Aspects of Peacekeeping

alt Edited by D.S. Gordon and F.H. Toase
Published by: London: Frank Cass, 2001
ISBN: 10: 0714650404 13: 978-0714650401

Reviewed by: C. De Coning
In Conflict Trends Issue 1 of 2004

One of the defining characteristics of complex peace operations is their multi-dimensional nature. They combine conflict prevention; peace making; security operations; humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities; transitional justice and rule of law programmes; human rights monitoring and education; political transition support and institution building, in a complex and multi-layered peacebuilding response matrix that is intended to build momentum towards peace across the whole conflict spectrum.

A key feature of the systems approach to conflict resolution is that its success relies on the free flow of information. For the system to work, the different components must constantly adjust their own actions in response to progress or setbacks experienced elsewhere in the network. In practice, however, complex peace operations are burdened by institutional cultures and traditional management and command structures that discourage information flow. They block, hinder or distort the flow of information and this starves the network of the information it requires to self-organise. As a result, the network breaks up into smaller and smaller networks. When this tendency is not managed, complex peace operations develop information silos that operate, at best, independently of each other, or at worst, against each other. This is why civil- military coordination has become such a critical success factor in complex peace operations.

It is thus a rare pleasure to find a book that manages to capture the complexity of contemporary peace operations as well as this compilation by Stuart Gordon and Francis Toase. The book brings together a large number of the different components present in contemporary peacekeeping and begins to explore the nature of the relation- ships among these organisations, institutions and constituencies. This is a crucial area of focus if we want to improve our understanding of the dynamics that influence the complex network of interests present in contemporary peace operations, and represent the critical divide between complex and classical peace operations.

The editors have divided the book into three parts: the first deals with the evolution and change experienced in the United Nations and the international system over the past decade, the second with the role of humanitarian action in peacekeeping, and the third with the changing role of the military in peace operations.

The first part of the book, on the evolution and change of the United Nations and the international system, deals with the watershed experiences in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda in the early to mid-1990s, but stops just short of the more positive UN experiences in Kosovo and East Timor in 999. Gordon and Toase argues that those early deployments represent a shift in the purpose of peace- keeping, because peacekeeping was utilised as a tool to create the conditions for peace rather than safeguarding and monitoring an existing peace.

This, they argue, was the birth of the arguably still-born concept of ‘strategic peacekeeping’. The dominating influence of these experiences in the former Yugoslavia is felt throughout the book, but it also contains useful insights into developments in Africa and Eastern Europe. This part of the book includes chapters on the humanitarian security dilemma (by Shasi Tharoor and Ian Johnstone), the evolution of UN command and control structures, and regional perspectives on Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa.

The second portion of the book focuses on humanitarian action and peacekeeping. The challenging operational environment so well captured in the first part of the book was particularly demanding of the humanitarian community. Weakened perceptions of state sovereignty; the growing acceptance, among states and civil society, of the right to humanitarian intervention; the intentional targeting of civilians; the large-scale abuse of human rights associated with the conflicts of this period; and direct attacks on humanitarian personnel have all forced the humanitarian community to reassess their operating principles. The editors argue that the new environment resulted in an enhanced political and strategic role for humanitarian action, regardless of whether humanitarian organisations themselves agreed to such a role or not, and that this has resulted in humanitarian considerations playing a more central role today in the international response to conflict situations than it did before the experiences of the 1990s. This part of the book includes contributions by Sergio Vieira de Mello on the evolution of UN humanitarian operations and Koenraad van Brabant on the coordination and security of humanitarian personnel.

The third and final part of the book, ‘Peace Support Operations and the Military’, explores the legitimate aspects of strategic peacekeeping and includes chapters on British peacekeeping doctrine, the safe-areas regime, civil-military coordination, and the search for a doctrine of humanitarian intervention. Gordon and Toase argue that the inability to use limited force in a precise way that is clearly linked to achievable and well-defined political objectives has, to a significant extent, diluted the enthusiasm of the international community for utilising military tools for humanitarian objectives. The experiences in especially the Bosnian safe areas resulted in a new acceptance that where force is used it should be significantly greater than that provided to UNPROFOR in the consent-based, humanitarian access regime that prevailed in the former Yugoslavia in 1995. They show that the mixing of consent-based and coercion-based mandates in Bosnia and Somalia clearly led to a theoretical and practical illogicality: making war and peace against the same people, at the same time, on the same territory. Within this context, one can begin to understand why those trying to provide advice to operational commanders developed several peace-support doctrines over this period. This is seen, perhaps most clearly, with the British Army doctrine of ‘wider peacekeeping’, which tried to give commanders guidance on how to maintain and develop consent in situations where consent is agreed to at the strategic level, elusive at the operational level, and disputed at the tactical level. Richard Connaughton contributes a chapter dealing with the development of British Army doctrine during this period.

In complex peace operations, the multidimensional components are linked together to form a network or system of interconnected and mutually supportive functions. With such a large number of institutional cultures, professional disciplines and functional mandates vying for space in one mission, it is not strange that coordination has become one of the most critical success factors of complex peace operations. Edward Flint contributes an excellent chapter that captures the complexity of the humanitarian-military and civil-military interfaces that have become such an essential part of contemporary peace operations.

This unique collection of contributions offers an insightful examination of the issues that influence the relationship between the diplomatic, humanitarian and military components in contemporary complex peace operations. Aspects of Peacekeeping is a valuable contribution to the interdisciplinary debate on the direction which peace operations will take in the future, and is a useful multidisciplinary introduction for anyone seeking to explore the issues that influence the relationship among the diplomatic, humanitarian and military components in complex peace operations.

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