Summary of "Current and Future Arrangements for Intervention"

Summary of

Current and Future Arrangements for Intervention

By Brian Urquhart

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Brian Urquhart, "Current and Future Arrangements for Intervention," in Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War World: The Role of Intervention. Report of the Aspen Institute Conference, August 2-6, 1995, (Aspen, Colorado: Aspen Institute, 1996) pp. 97-104.

Urquhart describes the intervention dilemma currently facing the international community. During the Cold War, the principle of respect for national sovereignty limited U.N. interventions to cases in which international peace and security was threatened. In the post-Cold War era sovereignty is increasingly thought of as being a property of a people rather than of a state. Hence, humanitarian interventions to protect the rights of peoples seems increasingly justified.

Unfortunately, the U.N.'s capacity to make effective humanitarian interventions has not been developed in pace with these conceptual changes. Recent intervention failures have undermined confidence in the U.N.. While member nations are reconsidering their participation in humanitarian interventions, public opinion seems likely to continue to favor humanitarian action.

The United Nations at Present

Although prevention is much talked about, it is seldom used. The U.N. Security Council is ill-equipped to undertake preventative interventions. The Security Council can only respond to issues formally put before it. U.N. agencies can sometimes mobilize humanitarian assistance by widely publicizing some human tragedy. However, it is much more difficult to generate widespread public concern for military or political situations which merely have the potential to produce humanitarian tragedy.

In addition, the U.N. is now faced primarily with internal conflicts. Traditionally U.N. operations distinguished clearly between peacekeeping and enforcement. Peacekeeping forces strove, with the consent of the conflicting parties, to uphold the already agreed upon settlement. Enforcement operations deployed military troops to put down blatant aggression. Humanitarian aid was rare, and generally did not involve peacekeeping. These traditional techniques have proven much less effective when used in internal conflicts.

Urquhart summarizes the U.N.'s current resources and problems. U.N. resources include strong Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Humanitarian Affairs and a strong Secretariat. The Security Council is finally free of its Cold War limitations. Various U.N. agencies have developed considerable humanitarian expertise and the U.N. has amassed a substantial humanitarian emergency reserve fund. The U.N. has also developed ties with a number of humanitarian NGOs. Thirty-some countries hold military troops on standby for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Finally, regional international organizations offer a currently under-utilized asset.

Current U.N. problems include unclear or unrealistic Security Council mandates, confusion over the goals and responsibility of the U.N. forces, and confusion between enforcement and peacekeeping tasks. The U.N. currently lacks adequate capacity for rapid deployment, lacks adequate infrastructure to support substantial interventions, and has difficulties with its command structure. Agreements by member nations to provide troops may prove unreliable due to domestic political factors. Similarly, member nations are often unwilling to risk harm for their troops or to make sufficiently long-term troop commitments.

Suggestions for Improvement

Internal conflicts do not respond well to traditional peacekeeping or enforcement operations. Past attempts to combine peacekeeping with enforcement have proven unsuccessful and occasionally disastrous. The U.N. must develop new techniques for operating in the violent circumstances typical of internal conflicts. Producing clearer Security Council mandates would be a key first step.

Secondly, the U.N. must develop its rapid reaction capabilities. Better early warning systems must be developed and the international community must become willing to react in the early stages of a conflict. U.N. reaction forces could take any of a variety of forms, but some sort of highly trained standing force seems needed. Member nations have proven to be unreliable as a source of troops. This force must be able to secure specific areas, provide security for relief operations, provide intelligence to the Security Council, provide the initial framework for peace negotiations, and stop violence from escalating.

Thirdly, the U.N. must unify and solidify its command and control over peacekeeping operations. Recent experience has shown divided command to be potentially disastrous.

Next, the U.N. must develop the needed infrastructure to support its operations. It must improve its capacity for contingency planning, training and logistics, and improve its command and staff capacities.

In a closely related point, the U.N. needs to develop a reliable source of financing for its peacekeeping operations. The author reminds us that, while peacekeeping is expensive, allowing conflicts to get out of control is even more so.

Finally, the U.N. needs to draw on the presently untapped resources presented by regional organizations. The U.N. Charter reserves a significant role for regional organizations. The end of Cold War politics should open the way for regional groups to play larger roles in the international community.