International Humanitarian Law: Peacekeeping Operations

Ever since 1945, when the introduction of the UN Charter created objective preconditions for namely the international community to be in charge of maintaining peace in the so-called world’s ‘hot spots, until comparatively recent times, the very concept of peacekeeping has been strongly associated with the principles of consent, impartiality and non-violence. Nevertheless, as of today, there is a clear tendency for peacekeeping missions to gradually attain the subtleties of peacemaking by force (peacebuilding) when earlier mentioned principles are being rarely taken into consideration by peacekeepers (Mullenbach 532). We believe that the laws of history have dialectically predetermined this state of affairs. In our paper, we will aim to substantiate the validity of an earlier suggestion and also to expose what constitutes the driving force behind such a tendency.

Even though nowadays, the historical period following the end of WW2 and the establishment of the UN is being often discussed as being qualitatively different from the ones associated with political realities of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the analysis of such a suggestion reveals its conceptual inconsistency. The reason for this is simple – the very principle of international law, which until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 continued to provide legal justification for peacekeeping missions by the UN, has been firmly based upon the provisions of the Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which was signed between European countries that participated in Thirty Years War. According to this Treaty, it represents every country’s sovereign right to define its form of government and to be concerned with protecting its national borders, without the involvement of a third party. As Philpott had put it: “Westphalia set new standards for each of sovereignty’s three faces. It made the sovereign state the legitimate political unit” (360). Nevertheless, even though the Peace of Westphalia did legitimize the principle of geopolitical sovereignty, it did not specify what accounts for the origins of such sovereignty as something rather self-evident – a naked force. As the famous saying goes – authority comes from the barrel of a gun.

The earlier articulated idea provides us with the insight into why most peacekeeping missions, organized by the UN during the Cold War, remained fully observant of principles of consent, impartiality, and non-violence – this was because most Third World countries, which UN tried to prevent from continuing to indulge in hostilities, were strongly affiliated with either U.S. or Soviet Union. And, given the fact that during the Cold War, humanity faced the prospect of a nuclear holocaust on numerous occasions, it established fully objective prerequisites for the planet’s only two superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union) to be continuously concerned with reaching two seemingly contradictory objectives: protecting their geopolitical interests on a worldwide scale and making sure that that, while seeking to protect these interests, they would never provide opponents with an excuse to accuse them of violating international law, which could have sparked nuclear war. As it was pointed out by Bloomfield: “A crude symmetry may now be developing between American and Soviet desires, at least in some areas, to restrain third world states from generating international violence (though not internal violence)” (551). Just as it is being the case nowadays, in time of the Cold War most Third World countries, famous for their citizens’ willingness to exist in the state of a permanent tribal-war, were independent in only de jure sense of this word (to say ‘developing’ the least). However, after having affiliated themselves with either ‘capitalism’ or ‘socialism’, these countries began to indirectly represent the authority of their protector-states. This was exactly the reason why, during the Cold War, UN peacekeepers were trying to act impartially, while observing the provisions of conflicting countries’ national sovereignty as their foremost priority.

The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to UN-backed peacekeeping missions in Congo (1960-1964), Indonesia (1962-1963), and India/Pakistan (1965-1966). While on these missions, international peacekeepers tried their hardest to avoid accusations of being biased, on the part of either of conflicting parties. This was due to the essence of their missions having been primarily concerned with observing an already established state of a cease-fire between conflicting states, rather than with preventing the outbreaks of internal violence within these states. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, during the time of the Cold War, Third World countries’ sovereignty has been artificially maintained by their association with either of the world’s two superpowers. The escalation of violence in the world’s ‘hot spots, which was taking place throughout the 20th century’s second part and consequently becoming the subject of peacekeeping operations, was nothing but one among many emanations of an overall ideological confrontation between U.S. and USSR – hence, these missions’ apparent neutrality.

As it was noted by Bellamy and Wheeler: “Armed humanitarian intervention was not a legitimate practice during the cold war because states placed more value on sovereignty and order than on the enforcement of human rights” (556). The outbreaks of violence on the world’s geopolitical periphery at the time of the Cold War served the purpose of venting out confrontational steam between both superpowers. This was exactly the reason why throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties, UN peacekeepers’ foremost objective was not establishing preconditions for lasting peace, but rather preventing local geopolitical violence from becoming global. According to Wallander: “(Throughout the Cold War) Soviet power had grown to the point where the United States would be restrained by the risks of escalation, therefore local wars needed to last but not to escalate to global nuclear war” (36). Hence, the apparent ‘gallantry’ of Cold War peacekeeping.

Nevertheless, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the geopolitical situation in the world had undergone a qualitative transformation, because ever since then, world politics had effectively ceased being concerned with the concept of bipolarity. Nowadays, there is only one superpower is being left in the world – U.S. In its turn, this greatly affects the very essence of the current geopolitical situation, which can be characterized by: 1) continually declining amounts of Western financial aid to ‘developing’ countries, 2) the rapid descent of most Third World countries (especially in Africa) into primeval savagery, 3) the process of transnational corporations attaining the status of quasi-sovereign geopolitical entities (Globalization).

What it means is that, as of today, the political sovereignty of many underdeveloped nations had attained clearly defined illusionary subtleties. For example, within the matter of last few decades, with the exceptions of a few countries where colonial legacy continues to live on, the whole continent of Africa has been reduced into the arena of never-ending tribal war, with regional war-lords treating African countries’ national borders as essentially non-existent (Newbury 76). Therefore, it was only natural for post-Cold War peacekeeping activities to undergo a drastic transformation from being solely concerned with helping conflicting parties to stick to the terms of cease-fire agreements, into the instrument of peacemaking, which in turn can be conceptualized as establishing preconditions for armed conflicts to be settled once and for all. The rationale behind such a transformation is quite apparent – in a post-industrial unipolar world, there is no need for peacekeeping activities to serve the function of preventing local conflicts from being escalated into global ones. After all, one of the post-industrial living’s foremost features is the absence of two superpowers, competing for dominance, as used to be the case during the time of the Cold War.

Given the fact that, without being provided with military and financial assistance, on the part of either U.S. or USSR, even de jure sovereignties of many Third World countries deteriorated to the point when these countries’ governments do not exercise authority over the national territory (as it is being the case in Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, etc.), it comes as not a particular surprise that nowadays, peacekeepers are being usually asked to help with extinguishing the flame of civil wars, rather than being asked to help two warring states to refrain from indulging in armed hostilities. In its turn, this often requires them to act as peace-enforcers rather than as peacekeepers, which often can only be done at the expense of violating international law – even though such violation is now often being regarded as highly ‘moral’, as it is being meant to serve the purpose of protecting people’s human rights.

Moreover, there is also a clear tendency for the UN to be gradually deprived of its formerly unilateral authority in organizing peacekeeping missions. For example, even though NATO’s 1995 bombing of Yugoslavia was formally supported by UN mandate, this was peace-enforcing rather than peacekeeping military operation, which proceeded contrary to the wishes of UN’s top-ranking officials and which had the objective of helping Kosovo to attain independence from Yugoslavia – something that stood in striking opposition to the principles of consent, impartiality, and non-violence. This, however, did not affect that sheer efficiency with which this operation proceeded – within a matter of few weeks, after NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) entered Kosovo, the genocide of Albanians in the area has come to an abrupt end. We can only agree with Wedgwood, who believes that NATO’s war on Yugoslavia redefined the very concept of peacekeeping into something that has more to do with ‘imposing the will of a strong’ than with ‘playing by rules’: “The war over Kosovo may mark the end of Security Council classicism – the common belief that all necessary and legitimate uses of force outside the Council’s decision can necessarily be accommodated within the paradigm of interstate self-defense” (828).

The realities of today’s geopolitical situation in the world point out the fact that it is no longer acceptable to refer to the concept of peacekeeping in terms of being an instrument, designed to prolong cease-fire agreements between countries. Instead, peacekeeping should be referred to as an instrument of managing unruly populations in the Third World (and sometimes in the Second World), whose affiliation with the notion of ‘nationhood’ appears merely artificial. It is important to understand that; whereas during Cold War, organizing peacekeeping missions used to be the subject of many rules and regulations, which in turn came as the result of the whole world has been ‘split’ between U.S. and USSR, there can be no more universally recognized rules to this type of international activity.

The reason for this is simple – the U.S. is now in a position to exercise unilateral authority in the international arena. And, given the fact that, ever since 1995, when the concept of national sovereignty had ceased representing the foundation of international law, peacekeepers are no longer required to act as representatives of an unengaged third party, it comes to an as little surprise that nowadays, the very notion of ‘peacekeeping’ has grown synonymous with the notion of ‘violating national sovereignty. However, as it was being implied early – because the realities of Globalization render the concept of ‘national sovereignty’ essentially outdated, the fact that peacekeeping in the post-industrial world can hardly be referred to as ‘impartial’, should not be thought as an indication of such peacekeeping’s inappropriateness. On the contrary – since there are several fully objective reasons to consider such conceptual transformation of the term ‘peacekeeping’ as having been dialectically predetermined by the laws of history, people would only benefit from adopting a new outlook on peacekeeping as the instrument of ensuring the continuity of cultural, social and scientific progress in the Western world.

As it was shown in the paper’s previous part, there can be few doubts as to the fact that, that after the end of the Cold War, UN-backed and third-party-backed peacekeeping missions deviated rather substantially from earlier mentioned ‘trinity of values’. This, however, should not be thought of as an additional confirmation of these missions’ ‘moral wrongness’, but as an indication of the very matrix of world’s politics undergoing qualitative transformation. We believe that our concussion is being fully consistent with the initial thesis, expressed in the paper’s introductory part.


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