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Support for a Stronger United Nations Security Force


Global peace and security are among the UN’s core missions. When it was founded in 1945, it was hoped that the United Nations could serve as a global high command to keep the peace in a post-colonial, post-fascist world (Alagappa and Inoguchi 3).

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This hope was further raised by the end of the Cold War. With the closing of the ideological gap between East and West many look to the peace-keeping apparatus of the United Nations as the best tool to deal with the lesser crises that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

According to the United Nations Charter, the central aim of the United Nations Security Council was to “maintain international peace and security, and to that end, take collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression” (Nambiar 1). Despite the important role assigned to the United Nations Security forces, one finds that there is growing decline for its support especially in United States due to various reasons. This is largely due to opposition to management of global peace and security and not to the mission.

Declining Support

In a March 2006 poll conducted by Gallup in the United States, 64 percent of respondents said the United Nations was “doing a poor job,” the most negative American rating for the U.N. in its history. Just 28 percent had a positive image of the U.N.’s job performance (Gardiner 1). At the same time, however, 68 percent of those surveyed supported the U.N.’s playing “a major role” in world affairs, with 26 percent supporting the view that the U.N. should play a “leading role.” The Gallup poll highlights the decline of support for UN activities by the American Public. The U.N.’s image has steadily declined in the United States at all levels from the halls of Congress to the towns and cities of Middle America (Gardiner 1).

Internal Issues

Chapter VII of the Charter confers powers on the Security Council to take resort to the use of armed force if other measure to restore or maintain international peace should fail. It is also said that member states are required to provide armed forces and other assistance and facilities for the purpose. To further clarify this statute, in April 1947, the Military Staff Committee produced a report which agreed that the five permanent members should provide the bulk of the armed forces, but members of the Committee were unable to agree on the size and locations of such forces and the balance of contributions. This left the United Nations without the means of enforcement to promote international peace (Sriram and Wermester 17).

There is a lot of confusion in the realm of job description of the United Nations as a service provider in the field of security. Who are its clients? What services should it delegate? What services fall squarely within the UN mandate? And, most importantly, what services might cross the line between intervention in the name of humanity and intervention for the sake of power projection? Some see threatening trends in the strengthening of the powers of the UN Security Council since the Gulf War; most agree that the Security Council has limits to its effectiveness as a global policeman (Nambiar 1).

History shows that military actions taken by the Security Concil are not often truly peacekeeping actions. The Security Council has authorized coalitions of member states to use “all necessary means”, including military action, to deal with a conflict — as it did to restore the sovereignty of Kuwait after its invasion by Iraq (1991); to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia (1992); to contribute to the protection of civilians at risk in Rwanda (1994); to restore the democratically elected government in Haiti (1994); to protect humanitarian operations in Albania (1997); and to restore peace and security in East Timor (1999) (Alagappa and Inogucchi 5).

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These actions, though sanctioned by the Security Council, were entirely under the control of the participating states. They were not United Nations peacekeeping operations — which are established by the Security Council and directed by the Secretary-General. This has given rise to the wide criticism that UN Security forces are just instruments in the hands of nations.

When the Security Council makes the decision to deploy peacekeeping or peace enforcement missions, it takes between three and six months on average for the troops to arrive and begin their mission. In contrast, it takes much less time to carry out genocide and mass murder; In Rwanda, it took only six weeks to kill at least 800,000 innocent civilians. And once troops arrive, they are most often underequipped, undertrained, understaffed and underfunded.

In most circumstances, they have never trained together, do not speak the same languages, do not have the same operational procedures, do not use the same military and communications equipment, do not have the equipment and personnel necessary to carry out the mission, and have been denied a strong mandate giving them permission to use force to protect civilians (Athwal, 2004). The existing system of UN peace operations is not strong enough to counter conflicts like those at Darfur.

The system is in desperate need of reform. The current UN peace operations system is underfunded and under-resourced, and often missions are planned and carried out on an ad hoc basis. This is due to a lack of political will of member states, including the United States, to provide troops, finances, and resources or a strong enough mandate for the UN to carry out the task at hand effectively (Athwal, 2004).

According to an article in the Economist, the divisions among the permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5) have often slowed deployment of peacekeepers where they are most needed, such as in Sudan’s war-torn province of Darfur. Pessimists doubt that China and Russia, both supporters of the principle that state sovereignty is supreme, will ever seriously contemplate authorizing forceful intervention even to end a genocide. Meanwhile it took years, and North Korea’s 2006 bomb test, for China to condemn Kim Jong II’s nuclear cheating and let the Security Council pass judgment on it. The P5 plus Germany have worked together over the past three years, slapping a series of UN resolutions and sanctions on the regime in Iran for defiance over its suspect nuclear work, yet Russia and China have always ensured that there is no definitive action taken against Iran. The UN Security Council is handicapped by the divisions within (Economist 33).

Perception of U.S.-U.N. relations

Often, it is perceived that the United States uses the Security forces to suits its interests and does not fully contribute to the United Nations. In fact many Canadians were suspicious of American motives for an attack on Iraq according to a poll and 39% saw that U.S. attack on Iraq was to ensure that the United States’ strategic oil interests in the Middle East are protected, while 30 per cent think it is to protect the security of Americans from threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and only 18 per cent think it is to remove Saddam Hussein and install a democratic regime in Iraq (Fraser, A01).

Even under such a situation, according to a poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates for The Star, La Presse and the CBC, 74 per cent of Canadians said they would support Canadian participation in a war with the “full support” of the United Nations Security Council (Fraser, A01). This puts added responsibility on the United Nations Security Council. Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown in New York addressed the United States and condemned “the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics.” This perception of the UN as a tool in the hands of US is one of the reasons for decline in the support of its security services.

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Low Public Image

The Oil-for-Food and Congo peacekeeping scandals have eroded U.N.’s reputation reinforcing the view that the world body is riddled with corruption and mismanagement, as well as a complete lack of discipline in its peacekeeping operations. There has also been the failure of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights which has given membership to some of world’s worst human rights violators which has added to the U.N.’s poor image. In addition, the tensions between Washington and Turtle Bay over the war in Iraq have contributed to bringing U.S.–U.N. relations to their lowest point in a generation (Gardiner 1).

The stance taken by the United Nations Security Council through its Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has recently come under attack. In reporting to the Security Council, Ocampo described Darfur as a vast, single crime scene, accusing the government of Sudan of destroying entire communities and seeking to indict the ruler of the Sudanese regime. It must be remembered that Sudan’s leaders have a history of responding to humiliation with rage. Thus the political consequences of indicting a senior government figure can only damage the chances for peace, security and deliverable justice (Flint and De Waa A6).

The U.S.-led war on terrorism has become a major wedge dividing the United States and the U.N. establishment. The U.N. is not able to agree on the definition of terrorism now is it able to take an aggressive stance against it. America’s approach to fighting terrorism, from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the practice of rendition of terrorist suspects, has become the subject of extreme criticism from U.N. human rights bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee and Council on Human Rights, as well as other supranational institutions such as the Council of Europe. Tensions between the United States and the U.N. over the treatment of suspected terrorists have further contributed to the decline of support of UN security forces.

Recent dismal track record

The history of the United Nations over the past 12 years has been dominated by scandal, division, and failure. From the disaster of the U.N. peace­keeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia in the mid-1990s to the U.N.’s slow response to the Sudan genocide, the U.N.’s recent track record has been spectacularly unimpressive. The tenure of Kofi Annan, which began in January 1997 and ended in December 2006, has been in which the image of the U.N. has slipped to an all-time low. The failure of the U.N. is partly a failure of leadership, combined with poor management, discipline, and widespread inefficiency, as well as a deep-seated culture of corruption (Gardiner 1).

It is also due to a lack of moral clarity on the international stage – an unwillingness to confront acts of genocide or totalitarian regimes, coupled with a ready willingness to accommodate tyrants and dictators (Gardiner 1). It has led to a loss of faith in the U.N.’s ability to stand up even for its own Universal Charter of Human Rights, or protect the world’s most vulnerable people, including victims of ethnic cleansing and refugees seeking protection under the U.N.’s flag. These are some of the causes of the U.N.’s failure and weakness. The organization is currently in a state of crisis, mired in scandal, suffering from a lack of direction, and morally ambiguous in outlook.

Human Rights Failures

The United Nations has let down millions of the world’s weakest and most vulnerable people in Africa and the Balkans. The U.N.’s failure to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 and the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 are shameful episodes that will haunt the United Nations for generations. The killing fields of Darfur in the Sudan has been a tragedy that the U.N. initially refused to categorize as genocide (Gardiner 1).

Over 200,000 people have lost their lives, many of them at the hands of the Janjaweed militias, backed by the Sudanese government. Sudan, a country with an appalling human rights track record, was an active member of the now-defunct U.N. Commission on Human Rights from 2002 to 2005 (Gardiner 1). It used its membership to help block censure from the United Nations. Zimbabwe, another African country with a horrific record of abusing the rights of its citizens, sat on the council from 2003 to 2005. The commission reached its low point in 2003 when Libya was elected chairman with the backing of 33 members, with just three countries voting against.

It was eventually replaced amidst much fanfare in 2006 by the new United Nations Human Rights Council. Tyrannical regimes such as Burma, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe all voted in favor of establishing the council in the face of strong U.S. opposition. The brutal North Korean dictatorship also gave the council its ringing endorsement. When council elections were held in May, leading human rights abusers Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were all elected. The United States was right in its decision not to seek a seat on a council tainted by the odor of despotism and tyranny (Gardiner 1).

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The Congo Peacekeeping Scandal

The U.N.’s human rights failure has been compounded by a series of peacekeeping scandals, from Bosnia to Burundi to Sierra Leone. The worst instances of abuse has taken place in the Congo, the U.N.’s second largest peacekeeping mission, with 16,000 peacekeepers (Gardiner 1). In the Congo, acts of barbarism have been perpetrated by United Nations peacekeepers and civilian personnel entrusted with protecting some of the weakest and most vulnerable women and children in the world. Personnel from the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) stand accused of at least 150 major human rights violations.

The crimes involve rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls across the country, including inside a refugee camp in the town of Bunia in north­eastern Congo. The alleged perpetrators include U.N. military and civilian personnel from Nepal, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay, South Africa, Pakistan, and France. The victims are defenseless refugees, many of them children, who have already been brutalized and terrorized by years of war and who looked to the U.N. for safety and protection.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that “acts of gross misconduct have taken place.” (Gardiner 1).

The sexual abuse scandal in the Congo has tarnished the image of U.N. as an agency that is committed to uphold the cause of human rights. U.N. peacekeepers and the civilian personnel who work with them should be symbols of the international community’s commitment to protecting the weak and innocent in times of war. The Congo episode further under­mined the credibility of the United Nations and raised serious questions regarding the effectiveness of the U.N.’s leadership. The U.N. has consistently failed to publicize, prevent, and punish the criminal behavior of its own personnel in trouble spots around the world (Gardiner 1).


To deal with civil conflicts, the Security Council has authorized complex and innovative peacekeeping operations. In El Salvador and Guatemala, in Cambodia and Mozambique, the United Nations played a major role in ending conflict and fostering reconciliation. Other conflicts, however — in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — often characterized by ethnic violence, brought new challenges to the United Nations peacemaking role (DIP 67).

Confronted with the problems encountered in these conflicts, the Security Council did not establish any new operation from 1995 to 1997. But soon, the essential role of the UN was dramatically reaffirmed, as continuing crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, East Timor, Kosovo and Sierra Leone led the Council to establish five new missions as the 1990s drew to a close. Since then, the Council has established the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in 2000; the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) in 2002; and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2003 (DIP 67).

The United Nations is an important partner and player in the varied tasks of conflict resolution and conflict avoidance. Yet, within the United Nations community itself, there is little agreement on major issues – among them, how the United Nations can best perform its peace-keeping and peace-making roles. Some people feel that the United Nations should not serve as a tool, or proxy, for national interests. It is possible that the UN’s role as an actor in security matters would increase while its value as a political arena might decline. There are people who feel that the United Nations should step back from active involvement in global security, and restrict to providing advice from the sidelines.

Reforming the United Nations

The United States should press for immediate reform in three key areas: accountability and transparency, peacekeeping, and human rights. Congress should make it clear to the United Nations that continued robust U.S. funding of U.N. peacekeeping will be contingent upon the elimination of all forms of abuse within its peacekeeping operations. Congress should withhold a percentage of the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations unless U.N. personnel responsible for criminal activity are brought to justice and safeguards are put in place to prevent future abuses from taking place.

A total of 17 countries used the debate on Agenda for Peace to call for restructuring the Security Council, some calling for elimination of the veto as well. An even larger group demanded an increased security role for the General Assembly in order to check the Security Council’s activism, and some challenged the fairness and impartiality of Council decisions. To be effective, the Security Council must reflect and mediate fundamental power relations (Gardiner 1). Some ideas in the public domain include:

  • The very slow deployment of U.N. security forces to stricken Somalia, prior to the authorization of a U.S.-led force, underscores the unreadiness of the United Nations to provide combat-worthy forces when circumstances require. It may be time to explore the merits of command, operational and logistical preparation of small-scale forces that might be used to give effect to a Security Council decision.
  • The readiness and legitimacy of U.N.-employed force could be enhanced by negotiation of agreements with militarily capable countries, making forces available to the Security Council and specifying the terms of their use.
  • Economic sanctions are an imperfect but essential tool for enforcement of the U.N. Charter. They can be made more effective and more fair if accompanied by action to freeze a party’s foreign assets to: (1) defray the most serious losses sustained by embargo participants, and (2) ensure that national elites in a target country are not protected while citizens bear the full penalty for their leaders’ conduct.(61)
  • International action has failed to bring to trial the Libyan terrorists accused in the Lockerbie case. Justice in the Lockerbie case should be secured by means applicable against future crimes involving universal jurisdiction.
  • An area where the United Nations has been justifiably gun-shy is intervention. Certainly, interventions are notoriously hard to confine. A so-called right to intervene may be impossible to exercise without raising serious practical and political dilemmas. Yet domestic events like civil wars or massive humanitarian emergencies may threaten consequences for international security that are too grave for only normal intervention. This seems likely to force the United Nations, sooner rather than later, to grapple with the challenges of pacification and trusteeship.
  • Finally, it is critical to distinguish order from status quo. The end of the Cold War left massive inequities and other enormous and variously caused forces for change. The order the world community’s interests require it to promote is not things as they are, but a just order. “The measure of legitimacy the Security Council can gain will come from the diffusion of material benefits and from the promise and processes of principled change. If, on the other hand, the Security Council emerges as defender or apologist for the status quo, it will become the agent of the disorder it strives to avoid” (Gardiner 1).


Despite its myriad failings, and its glaring inadequacies, the United Nations is still viewed, in the immediate term, as an institution that merits U.S. investment and cooperation. On the international stage, while the United States is expected to take the Iranian nuclear question to the Security Council, there is little optimism over the council’s ability to enforce or even to agree to a strict sanctions regime. Nor is there a great deal of faith in the U.N.’s ability to halt the genocide in the Sudan. There are people who are highly optimistic about the possibilities for the United Nations to play an important role in conflict prevention and much of achieving world peace hinges on this hope.

Works Cited

Alagappa, Muthiah and Inoguchi, Takashi (1999). International Security Management and the United Nations. United Nations University Press. New York.

Athwal, Harpinder (2004). Excerpt from “UN Peace Operations Program”. Congressional Digest. Web.

DPI (Department of Public Information) (2004). Basic Facts about the United Nations. Department Of Public Information. United Nations Publication. New York.

Economist (2008). Wrestling for Influence. Vol. 387, Issue 8587. p. 33-36. Web.

Flint, Julie and De Waa, Alex (2008). Darfur’s tragedy. The Windsor Star. Web.

Fraser, Graham (2003). War support hits new low; Canadians want U.N. support: Poll American motives found to be suspect. Toronto Star. Web.

Gardiner, Nile (2006). The Decline and Fall of the United Nations: Why the U.N. Has Failed and How It Can Be Reformed. The Heritage Foundation. Web.

Nambiar, Satish (1999). United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Problems and Prospects. Web.

Sriram, Chandralekha and Wermester, Karin (2003). From Promise to Practice: Strengthening UN Capacities for the Prevention of Violent Conflict. Lynne Rienner Publishers. Boulder, CO.

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