Center for Strategic Decision Research


Peace Operations: Some Lessons for the Future

His Excellency Dr. Joris J. C. Voorhoeve
Minister of Defense of the Netherlands

The classic idea that military deployment must be regarded exclusively as ultimo ratio--that is, only when all other means have been exhausted and have failed--is not always wise. Prevention is better than cure. There are situations in which the early deployment of military means can help contain a conflict and reduce the number of casualties.

The objective of all statesmanship must be to prevent conflicts involving the use of force. This requires, first of all, non-military, preventive measures: negotiations to resolve differences by peaceful means, democratization, economic development, and maintaining the rule of law. Preventing violent conflict is of course the most humanitarian course of action.


Preventive deployment spares the lives of civilians and service personnel. Furthermore, it saves a great deal of money. The total cost of the Gulf War was over $100 thousand million, considerably more than the cost of all peace operations that have been conducted over the last few years. And this figure does not take into account the toll in human sacrifice and the destruction of cities, villages, items of cultural heritage, and the fabric of society.

Encouraging stable and harmonious political, economic, and social climates is the main way to prevent violent conflicts. In volatile countries, attention must be directed to reinforcing democratic institutions, creating social organizations, and increasing respect for human rights. Military personnel can make a contribution to these goals, even before there is any talk of troops being stationed. For example, they could take part in the organization and training of politically neutral armed forces, including the position of the armed forces in a democracy. Such forms of conflict prevention are actually methods for developing cooperation. I regret, therefore, that these types of support have not yet been recognized as official development aid according to internationally applied standards.

The stationing of troops can also contribute to conflict prevention in some situations, as it did in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It cannot be proved with certainty that preventive deployment always prevents conflicts. Still, the timely stationing of several thousand troops, chiefly from the major powers, along the borders of Kuwait would have sent a signal to Baghdad and brought home to Saddam Hussein the fact that he would be confronted with great force if he went too far.


Clear warnings are a form of deterrence, and deterrence is a form of prevention. One of the lessons we learned from U.N. peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia is the importance of deterrence. During the Cold War, war in Europe was prevented by the nuclear deterrent. After the democratic revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, the nuclear deterrent disappeared into the background, and rightly so. But conventional deterrent, too, lost much attention. In the United Nations Security Council, it was thought that peace in the former Yugoslavia could be maintained by the Blue Helmets--soft peacekeeping without deterrents. But UNPROFOR had to learn the wisdom of deterrence all over again. Soft peacekeeping does not persuade warmongers from using force, or from engaging in terrorist acts or genocide. A peace operation must be backed up by formidable military means capable of inflicting heavy damage on aggressors and terrorists who violate ceasefires and perpetrate gross violations of international law. UNPROFOR became truly effective as a peace force only after the Rapid Reaction Force was formed. The foundation for the Dayton Peace Agreement was laid only after Operation Deliberate Force used firepower against the Bosnian Serbs in August and September of 1995. Similarly, the military strength of IFOR and SFOR is now preventing the former warring parties from returning to war. This is why I think we should form a NATO-led successor force to SFOR after July 1, 1998. I hope that all countries taking part is SFOR will continue their commitment.


Three years after the genocide in Rwanda, not much progress has been made in conflict prevention. Certainly there have been some useful proposals, but these ideas have not always been put into practice. However, some steps have been taken. The improvement of the United Nations' rapid reaction capacity has been placed high on the political agenda. In New York, a rapidly deployable headquarters is being formed. The United Nations' Standby Arrangements System is gradually being expanded. And, at the suggestion of Denmark, several countries are in the process of setting up a High Readiness Brigade. Many countries are also involved in reinforcing the African peacekeeping capacity. Thus, some lessons have been learned.

However, the U.N. does not yet have a rapidly deployable force. In 1996, the refugees in Zaïre were left to their own fate far too long; it took months before the international community decided to send in troops. Canada tried to play a leading role in improving this situation, but did not receive adequate support. The return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Rwanda appeared to end the need to deploy troops--or, at least, such was the prevailing opinion. In light of the tens of thousands of casualties that resulted, I question whether the problem was not underestimated by many.

The situation in Zaïre at the end of 1996 and the current situation in Burundi both illustrate the gap between good intentions and actual willingness to take timely action. Surely everyone is for prevention. But in actual crises, troop deployment is often deferred to the point where prevention is no longer possible. Policy differences among the major U.N. member-states often lead to postponement of decisions. The U.N. cannot act independently.


The political will of the Security Council to take timely action has not been strengthened during the last few years. The more the problems involved in peace operations have increased, the more the confidence in the U.N. has declined. The U.N. and its member-states now face a dilemma. If too many of the U.N.'s peace operations fail, the organization will lose credibility. But if the member-states are too cautious in intervening to stop large-scale bloodshed, the organization will lose equal credibility. In either case, defeatism and cynicism with respect to the U.N.'s role are not the proper ways to react. The only reaction must be a constant endeavor to reinforce the organization.

Certainly, the U.N. must not put too much on its plate. It has become clear that the organization is not well suited to lead medium-and large-scale military operations: For example, it was not equipped to carry out operations such as Desert Storm or IFOR or SFOR. Although the ideal picture of the U.N. may be that, as an independent and worldwide organization, it is responsible for solving conflicts throughout the entire force spectrum, the reality is that it is not yet capable of fulfilling this role. Large-scale military operations under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter must, in principle, be carried out by a coalition of the willing led by a major nation, or by a regional military organization capable of mounting such operations. And to be effective, the troops of such a coalition must have trained together. NATO, which guarantees well-coordinated military action, is proving in Bosnia that it is capable of heavy operations. Of course, the U.N. provides the authority for Chapter VII operations; the Security Council mandates such actions.


The fact that we must not ask the U.N. to launch major military operations puts heavy responsibility on the shoulders of those institutions that are capable of such actions, such as NATO. But if NATO is capable of such operations, where was it at the time of the crisis in Zaïre? A large number of NATO countries took part in the U.N.-led planning for the Multinational Force for Zaïre, but the force never reached the deployment stage. Should our efforts, then, be directed to rendering NATO truly capable of playing a leading role in an urgent crisis far removed from its own treaty area?

According to Article 53 of the U.N. Charter, the Security Council can make use of regional organizations for the purposes of enforcement action. However, most regional organizations, such as OSCE or the Organization of African Unity, lack a military capability. Moreover, NATO is not really a regional organization in the sense of Chapter VIII of the U.N. Charter. And Article 53 refers to operations in the organization's own region, not those far removed. Still, under Article 42 of the Charter, the U.N. can call upon member-states or a group of member-states for an operation. And for practical purposes the U.N. can call upon organizations such as NATO whose primary objective is collective self-defense. NATO has declared its willingness to carry out peacekeeping operations on behalf of the U.N. or the OSCE. Also, since a group of NATO members can form a Combined Joint Task Force, in which non-NATO members such as countries in Partnership for Peace can participate, NATO assets can be deployed in a variety of ways, if approved by the members.

At the NATO Summit in Madrid, the decision will probably be taken to adapt NATO's Strategic Concept, which dates from 1991 and, to some extent, still reflects the old way of thinking within NATO. However, a great deal of attention must be paid to peacekeeping; NATO must concentrate on peace and security in Europe and its vicinity. Of course, NATO should not take too much upon itself and should apply self-restraint. The countries and organizations in other regions should have prime responsibility in those regions. While taking the lead in maintaining the peace, NATO must use regional frameworks for peacekeeping. Individual NATO members and Partners for Peace may, of course, lend their support to such regional initiatives.


For peace and security in Europe and its vicinity, good relations with Russia are essential. NATO will now be cooperating more closely with Russia in peace operations. According to the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, "[the two entities] will consult and strive to cooperate to the broadest possible degree" in areas such as "joint operations, including peacekeeping operations, on a case-by-case basis, under the authority of the United Nations Security Council or the responsibility of the OSCE." In addition, according to the Founding Act, "To enhance their partnership and ensure this partnership is grounded to the greatest extent possible in practical activities and direct cooperation, NATO and Russia's respective military authorities will explore the further development of a concept for joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations." This is an important agreement that should be put into practice, not only in Bosnia, but also in other situations.


It is often suggested that the Western European Union could become an important peacekeeping organization. WEU has adopted the Petersberg tasks of humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and even peace making. However, though the organization has certainly made valuable contributions over the past few years, it still lacks political decisiveness, military integration, and the force projection needed to give it a leading role in major peace operations. WEU still lives in the shadow of its stronger brother, NATO. The main organization for European security is the new NATO that is being built, with its close partnership with Russia, Ukraine, and other PFP countries.


During their last biannual meeting in Brussels, the NATO Ministers of Defense stated that experiences in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere demonstrate that the successful completion of certain civil and humanitarian tasks is essential to the overall success of any peace-support operation. Humanitarian assistance is often included in a peace operations mandate. Military operations and reconstruction activities are becoming simultaneous rather than successive tasks. Supervising the enforcement of a cease-fire, the separation of troops, and the demobilization of personnel is now taking place in tandem with the return of refugees, the reconstruction of the economy, mine clearance, the provision of humanitarian assistance, preparations for elections, and the restoration of the national administration.

In order to provide rapid integrated action by military and civilian personnel, UNSAS (the United Nations Standby Arrangement, under which member states hold troops available for possible U.N. peacekeeping), which is now mainly a military system, should be expanded to include public administrators, civil police, administrative staff, legal staff, and the like. For every peace operation, there ought to be a consultative body in which the main actors contributing to a country's reconstruction are represented. International efforts in Bosnia and Albania and previous peace operations in Haiti and Cambodia demonstrate the desirability of a sound consultative structure.

Today's military personnel must be jacks-of-all-trades. They must be able to negotiate and deal with people of other nations and cultures. They have to know their way through the maze of international organizations and be familiar with the actions and methods of non-governmental groups. This is why, when training military personnel, more emphasis should be placed on civil-military cooperation. To this end, NATO has proposed forming a Civil-Military Cooperation Battalion.

Military involvement in an area of conflict should also not come to an end once the peace force has been withdrawn. Even though peace building is in principle a task for civilian agencies, the military can sometimes make a contribution to this goal. One contribution was the mine clearing done in Cambodia, Angola, and Bosnia. Such work should continue after the peacekeeping troops have left.


Once the weapons in a conflict have been silenced, the real peace must be gained. This requires an integrated approach and close cooperation between military and civilian actors. Such cooperation should be NATO's guiding principle in the years ahead. As it moves ahead, we expect that the new members of NATO, candidates for membership, and all Partnership for Peace countries will work together in the new European Atlantic Partnership Council to produce new and better forms of peacekeeping.


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