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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Ad Hoc Missions, Permanent Engagement
Ramesh Thakur and Albrecht Schnabel (eds.)

Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2001
256 pp. + index, ISNB 92-808-1067-7

Since the end of the bi-polar struggle between Western superpowers and the Soviet Union, the world has seen a significant increase in the number of intrastate conflicts. The end of the Cold War also brought an end to traditional norms of sovereignty, and the last two decades have seen a marked increase of intervention in response to the proliferation of conflicts. As the dominant international interventionist organisation, the United Nations (UN) has been repeatedly called upon to assist in various stages of conflict. With every increase in conflict, so too rose the clamour for outside collective intervention. During the last 20 years, and especially during the 1990?s, the UN embarked on several peacekeeping operations with perhaps the best of intentions and the highest of hopes. The function of peacekeeping missions has expanded and increased during this period, driven by a changed understanding of the conditions under which international peacekeepers are obliged to intervene in conflicts, and an expanded definition of peacekeeping that embraces both military and civilian intervention. However, as many contributing authors in this edited volume argue, the UN?s record to date has more failures than successes. This insightful book examines the ?evolution of peacekeeping,? and offers some suggestions for future instances where peacekeepers may be called upon by scrutinizing past mistakes.

The first part of the book illustrates the many challenges faced by peacekeepers in the post-Cold War environment. The various stages of peacekeeping, from its original manifestation as patrolling ceasefire lines to the current trend of peace-building and international trusteeship are discussed. Poignant calls for a more thorough examination into the nature of ethnic conflict are made, arguing that remedies of peacekeeping will not be effective until the reasons behind the violence are better understood. Additionally, the necessity of the Secretariat-General in utilizing his increased prominence to prevent repeating mistakes is discussed, and a claim is made that key member states are increasingly reluctant to contribute to peacekeeping operations because of ambiguous objectives and questionable achievements. The second part of the book contains brief but astute examinations of peacekeeping efforts from post-Soviet and African regional perspectives, as well as riveting country-specific accounts from practitioners in Cambodia, East Timor and the former Yugoslavia. The final section of the book examines the UN?s role in interventions and highlights the current dilemmas it faces, concluding with the observation that although the Brahimi report proposes much needed changes for the UN?s peacekeeping strategies and practices, more far-reaching overhauls are needed, and much more effort needs to be placed on conflict prevention.

Many of the contributors in this book argue that the UN and most of its operations during the 1990s were less-than successful, and in some cases even detrimental. As a result, many embroiled in conflicts began to shy away from beseeching the UN for assistance. Moreover, many member states themselves began to question methods used, and indeed, the nature of intervention itself. Accounts from academics, analysts and practitioners in this book testify to the mistrust generated by the UN?s mistakes in peacekeeping over the last two decades.

Nevertheless, most contributors agree that the UN must remain an integral part of collective intervention. Although some of the chapters weigh perhaps a bit too heavily on description rather prescription, a solid case is made for the necessity of continued reform of the manner in which the UN attempts to keep, and make, the peace. Wide in scope and unafraid to criticise, yet helpful in its recommendations, this collection is a rather useful tool for those wishing to examine both the tumultuous past and future role of the UN in peacekeeping operations.

Scott H. Baker, MS International Affairs

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