The United Nations Peacekeeping Failures

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The United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPO) is mandated to see that there is peace among the member states. The UN has registered success in restoring peace in some conflict-torn areas in the world (“United Nations Peacekeeping”, 2015). However, this organ has failed to restore peace in the majority of nations as would have been expected (Kapila & Lewis, 2013). Examples of instances where the UN peacekeeping agency has failed in its mandate include Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Darfur. This paper will identify the causes of the failure of the UN Peacekeeping Operations in Rwanda, Darfur, and Srebrenica. It will argue that the UN’s approach to resolving conflict is of second generic order, rather than first generic order. From a philosophical standpoint, one would argue that the UNPO would have to take into consideration that it is dealing with human nature, rather than rational actors.

UN Peacekeeping in Rwanda

The UN Taskforce could have prevented the Rwanda genocide of 1994 through peacekeeping, says Grunfeld (2009). There is a lot of supporting evidence that shows how the UNPO failed in its mandate to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. For example, it is argued that there was enough information about the genocide that was presented to the UNPO prior to the genocide (Brunborg, Lyngstad, & Urdal, 2003). For instance, it was clear that the two tribes in Rwanda were living with high tension after the civil war that had occurred three years earlier. Many NGOs that were observing the turn of events in Rwanda gave information to the UN on the possibility of more war in Rwanda. The possibility of genocide had been foreseen by the Canadian army and the information passed to the UN. This was in 1993, just a year before the genocide (Brunborg et al., 2003). A majority of the diplomats that were stationed in Rwanda gave early warnings to the UN on the looming war in an effort to change the situation to one of peace. It is interesting to note that the UN Special Rapport on extrajudicial killings also did its investigations and made conclusions that special measures should have been put in place to prevent the war. Unfortunately, the information was taken lightly, and the UN peacekeeping task force did not take stern measures to avoid the mass killings.

In 1993, the UN peacekeeping forces set foot in Rwanda in an effort to calm the tension between the Hutu and the Tutsi. However, their presence did not bear any fruits as the genocide happened, despite the UN troops camping in Rwanda (Honig, 2001). It is said that the UN failed to prevent the genocide because it did not use military power to address the situation in Rwanda (Honig, 2001). The troops continually asked for permission from their headquarters and the US to use military mechanisms, but they were denied. Brunborg et al. (2003) reveal that the United States was reluctant to engage its troops, more so the military power because their soldiers had been killed in Mogadishu. There was no justifiable reason as to why the US, which was a crucial member of the UN, did not wish to assist in maintaining peace in Rwanda.

The mechanisms that were used to avert the situation of the UN peacekeeping troops did not help at all. The Arusha Accords recommended the deployment of more UN troops to Rwanda and permission from the UN Security Council to allow the troops to use military power (Brunborg et al., 2003). On the contrary, the number of troops that was availed by the UN was far much below the required number. In addition, the permission to use military mechanisms was not granted by the UN Security Council. This led to the failure of the UN peacekeeping organ to restore peace to Rwanda. Honig (2001) gives the most heartbreaking revelation on why the UN further failed in its peacekeeping mission to Rwandese. About 10 of the Belgian soldiers, who were part of the UN troops to Rwanda, were murdered in an unfortunate event that happened in a school. The soldiers were among the troops that were protecting thousands of Tutsis in a particular school in Rwanda. After this incident, the UN Security Council ordered all its troops to vacate Rwanda immediately (Grunfeld, 2009). This left the Tutsis in the hands of the ruthless Hutus; therefore, the genocide continued and resulted in the murder of close to one million Rwandese nationals (“Ghosts of Rwanda”, 2004). If the UN allowed the use of military mechanisms to avert the situation, then the number of deaths witnessed could have been reduced. In addition, it was not wise for the UN troops to be removed from the warring nation. This clearly shows that the UN failed in maintaining and restoring peace in Rwanda.

Peacekeeping in Darfur

The Sudan war, whose epicenter was Darfur, started in 2003 and continued through the years until 2010. It is estimated that around 300,000 Sudanese were killed during the war (Fitzgerald, 2013). Again, the UN Taskforce on peacekeeping failed in its mandate to prevent and restore peace in Sudan. Like the case of Rwanda, enough information was availed to the UN on the possibility of Sudan going to war with itself. According to Joseph (2005), many non-governmental organizations gave valuable information about the possibility of Sudan experiencing genocide. The Netherlands also provided valuable information that could have averted the situation if it was heeded and action taken. One would have expected that the UN Security Council heeded all the information given and took cautionary measures to prevent the war in Sudan. On the contrary, the UN Security Council did little to address the situation in Sudan. Joseph (2005) reveals that there was no decision that was made by the UN Security Council between 2003 and September 2004, the time when the Sudan-Darfur War commenced and more than 10,000 Sudanese killed. If decisions were made and implemented during that period, then the war could have been prevented from scaling to a higher magnitude (Joseph, 2005). Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the UN failed again in restoring peace in Sudan.

One of the resolutions that the UN Security Council made about the situation in Darfur was to compel the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed militia (Harsch, 2006). The Janjaweed militia had claimed responsibility for the murder of several Sudanese, and it was now clear that this was the group behind the genocide. They targeted civilians from one minority group and spared civilians from particular groups (Harsch, 2006). Therefore, the UN Security Taskforce was right in its mission to disarm the Janjaweed militia. However, the UN failed in giving the proper mechanisms that the Sudanese government could have used in the disarmament exercise (Joseph, 2005). In addition, there were no steps that the UN had outlined in case the government failed to disarm the rebels (Harsch, 2006). This was a setback to the UN, as the Sudanese government was unable to disarm the Janjaweed rebels, and the genocide continued to a greater magnitude.

One of the subsequent issues that the UN found itself regarding peace in Sudan is the division between North Sudan and South Sudan (Grunfeld, 2009). Several talks were held in Nairobi, Kenya to ascertain the success of dividing these two areas to bring peace to the whole of Sudan. Grunfeld (2009) says that this was a good agenda, although more attention was given to this progress and they neglected the Darfur war. The Sudanese government did not have to worry about any international sanctions as more focus was on the North-South Sudan division. Therefore, it was able to attack the villages where the rebels were believed to have hidden without fear. This was a failure of the UN Security Council, where it focused more on one side of Sudan and neglected the heavily war-torn area of Darfur. Brunburg et al. (2003) give another instance in which the UN had failed in restoring peace in Darfur. Brunburg et al. (2003) say that the Sudanese government used airplanes disguised as UN choppers to attack the villages. Thus, it could be argued that the UN could have declared Darfur a no-fly zone, which would have averted the attacks that were made by air. In addition, the number of UN troops that were deployed in Darfur could have been more so as to successfully restore and protect those displaced by the war (Joseph, 2005).

UN Peacekeeping Operations in Srebrenica

The Srebrenica genocide of 1995 occurred despite the presence of the Netherlands troops, popularly known as the Dutchbat (Grunfeld, 2009). As has always been the case, enough information was available on the looming genocide. According to Barnett (2002), the UN Security Council was informed of the attack by the Serbians on the Bosnians. It is unfortunate to note that the UN Security Council did not share the information about the possible attack on Bosnians at Srebrenica with the Dutch government. If the Netherlands had prior information on the magnitude of the looming attack, then the government could have come up with a satisfactory plan to avert the situation. According to Fetherston (1994), the information on the Srebrenica genocide was known to third parties. It implies that the people who had the information did not disclose the information to the relevant authorities for immediate action to be taken. The blame was heaped on the UN for failing to mobilize the community to avail the available information to its officials (Barnett, 2002).

Grunfeld (2009) reveals that there was another attack in Tuzla prior to the Srebrenica massacre. However, the attack was defended successfully by the Danish troops that were stationed in the region. Brunburg et al. (2003) argue that lessons could have been learned from that prior attack to prevent the Srebrenica massacre. The tactics that were used to fight back the Serbian attackers in the Tuzla attack could have been employed in an improved manner, thereby correcting the weaknesses that were witnessed during the Srebrenica massacre (Fitzgerald, 2013). Unfortunately, it did not happen, which showed how the UN failed to learn from past experiences to handle the prevailing situations.

Another shortcoming that the UN peacekeeping Taskforce faced in implementing peace in Srebrenica was the availability of enough military manpower and weaponry. According to Grunfeld (2009), the Scandinavian troops that were keeping peace in Tuzla had strong military equipment, such as tankers. Through such weapons, the forces were able to defend the Tuzla area against the Serbian attack on the Bosnians. On the contrary, the Dutch forces in Srebrenica had lesser weapons that they could use to fight the attackers. In addition, the number of troops that the Dutch had deployed to Srebrenica was so small that they could not be able to defend the Bosnian Muslims successfully. As shown by Joseph (2005), the Dutch troops in Srebrenica had requested reinforcement from the mother country the moment they realized that the attackers were determined to approach Srebrenica. The reinforcement was never given, and the Dutch troops in Srebrenica watched as the genocide took place. This shows the failure of the UN peacekeeping task force in carrying out its mandate to preserve and restore peace in areas where its intervention is required.

Grunfeld (2009) has studied the failures of the UN Security Council on the majority of issues. The author says that there are a good number of officials in the UN Security Council, but they are guided by political motives. Such officials rely on the decisions of their political leaders in their mother countries to decide on the way forward regarding the various security issues in particular countries. Another challenge that the UN Security Council faces is the unwillingness of some UN members to give their troops to aid in peacekeeping missions (Woodhouse, 2000). A good example is the unwillingness of the United States to offer their troops in restoring peace in Rwanda. Also, the UN has been blamed for being reluctant to send enough troops to the required locations (Grunfeld, 2009). In addition, the officials do not seem to learn from the lessons of the previous genocides and related wars so as to prevent further crimes (Brunburg et al., 2003).


The UN Security Council has failed on many occasions to restore peace in nations that have been hit by cases of genocide. In the case of the Rwanda genocide, enough information was available to the UN on the looming attacks, but the Security Council did not act swiftly. In addition, only a few troops were sent to Rwanda to aid in restoring peace. The worst incident happened when the UN troops were ordered to return to their countries following the death of 10 Belgian soldiers in a Rwandese school, leaving the attacks to magnify. In Darfur, Sudan, the UN failed to decide the initial phases of the attacks. It failed to declare Darfur a no-fly zone, thereby giving the Sudanese government a chance to continue conducting airstrikes on villages. In Srebrenica, the number of Dutch troops was small, and the military equipment was not as strong as required. The three examples lead to the conclusion that the UN peacekeeping operation has failed in restoring peace in the warring nations.


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Brunborg, H., Lyngstad, T. H. & Urdal. H. (2003). Accounting for genocide: How many were killed in Srebrenica? European Journal of Population, 19, 229-248.

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Honig, J. W. (2001). Avoiding war, inviting defeat: the Srebrenica crisis, July 1995. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 9(4), 200-210.

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Woodhouse, T. (2000). Conflict resolution and peacekeeping: Critiques and responses. International Peacekeeping, 7(1), 8-26.

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