and massive victimization of whole nations, a system equally applicable to Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, or Chechnya? Experience prompts a negative reply, but we should not give up trying to work out a better system of international relations. We must not indulge in repeating the words “never again” without supporting them with changes in the way we respond to threats to international peace. Without the wholehearted support of the international community, however, the efforts of individuals or particular governments will not suffice. We all need to realize that the responsibility for the drama of Srebrenica does not only rest with a handful of Dutch peacekeeping soldiers and their commanders.

As members of the United Nations, we all bear the responsibility, because it was in our name that a safe area was established there, only to become an area of death. If the horror of Srebrenica is not to remain just an item on a long list of mass atrocities committed in the world, it has to generate a buildup toward finding more articulate and effective ways of dealing with similar risks. I hope that this book will contribute toward an in-depth analysis of the subject discussed.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki (PM of Poland 1989-1991)

Source: Andrzej Sitkowski, “UN Peacekeeping: Myth and Reality,” Praeger Security International, London, 2006

Republished by Kajian Internasional Strategis


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