Peacekeeping operations are an important tool in the UN’s work for international peace and security. These traditionally consist of UN military personnel, the “blue helmets”, who have been sent to an area to preserve or restore peace. There is a difference between military observer forces and peacekeeping forces, but they are both based on the same basic idea – that the UN, as an independent party, should have a calming effect on the combatants.
The military observers consist of small groups of unarmed officers whose job it is to monitor and report on developments in a particular area. As early as 1946, the UN appointed military observers for the first time to monitor the unrest during the Greek Civil War. The concept was developed in the protracted conflict over the Jammu and Kashmir area between Pakistan and India in 1949. The UN observatory in India and Pakistan, Unmogip, is still monitoring the line of control between the two states. Another peacekeeping operation that is still in operation is Unifil in Lebanon, which was established in 1978. After the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006, the force was given expanded tasks which included ensuring that humanitarian aid reached the civilian population (see also Lebanon for background on the war). See howsmb for definition of UNEP.
The first major military observer group – which is usually considered the first actual peacekeeping operation – was Untso, which was appointed in 1948. It still monitors the areas that Arab states and Israel are fighting over.
Peacekeeping forces are significantly larger than the military observer groups and play a more active role in monitoring ceasefires and front lines between combatants. By standing as combatants as a neutral party, they fulfill an important function. The use of peacekeeping forces is not mentioned in the Charter but is usually described as Chapter Six and a Half, as it has traditionally been sandwiched between military action (Chapter VII) and peaceful resolution of conflicts (Chapter VI).
The concept of peacekeeping troops first appeared in connection with the Suez Crisis in 1956 (see Emergence). Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld then worked with Canadian Foreign Minister Lester Pearson on guidelines for how major military forces from member states could be used to monitor a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops. Three principles were developed and will continue to apply: the warring parties must agree to the deployment of peacekeeping forces; the parties must see the peacekeeping forces as impartial; the peacekeeping forces may not use force other than in self-defense.
Until the end of the 1980’s, the main purpose of the peacekeeping forces was to monitor a ceasefire. Such traditional operations include, for example, the peacekeeping force in Cyprus, Unficyp. It was formed in 1964 to prevent fighting between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, who both wanted control of the island.
In recent years, the UN has drawn attention to the importance of helping countries recover from conflicts and build peace.
Many times there is a great risk that new conflicts will arise in a country that a peacekeeping operation has quite recently left. This was the case, for example, in East Timor. With the support of a UN mission, East Timor gained independence in 2002. The UN helped build a whole new state, with all that entails. The UN presence gradually diminished and the last soldiers left the country in 2005. Only a year later, new unrest broke out and the Security Council was forced to establish a new peacekeeping mission in East Timor (Unmit), consisting of about 1,600 police officers. Six years later, Unmit could be terminated.
The UN’s peacebuilding work has been carried out by several UN agencies and many UN missions have been appointed for this purpose. These include Unama, the UN mission in Afghanistan, which was formed in March 2002 to help the Afghans implement the Bonn Agreement (see Emergence: The War on Terrorism) and contribute to the building of society.
The 2005 UN Summit decided to set up a Special Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). It consists of representatives from 31 Member States, seven of whom are from the Security Council, Ecosoc and the General Assembly, as well as a further ten from the Member States that contribute most to the UN either financially or in the form of military troops. The five permanent members of the Security Council shall have a given seat on the PBC. The Commission will be a forum where bodies within the UN system as well as committed Member States can meet governments and national authorities from countries seeking assistance. Sierra Leone and Burundi were among the first countries to receive support. Later, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, Liberia and Guinea were also placed on the PBC agenda.
The Commission will also act as an advisory body, recommend strategies and ensure funding. A special fund channels aid to the countries supported by the Peacebuilding Commission. In 2012, the fund raised over $ 80 million.
There is also a special support office within the secretariat for peacebuilding work.