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Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Military activities: outcomes, impact, character and goals

Neither of the two missions I have investigated in detail was very successful in regard to their military mandates. Neither has UNTAC in Cambodia managed to carry through with its mandate of disarmament and cantonment of the armies of all fractions, nor has UNPROFOR in Bosnia been able to provide the safe havens it has promised.

Have there been overall successful missions at all?

Some authors name at least three cases between 1989 and 1995 when civil wars were brought to an end with the help of UN missions:

  • Namibia

  • El Salvador

  • Mozambique.

In three other cases the middle-term success was doubtful or the mission an outright failure:

  • Rwanda

  • Angola

  • Cambodia.

And the failure at implementation led to catastrophic results, many more people died in Angola and Rwanda after the peace agreements failed than during the years of war before (1).

The humanitarian activities of the military deserve special discussion. While the logistical advantages of the military can hardly be doubted, it usually lacks specific knowledge about dealing with humanitarian crises. It can be inefficient (e.g. in Rwanda the US army set up a water purification system which was unable to provide the quantity of water needed), less effective (the German army dug wells in Somalia although Germany has a special state organisation (Technisches Hilfswerk) which not only has the equipment but the expertise to do so much more quickly and more efficiently), and it puts itself in direct competition with non-state actors which is contrary to the principle of subsidiarity upheld by many Western countries (2). It often does not fulfil the minimum standards in humanitarian aid many organisations nowadays agree to (3), and the military authorities may potentially overlook the impact of the mission’s actions on the wider population (4).

Another question raised is if armed protection makes humanitarian aid transports really more secure, or if it rather increases the risk by turning the aid agencies into legitimate targets. Specifically in Chapter VII-missions this may well be an issue as the experience in Somalia has shown. Alternatives tried by aid agencies include reducing the threat by gaining widespread acceptance for one’s work (5), privately organised security procedures and bribing - as mentioned above, some of them being problematic themselves (6).

Conditions for successful peacekeeping in complex missions

The question of conditions for successful complex peacekeeping missions, and lessons learned for nonviolent intervention will be dealt with more fully after I look into the civilian contribution to these missions. Still, both the UN itself and other experts on UN missions seem to agree on a number of lessons learned in regard to the military part of complex missions. These concern mainly issues of mandates (“clear, realistic and practicable and providing for the necessary means for implementation”), planning, co-ordination, training, logistics and so on (7). These issues will be dealt with in Chapter 5 of this study. Notable here might be the perceived need for “robust” peacekeeping: “Once deployed, United Nations peacekeepers must be able to carry out their mandates professionally and successfully and be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and the mission’s mandate, with robust rules of engagement, against those who renege on their commitments to a peace accord or otherwise seek to undermine it by violence” (8).


  • (1) : Flint 2001:232

  • (2) : Flint 2001:233

  • (3) : Stedman/Rothchild 1996:17

  • (4) : Gass/van Dok 2000:53

  • (5) : Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (2000). See Hansen 2000: “KFOR humanitarian work (is) often uncoordinated, inconstant, unsustainable, not strategic, and not being held to minimum standards.”

  • (6) : Flint 2001:235

  • (7) : Van Brabant 2001:163

  • (8) : One example of a larger-scale project without military protection is the Operation Lifeline Sudan. This is an umbrella of NGOs with clear formal guidelines everyone has to sign. Its approach may be described as negotiated agreement. Operation Lifeline Sudan has an overall agreement with the Sudanese government, and has hired a private security company to negotiate local agreements with warring factions.( Laurence 1999:41)