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Videoconference sparks discussion on U.N. peacekeeping missions

On Oct. 23, around 20 Lehigh students gathered in Rauch Business Center to discuss the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions with a top official from the U.S. State Department. The videoconference was one of several events last week celebrating U.N. Day on Oct. 24.

Almost 83,000 uniformed personnel are deployed on 17 active peacekeeping missions, said Doug Wake, director of Peacekeeping, Sanctions and Counterterrorism in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

The Global Union, World Affairs Club, Global Citizenship and the International Relations Department sponsored the videoconference, titled “The United Nation and International Peacekeeping: Successes and Challenges.” Students from Lehigh University were virtually connected to those at George Mason University, Seton Hall University and Thunderbird School of Global Management.

During his talk and the question-and-answer session that followed, Wake described the goal of peacekeeping missions as not only ending violence but creating lasting peace by establishing democratic governments, Wake said.

So far, the peacekeeping missions have successfully supported free elections in six countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wake listed several other successful peacekeeping missions, including the 2006 conflict between in Southern Lebanon. “When the conflict broke out between Hezbollah and Israel, a number of different options were considered,” Wake said, but only the U.N. had both the legitimacy and the resources to secure a ceasefire. “The result was a relatively stable environment.”

Examining peacekeeping successes and failures

However, many peacekeeping missions have not ended as well, such as the missions to Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, which utterly failed. “Somalia ended in disaster,” he said.

From these failures, the U.N. learned that they must enter regions of conflict, like that in Western Sudan, with realistic expectations and sufficient resources, Wake said in response to a question.

“Darfur is a perfect example of a conflict with opponents that will be extremely difficult to face,” he said. Peacekeepers in Darfur have a mandate to use “necessary means to stop the violence,” Wake said. “Mandates and resources have not always been adequate in the past,” he added.

The peacekeeping mission in Darfur also provides a good example of the complex relationship between the U.N. and the governments of its member countries, Wake said. In 2006, the Security Council passed a resolution to expand and move U.N. forces from southern Sudan to the region of Darfur.

However, “it didn’t deploy because the capacity of the U.N. is only as great as its volunteer contributions,” Wake said. The government of Sudan “resisted and rejected” a U.N. force, he said. As a result, “very few countries were prepared to send their troops to fight their way into peacekeepers.”

“In practice, it’s difficult to deploy without the state’s agreement, but in legal terms there is authorization to deploy troops,” he said.

Only after a breakthrough agreement with Sudan in July could U.N. troops enter Darfur to fight alongside African Union forces.

The U.N. maintains a unique authority to enter conflicted regions like Darfur, even if its current structure has changed little since the U.N.’s creation in 1942, Wake said in response to a question by Dan Ingram ’09, an international relations major.

“The fact is that the world has changed, but one should not exaggerate the change,” Wake said. The Security Council, which is structured to reflect the balance of power immediately after World War II, consists of 15 members, 10 of which are elected every two years by the larger body of U.N. member countries and five permanent members, China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United Sates.

Ingram wondered if the U.N. could maintain its legitimacy without a South American country represented as a permanent member of the Security Council.

A South American country has always been present as a non-permanent member, Wake responded.

“Getting to the underlying question, I would argue that the U.N.’s authority is still widely respected and highly regarded,” Wake continued. “There’s no one else out there with the authority of the U.N.”

The videoconference on U.N. peacekeeping was chosen for a list of other available videoconferences, said Meredith Aach ’08, who organized the event. Wake’s focus on peacekeeping Darfur coincides with the Global Union’s year-long focus on the Sudanese conflict, says Aach, the vice president of the Global Union and a student liaison for the State Department.

“With the Global Union’s focus on Africa and Darfur, we figured peacekeeping would be the perfect fit,” she says.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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