PEACEKEEPING IN OUR TIME:
PAST THE AGE OF CONSENT?
By Jamie Arbuckle, for Peacehawks
Have you heard the one about how many Peacekeepers it takes to change a light bulb?
Actually, any number will do – but the light bulb has to want to change.
To know where we are going, we need to know where we are, and to know that, we usually need to know where we have been. To look ahead, then, we often need to look back.
One of the most critical factors in modern peace operations has, since the creation of the United Nations, been the issue of consent to and the continuing support for an operation. The UN is hard-wired for consensual operations; it’s in the DNA, in the Charter:
Article 2.1: “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members”; and
Article 2.7: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state … “
The consent issue has several forms; among these: the consent of the hosts and of the parties to a conflict; of the people living in the conflict area; that of the troop contributors to a peace force; and the consent of the major powers, especially the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN (the P5). The first two are often the most critical: we might refer to them as the consent of the parties and the people. We certainly cannot ignore the importance of the consent of the troop contributors – without them we have no force, or of the Security Council – without them we have no mandate. Nevertheless, I will generally focus on the issues of local consent: in which I include the host government, the sub-state parties, and the people. These, which I by no means take to be the same thing or even in some cases very much alike, are nevertheless in my view collectively the true conditio sine qua non of a successful intervention.
There has since late in the last century been a growing tendency to contemplate and to mandate peace operations founded under Chapter VII of the Charter, which is implicitly non-consensual in its tone and presumably, in its intent. It might seem that peace operations are indeed beyond the age of consent. That is in principle; however in practice peace operations have continued to be very conservatively structured and even more cautiously executed, and missions have continued to negotiate the terms and the extent of operations specifically intended to enforce peace. This is no less true of the current vogue for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), than it was of the rash of “enforcement operations” of the 1990s.
To see why this has been, and largely remains, the case, I want to review the origins of the issue of consent in peace operations, and see what that has subsequently come to mean. To do this, we will review the first modern peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Emergency Force, as it formed up in the autumn of 1956, where the issue first arose and was to be of fundamental importance. We will then fast-forward to Eastern Slavonia almost 40 years later, and we will visit there the birth-place of the practice – and only later the concept – of “induced consent.” (Alex Morrisson, the founder and President of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Nova Scotia, once said, while a student at the Canadian Army Staff College, “It certainly seems to work in practice, but how will it stand up in theory?) It is a large part of the story of peacekeeping that practice often and necessarily precedes theory.
Finally, having established where we really are, we will peek briefly through that R2P looking glass to see where we might be going with 21st Century peace operations. As written, that “policy” largely describes non-consensual military intervention to “protect”, but its authors have been back-pedalling on that almost since before their ink was dry – and no wonder. We know what they said, but it seems that may not have been what they meant, and we need to look critically at this “new norm.” We can only hope this will allow us at least a glimpse of what John le Carre has called “the recent future”.
Sometimes, to get ahead, we need to go back.
In preparing this posting, I need to thank Russia, China and Syria, who in fanning the flames of tragedy have provided me with further insight into the importance of consent at multiple levels.
And that is what I want to share with you in this posting.