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Peacekeeping, Peacemaking and Peace-Enforcement: The U.S. Role in the New International Order

Authored by Dr. Donald M. Snow.

February 1993

36 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author examines the bases of American military participation in the array of Third World activities falling under the general rubric of peacekeeping and peace-enforcement. The relevance of this inquiry was underscored by President Clinton in his Inaugural Address, when he added situations where "the will and conscience of the international community are defied" to traditional vital interests and as times when American military force might be employed.

He considers the major instances in the post-cold war world where so-called humanitarian interventions have occurred or may occur: the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The author then examines the effects of these actions on the principle of sovereignty. He next turns to the emerging roles of peacekeeping and peace-enforcement and the conceptual and practical differences between them, and concludes with some cautionary lessons for the Army.


The search for the appropriate uses of military force in the post-cold war international system has commenced. During the cold war, the use of force by the major powers was tied clearly to their political and ideological competition; deterrence of major conflicts between them served the most fundamental national interest, survival. Vital interests revolved around preventing the other side from gaining undue influences in important places such as the Persian Gulf.

The post-cold war system is not so simple. The order and predictability of the cold war system have been replaced by the disorder, even chaos, of the new order, what one observer has called "the old world disorder in new configurations." East-West competition has evaporated and can no longer form the anchor that tethers policy and strategy together. As Leslie H. Gelb noted recently, the "old hawk-dove divide" no longer serves to inform where military action will and will not occur. No alternative structure has taken its place. We are left instead with vague entreaties that forces must serve the national interest, and apparently innocuous but potentially precedential and systemically upsetting notions of the "humanitarian use of force" and "humanitarian intervention," to mention two recent designations.

Lacking a framework of where and when to use force to provide guidance for "a more anarchical and competitive world order," both the United States and the world at large are forced to consider situations on a case-by-case basis where the criteria for evaluation are often vague. On a piecemeal basis, the United States has mounted a post-Gulf War operation in Iraq (Operation PROVIDE COMFORT/SOUTHERN WATCH) and in Somalia (RESTORE HOPE), leading General Powell to conclude: "Peacekeeping and humanitarian operations are a given." What--if anything--should be done about ethno-religious fighting in Bosnia or Nagorno-Karabakh? How much do we care about the Tamils in Sri Lanka? What patterns, if any, are emerging?

The problem with ad hocracy, the only available method when a framework is absent, is that the individual determinations may form an unintended pattern that comes to constitute a set of de facto principles of operation, a new set of rules of the game that would not have been adopted through a conscious deliberative process. The crises and responses of the early post-cold war period suggest strongly this possibility unless clarifying discussions and deliberations occur. PROVIDE COMFORT began this new ad hocracy; inaction (or for that matter, action) in Bosnia continues it; RESTORE HOPE compounds the confusion and widens the controversy.

The purpose of this report is to make a modest contribution to such a dialogue. It takes as its starting point the post-cold war world's two most dramatic instances of armed conflict, the Persian Gulf War and its aftermath and the struggle in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in addition to the ongoing effort in Somalia. Each is important because it was a major event that probably would not have been allowed to occur during the cold war. More importantly, the international action or inaction taken in each instance may offer insights into the direction of the post-cold war system in dealing with analogous situations.

The analysis then moves to the clear "new world order" implications of the two cases: the operations in northern Iraq on behalf of the Kurds min 1991 (Operation PROVIDE COMFORT) and in southern Iraq in 1992 (Operation SOUTHERN WATCH), Operation RESTORE HOPE in Somalia, and international activities on behalf of the besieged Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Both operations in Iraq represent direct assaults on the Westphalian principle of state sovereignty, defined as the "supreme power of the state, exercised within its boundaries, free from external interference." Implicitly, each operation promotes the contrary position that individuals and groups within nation-states have international rights that in some cases (such as atrocities against them) supersede the sovereign right to govern and assert an international right to intervene in such instances, an idea formally proclaimed by U.N. Secretary General Boutros-Ghali under the principle of universal sovereignty: "underlying the rights of the individual and the rights of peoples is a dimension of universal sovereignty that resides in all humanity and provides all peoples with legitimate involvement in issues affecting the world as a whole." This is the underlying concept for U.N. sanctions of efforts in Somalia, as stated in Security Council Resolution 794. The resolution states, in part, that "the magnitude of the human tragedy constitutes a threat to international peace and security."

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation has not yet reached that point; outside interference has not progressed beyond actions common to the traditional order such as economic sanctions, humanitarian relief (authorized on August 13, 1992 as Security Council Resolution 771), and limited peacekeeping (the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR). None of these challenges basic operating rules; if a more proactive step such as peace-enforcement is contemplated or carried out, precedential effects could occur.

The role of peacekeeping and peace-enforcement form the next step in the analysis. In light of "the systematic transformation of the United Nations into the chosen instrument for the maintenance of peace" accompanying the end of its cold war-induced paralysis, suddenly the world is rushing its troubles to the world body. The Secretary General has issued his An Agenda for Peace at the request of the Security Council. The document suggests a greatly expanded U.N. role in peacekeeping, peacemaking and peace-enforcement, an emphasis underscored by former President Bush's September 13, 1992 speech to the United Nations. It also reflects fundamental underestimation of what is involved in such actions, as well as their effects on the world order. Parallel efforts are being undertaken by the U.S. Department of Defense to redefine and expand American participation in this area; assessing and dealing with these contingencies will undoubtedly extend to other executive agencies involved in national security, such as the Department of State. Depending on the worsening of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina during winter 1992-93, dealing with this problem could also become an early priority of the Clinton administration. The outcome of the Somali effort will also have an effect.

The Secretary General, as well as some discussants in the United States, fail to distinguish adequately between peacekeeping and peace-enforcement. Peacekeeping, a role the U.N. has played over the years, is relatively straightforward and, despite its difficulties, comparatively easy. Peacekeeping involves monitoring and enforcing a cease-fire agreed to by two or more former combatants. It proceeds in an atmosphere where peace exists and where the former combatants minimally prefer peace to continued war.

Peace-enforcement, as it is used by the Joint Staff, entails the physical interposition of armed forces to separate ongoing combatants to create a cease-fire that does not exist. Boutros-Ghali, on the other hand, uses the term to refer to actions to keep a cease-fire from being violated or to reinstate a failed cease-fire. It is a subtle difference, but it does imply the existence of some will for peace. The American version more realistically portrays another, far more difficult matter. By definition, in a situation for which peace-enforcement is a potentially appropriate response, war and not peace describes the situation, and one or more of the combatants prefer it that way. This means that, unlike peacekeepers, peace enforcers are often not welcomed by one or either side(s). Rather, they are active fighters who must impose a cease-fire that is opposed by one or both combatants; in the process, the neutrality that distinguishes peacekeepers will most likely be lost. The Bosnian Serbs would not view U.N. peacemaking forces lifting the siege at Sarajevo and other Muslim-controlled cities as a welcome or neutral act. Only the Muslims, with whom a de facto alliance would be established, would welcome the intervention. As in Somalia, the troops arrive "uninvited" by any government. Their receptions will vary and likely will be unpredictable in advance.

A definitional note, expanded later in the report, needs to be inserted here. The term peace-enforcement, which is becoming the accepted definition for military efforts to impose peace, is a misnomer given normal English usage of terms (enforcing peace presumes peace exists). The U.N. has preempted the more descriptive term peacemaking to mean diplomatic means to end fighting (see later discussion), thereby creating the need for an alternate term. Peace imposition or peace creation would be descriptively preferable to peace-enforcement in this regard. Boutros-Ghali, reflecting the difference in perspective noted above, suggests "cease-fire enforcement" as a synonym. This objection noted, peace-enforcement will be used here for the sake of continuity.

Moreover, peace-enforcement is likely to involve the violation of state sovereignty, particularly if the mission takes place on the soil of the combatant who opposes peace and thus does not invite the peace enforcers in. Had the Iraqis decided to continue attacking the Kurds of the north or the Shiite guerrillas of the south, peace-enforcement is exactly the role the United States would now have adopted. Militarily, that may be doable; unwrapping the political consequences may not be. Similarly, the interposition of peace enforcers into Bosnia and Herzegovina would have to be at the invitation of a rightful government to avoid violating someone's sovereignty. Who is that legal government? It depends on whose side you are on. In Somalia, the decision was simplified by the absence of a government.

All of this would have an academic air about it were it not for the fact that the world is very full of situations with the potential to resemble these two situations. The swath of land from the Balkans to the Caspian Sea where ethnicity and religion collided provides the most obvious examples where unleashed neonationalism threatens to rear its ugly head. The same is true of many areas of the Third World where multinationalism has been suppressed since independence and where democratization may result in more "ethnic cleansing" by the sword.

This may be the most difficult and fundamental set of problems the new order will confront. If we overturn the centrality of the rights of states at the expense of protecting the rights of oppressed, even savaged, ethnic and other groups, the system's menu will be very broad, the plate very full. In such a world, the peace enforcer will be in much demand, the instances of violence and atrocity many.

Even if we eschew the peace enforcer's role, we will not be able to ignore the problems. It is yet one other reality of the new world that global events, and especially atrocities, have become tremendously transparent and visible thanks to global television. Unable to ignore reality, we will be tempted to do something by the horror of what we see: starving babies in Somalia, detention camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This raises the possibility--which goes beyond the scope of this report--that global coverage of atrocious violence can create the public perception of a vital interest (one worth fighting over) on humanitarian grounds in situations where a more dispassionate, abstract analysis would not suggest that intensity of interest. Given the pressures that seem to emerge, one can call this temptation the "do something syndrome."

Faced with these realities, there is a compelling need to come to grips with and to try to start fashioning an orderly means of response to these kinds of situations. To deal with them responsibly requires defining the situations and the alternatives, tasks to which the remaining pages are devoted.

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