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Keeping the Peace in a Post-Cold War World or The Use and Abuse of Peacekeeping

25. November 1994 - 8:20

The von Braunmühl Lecture by Mr. Jüri Luik, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia at The Johns Hopkins University
School of Advanced International Studies Bologna Center
25 November 1994, Bologna

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe has seen enormous changes since the Cold War ended. Some people may date the end of the Cold War from 1989. That year, the Berlin Wall fell, and the resulting seismic disturbances toppled one Eastern European communist regime after another. We in Estonia regard the Cold War to have ended just three months ago, on 31 August, when the last Russian occupation troops left Estonian soil.

But regardless of when, exactly, that war ended, the European political landscape has been altered forever. Instead of two opposing politico-military blocs, we have independent states from the Atlantic to Pacific, or, as some might put it, from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

Or do we?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like today to discuss an issue that has become a kind of foreign policy mantra not only for politicians, diplomats, journalists and students of international relations, but also for the man or woman on the street. I'm speaking here of peacekeeping. If the 1960s was the decade of Deterrence, if the 1970s was synonymous with North-South relations and if everybody talked about reform and revolution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the 1980s, then the hot topic of the 1990s is peacekeeping.

In Estonia, we devote considerable attention to the theory and practice of peacekeeping, so I would like to share some of my thoughts on the topic with you today. In particular, I would posit that where the principles underlying peacekeeping have been compromised for the sake of efficiency, peacekeeping has been used to justify aggression. Furthermore, when such abuses become commonplace, we must begin to guard the precious idea of an undivided Europe.

The End of the Cold War

Allow me to begin with an ending. When the Cold War ended, the international arena that plays host to peacekeeping operations was changed beyond recognition. The artificial stability forced upon Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the Soviet Union was suddenly removed. In most cases, such as in my country, the removal of the chains found expression in political pluralism and economic entrepreneurship and gave way to new, positive social and cultural impulses.

In other places, the results let loose age-old tensions, be they political, economic or ethnic. This did not happen only in Europe, but around the globe. The bipolar world was not just confined to this continent, but was, after all, a global phenomenon.

The result was an increased need for peacekeeping. At the same time, the situations become more complex. Traditional peacekeeping turned into what we today call "expanded," or "complex peacekeeping." Peacekeeping operations evolved from strictly preventive military activities to more differentiated efforts. Today, peacekeeping can mean humanitarian operations, state-building efforts such as training of democratically-minded police forces and preparing for elections, the repatriation of refugees, and a host of other concerns unknown during earlier times.

On the background of all this, the welcome breakdown of two broad and opposing blocks led to changes in organizational dynamics. During the Cold War, it was more difficult to get an international mandate for a potential peacekeeping mandate than it now is. One voted with one's bloc, and more often than not, the mandate was not given. Today, the constraints of interblocking have lessened and, as the need for peacekeepers rises, the chances of achieving a mandate are much greater. The UN is a case in point. In the forty years elapsed from 1948 to 1988, the UN deployed 13 peacekeeping operations. In the mere six years elapsed from 1988 to the present, 16 operations were started and some are still underway.

This trend is accelerating. As it becomes organizationally easier to attain a mandate, the need for peacekeepers grows, and the complexity of operations increases. At the same time, we must remember that peacekeeping is a costly business, not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of human life. Not many states are willing to put their men and women at arms in a dangerous situation to guard the peace of a faraway state, especially if the force is multinational and the soldiers will be led by a foreigner.

What About the Principles?

All of this suggests that now and in the future, states may be willing to compromise the principles of peacekeeping in order to save money, or win votes at home, or curry favor with a partner.

Currently, the fundamentals of peacekeeping comprise an international mandate, consent of the involved parties, case-by-case involvement, impartiality and multinationalism, to name a few. While any and all of these fundamentals is subject to political wheeling and dealing, I see a particular risk in three aspects of the debate currently underway in the CSCE and the UN, among other organizations.

First, there is growing support to grant some states a carte blanche for keeping the peace by themselves in their own backyard. This idea goes directly against the principles of case-by-case involvement, multinationalism and international mandate. Allowing one state to do as it pleases in a given area, just because that area is close at hand and others do not want to risk the danger, is tantamount to giving a green light to aggression.

Moreover, such behaviour in fact may undermine the credibility of the international organizations tasked with peacekeeping. If the international community stands by and watches one state use so-called peacekeepers to secure territorial aims, as is the case with Russia's 14th Army in Moldova, and does not grant a mandate but also does not speak out against the action, then the international community in effect gives its tacit blessing unabashed aggression. It is no accident, to borrow Soviet phraseology, that some delegations currently meeting in Budapest preparing for the CSCE summit set to start there in two weeks have proposed using peacekeeping operations as a "deterrent," that is, to deter further escalation of armed conflict.

Second, many of those same diplomats sitting at the CSCE Review Conference in Budapest are talking these days about the use of so-called "third party forces" in conflicts. This would occur where two warring factions cannot come to terms, and a third, neutral force is sent in to settle the dispute. In theory, the idea is benign, but in practice, neutrality is hard to define, especially with states that have an historical interest and role in certain regions. This idea came up, you will recall, during the debate over the role of French peacekeepers in Rwanda. From whichever angle we discuss the use of "third party forces," we must keep in mind the accompanying risk of aggression.

In Estonia, we believe that adherence to principles is necessary. If we are considering the use of force, then the UN Security Council must approve such a move. If we are considering peacekeeping operations, then it must transpire under the principles I outlined above. If those conditions are met, then we are not concerned over whether those forces are labeled as third party or second-hand.

A third area of discussion now is the blinding confusion of terms associated with peacekeeping. Specifically, the terms of peacekeeping and peace enforcement are too often being used almost interchangeably, with no regard the very basic differences between the two. The rules of engagement, however, are quite different. Whereas peacekeeping involves the deployment of military or police and sometimes civilian personnel to help implement agreements among parties that have already been engaged in conflict, peace enforcement does not necessarily have the support of all relevant parties. Instead, it is the threat of use of military force, in pursuit of peaceful objectives, in response to conflicts or other major security crises.

And to cloud the issue even more, between peacekeeping and peace enforcement we have the idea of peacemaking. Peacemaking used to mean active diplomatic efforts while a peacekeeping operation was underway, but over the last year the term has inched closer to peace enforcement, with an increasing element of active military engagement. All of these terms have different triggering mechanisms which lead, in turn, to different policy conclusions. As the terms evolve, those triggering mechanisms evolve, too. Under the wrong circumstances, and if we are not careful, confusion in terminology could lead, for example, to confusion in fulfilling mandates. This was the case in Cambodia, where UN troops crossed the line from peacekeeping to peace enforcement in a practice that came to be known as "soldiering on regardless."

Chto Dyelat, or, What to do?

Given that peacekeeping seems to present booby traps at every turn, how should we proceed? I propose three guidelines, or rules of the game, if you will, for keeping the peace in a sober and effective manner.

Firstly, any peacekeeping operation should have clear and attainable goals, among them political goals. These goals help to avoid a situation in which unrealistic ends lead to heightened expectations and, inevitably, to failure. Clear goals also help maintain the credibility of the international organization backing the operation. Furthermore, they also avoid a situation in which troops are maintained in a given region to achieve the political goals of the dominant state in that region. This is the case in Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, where Russian peacekeepers maintain a presence despite the lack of a clear goal and regardless of the recommendations of the CSCE steering committee for Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Minsk Group. Finally, clear goals are vital for the military commander on the ground. Without a precisely defined mandate, the military commander is unable to translate political constructs into force requirements and plans, and is certainly unable to protect his or her troops.

Secondly, impartiality must be built into the mandate. The peacekeepers must both be impartial and be seen as being impartial. The idea of sending only Russian peacekeepers into conflictual areas known to Moscow as "The Near Abroad" is a case in point. If the Russian Federation views certain states in its backyard as being special, for one or another reason, then Russia by definition cannot be regarded as being impartial, and will not be seen as impartial by the recipient of the troops. Here we come back full circle to the idea that it is easier to attain mandates in the post-Cold War world. Because many operations nowadays involve humanitarian aspects, and because these are the most difficult and complex operations to conduct, any state willing to undertake the task has an easier time of getting international mandate. Peacekeeping as a means of providing humanitarian help is a practice that can easily become a veiled form of aggression.

Thirdly, significant local support is vital for successful operations. Local support, however, is difficult to achieve when the peacekeepers are perceived as taking sides, or when only a portion of the local population supports their presence. Under these conditions, the peacekeepers will inevitably be identified as being party to the conflict, as having a vested interest in the outcome. This is a recipe for aggression, but authentic local support can help fix the broth.

The Games (Large) States Play

If states maintain the guidelines set out above, all should go well. Increasingly, however, we see states, especially large states, playing games with peacekeeping. One such game is to develop various new mechanisms for achieving political goals. In other words, states seek to create conditions in which peacekeeping would seem necessary, to artificially heighten tensions that lead to conflict for the purposes of achieving a hidden agenda. By deliberately and artificially concocting an atmosphere of conflict in Georgia, Russia for instance has created a demand for peacekeepers, a demand other states are unwilling to fulfill.

These new mechanisms are often accompanied by lofty rhetoric and high-minded ideals, and have the feel of a kind of modern Manifest Destiny, the thought by which American settlers were encouraged to "go West" during the settlement drive in the 19th century. Hitler used lofty rhetoric to justify his protection of the Sudeten Germans when he invaded Czechoslovakia, and when the Warsaw Pact invaded the same country in 1968, the high-minded ideal was to protect the Pact's fraternal comrades against bourgeoisie elements.

Another game for large states is that of bargaining, of dealing peacekeeping rights for one state in one area against rights in another. Some observers have suggested that bargaining was in play between Russia and France when the peacekeeping mandates were being designed for Georgia and Rwanda, respectively, or that Russia and the United States bargained for an exchange of peacekeeping rights in Georgia and Haiti. In some of these cases, the principles of peacekeeping were held to, while in others they were not. But the fact remains that peacekeeping has been used as bargaining chip in the game of international diplomacy.

This leads to a rather unsavory conclusion vis-a-vis European security. For all the reasons I listed above, the principles of peacekeeping can and are being compromised in order to allow some states to attain political goals under another name. Peacekeeping must not be allowed to become a mask for aggression, to become a means to restore or gain influence in nearby areas. If this happens, then it can happen right here and right now, in Europe, and lead to another new division.

I hasten to add that this scenario is but a conceptual argument that remains hypothetical at the moment. Even though the argument I have elaborated may, at first blush, seem pessimistic, it is actually an argument of cautious optimism. My views about peacekeeping are predicated first and foremost upon the assumption that common values are the defining characteristic of today's Europe.

Estonia's Role

At the beginning of this talk I mentioned that we in Estonia spend a lot of time thinking about peacekeeping. But we do not only think about peacekeeping, we are moving toward the day when we can practice it as well. Under NATO's Partnership for Peace aegis, and along with our Latvian and Lithuanian neighbours, we have formed a joint Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion. This battalion, which we affectionately refer to as BALTBAT, has captured the imaginations of alliance planners. As BALTBAT develops, we expect to be ready to participate in NATO-sponsored peacekeeping operations in the nearest future.

While BALTBAT trains, however, we continue our work at the politico-diplomatic level. We have made a strong effort to participate in the international peacekeeping debate, but not only because we are sincere in our conviction that peacekeeping should be principled.

We have also taken a forward position because we understand that in today's world, peacekeeping capability is central to being a player in the international arena. We want to be a part of the debate, to help shape thinking about peacekeeping and to introduce modern rules of engagement into the discussion. This obviously helps us maintain the dubious but high profile we achieved during the process of negotiating the withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory.

But our interest in peacekeeping and our efforts toward troop withdrawals are linked. We strongly support principled peacekeeping as a way of avoiding a situation in which we might, someday, be compelled to negotiate yet another troop withdrawal. In other words, peacekeeping goes hand-in-hand with our security, because we wish to avoid fraudulent peacekeeping on our own territory. We believe that name of the peacekeeping game should be to keep the peace, rather than to keep all the pieces.

Thank you.

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